Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Spaghetti Cell

What is it like inside a cell?  In my experience students come to my Introductory Cell Biology course picturing a cell as a bag of water with things floating around inside.  Maybe that isn't surprising since many of the structures inside cells (especially the cytoskeleton) aren't visible in a light microscope.

To help students develop a more accurate conception of what it's like inside a (eukaryotic) cell I started asking them to imagine a plate of spaghetti and meatballs stuffed into a small plastic bag.  There would be no empty space and nothing would be 'floating around' in there.

After using this analogy for a while I decided...why not do it as a demo.  Here's a video from lecture:

I always use a clean bag and gloves so I can eat the spaghetti for lunch later.  The meatballs represent organelles while the noodles taking up most of the space in the bag represent cytoskeleton.  I do this demo before covering motor proteins.  The spaghetti bag helps students understand the role of motor proteins...when large structures move inside a cell they are being dragged through a dense matrix.