PerspectiveCell Biology

A SWELL Channel Indeed

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Science  09 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6184, pp. 585-586
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254591

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Water constitutes about two-thirds of the mass of most living organisms. It serves as a solvent in the cell cytoplasm and exterior, and like other molecules, it moves down its concentration gradient by osmosis. Indeed, the diffusion of water is responsible for the dilemma in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem: “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” If the mariner were to drink seawater, with its high concentration of dissolved salts, the water in his cells would diffuse out (down its concentration gradient), dehydrating the cells and killing the seafarer. Two recent studies, by Qiu et al. (1) and by Voss et al. on page 634 in this issue (2), advance our understanding of how animal cells deal with such osmotic challenges.