SITE VISIT: Self-Destructing Cells

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Science  03 Mar 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5458, pp. 1551
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5458.1551d

Some cells die because they're injured, but others in good health are destined to go down a suicidal path in which they disintegrate and are eaten by other cells. Known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death, this process helped create the spaces between your fingers when you were in the womb. Apoptosis also plays a hotly studied role in diseases ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer's to cancer.

This page at the WWW Virtual Library of Cell Biology is a good jumping-off point for apoptosis resources on the Internet. Its dozen links include tutorials aimed at various audiences—from students to physicians—and images of cells breaking up into membrane-bound fragments. Also listed is Roche Molecular Biochemicals' apoptosis site, where visitors can view a color poster showing a cell's apoptotic pathways and click to get info on particular molecules, such as the caspases, enzymes that cells use to chop themselves up. Active apoptosis researchers may not be able to resist checking out the New York City-based Cell Death Society site, a sprawling collection of meeting information, links to journals, job lists, and other resources. For instance, one article plumbs the origin of the word “apoptosis.” Conventional wisdom says the original Greek means falling leaves, but the author claims that Hippocrates first used it to describe decaying bones.

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