Until now, molecular biologists thought that chromosomes do not actively engage in cell division processes also known as cytokinesis. But a series of recent experiments showed that they have an active role in pulling apart and dividing the living cells.
The findings are considered to be a breakthrough in both medical and biology fields because they unveiled a hidden mechanism of the most basic life processes. Study authors currently hope that the new discovery would open new doors in both molecular biology and cancer research.
A paper on the findings was published by its Canadian and British authors in the journal Nature on July 13.
Dr. Gilles Hickson, co-author of the study and professor at the University of Montreal in Canada, admitted that science has been struggling to understand cell division for more than 100 years, but the molecular mechanism related to the process still held some secrets.
“This is important because cell division is so central to life, and to certain diseases,”
Prof. Hickson added.
Past scientific literature depicted chromosomes as passive actors of cell division processes. According to previous scientific consensus, chromosomes were chaotically pulled apart by microtubules, which are very dynamic tube-like structures located in the cells’ cytoplasm that play a huge role in various cellular processes.
But new experiments performed on fruit-flies revealed that chromosomes release very faint signals that couldn’t be detected with previous laboratory equipment. Those signals influence instead the microtubules when the cells try to divide during cytokinesis.
Scientists wrote in their paper that the enzyme Sds22-PP1, which is one of the signals emitted by chromosomes during cellular division, sticks onto the ends of the cells and soften their membrane, thus helping the cells to elongate and split.
Cancer research may be the first to benefit from the new findings because uncontrolled cell division represents the underpinning of tumor growth and expansion. Because cancer researchers didn’t completely understand the molecular processes behind the mechanism, therapy advances stagnated in the past years, the research team explained.
Prof. Hickson said that his team would continue to expand their research on the fundamental signals and processes behind cell division to better understand how they can be exploited or fixed when they start behaving unnaturally.
Doctors knew that cytokinesis processes are the root cause of uncontrolled tumor growth for years. Five years ago, a study published in the Elsevier journal even estimated that a better understanding of cell division could help scientists beat all forms of cancer.
Image Source: Science Museum
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