The Golgi 111 Years Later

by Gabrielle DeMarco on July 22, 2009

In 1898, Italian doctor Camillo Golgi discovered a cell organelle that would win him the 1906 Nobel Prize in Medicine. I don’t know if they had pancakes back in 19th Century Italy, but the image of a floppy stack of flapjacks is the only one I can conjure that would come close to describing the intricate folds and layers of what would come to be known as the Golgi apparatus after its Laurette.

111 years later, we might be getting our first glimpse at the Martin apparatus. Jeffery Martin, a graduate student at Rensselaer working in the lab of Professor Robert Linhardt, has replicated outside the body the complex processes of the Golgi using a glass chip and small bursts of electricity.

In the cell, the Golgi is like a your favorite grandmother, coating everything with sugar. In slightly more technical terms, the odd-looking organelle finishes the process of protein synthesis by decking them out in highly specialized arrangement of carbohydrates (aka: sugars). And if previous posts on sugars taught you anything, you now know that sugars are important tools that cells use to communicate and interact with each other. Just a simple modification or mutation of sugars can spell the difference between a healthy cell and a dead cell.

Scientists around the world are trying to replicate what sugars do best in new drugs. The artificial Golgi could be an important component in this effort.

The high-tech Golgi suspends sugars, enzymes, and other basic cell materials on the chip. The droplets can then be transported and mixed by applying electric currents. Through this process sugars can be built in an automated and controlled fashion. The resulting sugars can then be tested on living cells to determine their effects.

Martin has proven the power of his organelle by modifying the carbohydrate, heparan sulfate. His success is detailed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. He is now moving on to bigger and better (or should I say smaller and more complex) things. Martin and the team of researchers are looking to develop an entire lab-on-a-chip that will grow and then test the material grown on the artificial Golgi all on one small device.