The great cell race

Wednesday, 01 June, 2011

Have you got the world’s fastest cell? Now, for the first time in history, you can race your cells in an international competition. If they win it will be by less than a hair’s breadth as the entire track length is only a hair’s breadth - 100 µm.

Not only can your speedy cells win you some Nikon gear, you will also have the chance to compare models and to discuss hypotheses and interpretations of cell migration mechanisms with colleagues around the world. And you will become famous as the winning entries/videos will be shown and prizes given at the 2011 American Society of Cell Biology Annual Meeting in December in Denver, Colorado.

The competitors in this race will be cells, submitted by laboratories around the world, competing to see which can migrate along a microfabricated path the quickest. Any laboratory can take part and any cell line, with or without genetic modification or mutation, may be entered (although, with mutants, the wild strain must also be entered).

Races will be held at six locations (Boston, San Francisco, London, Heidelberg, Paris and Singapore).

After thawing, the cells will be trypsinised and plated in 12-well, glass-bottom, micropatterned plates with fibronectin tracks, fabricated by Cytoo. When the race begins, the cells will be imaged over 24 hours to create a time-lapse video. Prizes will be awarded to the most rapid cells to cover the official race distance of 100 µm - about the width of a human hair.

All the details you need can be found on the World Cell Race site ( and note that entries are limited to the first 30 per site.

The organisers say that they’ve already had a handful of registrations and that they are likely to define specific classes of race so that, for example, sluggish fibroblasts are not competing against more rapid leukocytes or keratocytes.

Send your cells and the race organisers will measure their speed and record it. The closest site for Australian and New Zealand entrants will be Singapore. Preregistration ends June 15, 2011 so you need to start training your cells now.

Rules and race conditions

  • Any laboratory may participate but each laboratory may enter only a single cell type.
  • Unusual cell types are welcome.
  • Genetic modifications are allowed and even encouraged.
  • In case of a mutant cell line, both the mutant and the wild type cell line must be sent in.
  • Cells should be adherent to fibronectin as in this first race the running tracks are provided in fibronectin.
  • Cells should not be contaminated with viruses (particularly if you send primary cells), mycoplasma or other bacterial or fungal agents.
  • Cells must be frozen and shipped in dry ice to the selected running site.
  • A complete description of cell type and genetic modification (if applicable) must accompany all shipments.
  • A maximum of 30 cell lines can be handled at each running site.
  • Selection will be handled on a first come, first serve basis. However, attention will be paid not to repeat measurements on HeLa, NIH3T3 or other popular cell types.

Important dates

  • Cells must be sent between 1 and 30 June 2011 with necessary information.
  • Videos will be recorded in July and August by the organising teams.
  • Videos will be analysed and compared in September.
  • The movies will be projected and the prizes will be given during a special session of the annual meeting of the American Society of Cell Biology in December in Denver.

Race conditions

  • All cell contestants will be thawed and cultured in DMEM supplemented with 10% foetal calf serum as well as penicillin (100 IU) and streptomycin (100 µg/mL). Cells will recover from thawing for one week. DMEM will also be used during the race. For obvious practical reasons no other cell culture medium will be used.
  • No chemical product will be added to the culture medium during the culture or the race.
  • Cells will be detached (trypsinised) and plated in a well with fibronectin coated tracks and left on the tracks overnight.
  • The race will start the next day. Cells will be video-recorded during 24 h. Nine fields per well will be recorded using automated multiposition time-lapse acquisition through a 10X objective. Cell shape will be visualised using transmitted light in phase contrast. Cells’ nuclei will also be stained by adding Hoechst 33342 in the medium. Nuclei will be imaged by fluorescence imaging. Cells’ movements will be monitored by taking one picture every 10 minutes.

Cell speed measurement

Cell motion and speed will be automatically quantified using automated detection and tracking of nucleus staining. Movements of all cells in the nine fields will be monitored. Cell nucleus (and not cell leading edge, for example) will be considered as the reference point.

The final speed that will be registered will correspond to the most rapid cell in each well covering the official distance of 100 µm.

Running tracks

  • Fibronectin coated tracks will be fabricated by Cytoo.
  • Cells will be plated in 12-well, glass-bottom, micropatterned plates.
  • Fibronectin tracks will be surrounded by cytophobic material.
  • Cells will have to attach specifically to the fibronectin coated tracks.
  • To accommodate various cell sizes and develop various migration strategies, there are two track sizes - 4 and 12 µm. The tracks run throughout the well.

Running sites

The videos will be recorded in the participating Nikon Imaging Centres.

Each centre is associated with an academic laboratory which will be responsible for cell culture and cell plating on the microfabricated tracks.

Cells with all the necessary information can be sent to:

Institut Curie

Matthieu Piel Lab and Ana-Maria Lennon-Dumenil

Subcellular structure and cellular dynamics,

12 rue Lhomond, 75054 Paris, France

Heidelberg University

Holger Erfle


Viroquant-CellNetworks RNAi Screening Facility, BQ 0015

Im Neuenheimer Feld 267, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

King’s College London

Maddy Parsons

Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics

Room 3.22B, New Hunts House,

Guys Campus, London, SE1 1UL, United Kingdom,

Harvard Medical School

Tim Mitchison Lab

Systems Biology, 200 Longwood Ave, Alpert 544 Boston, MA 02115 c, USA

University of California, San Francisco

Wendell A Lim,

Dept of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology

Genentech Hall - N412E

600 - 16th Street

San Francisco, CA 94158 c, USA

Ron Ng Lab

80 Anson Road, #10-01

Fuji Xerox Towers, Singapore 079907

World CellRace

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