Researchers Discover Proteins That Help One Cell Become TwoS

This is an image of a cell ripping itself apart, turning itself from one cell into two daughter cells. Scientists have long known what this process looks like, but still know little about many chemical processes that made it happen. In tomorrow's issue of Science, an American research team describes how they discovered proteins that accomplish what seems impossible.

When a cell divides, the muscle behind the process comes from a bunch of those thin green microfilaments you see in the image above. They tear apart the cell's divided chromosomes (in blue). Then they stretch the cell's skin and pinch it off in the middle to form two perfectly-wrapped packages of cytoplasm and DNA. Sounds simple, but researchers wondered how exactly these microfilaments could remold the cell's armor to stretch and then heal together again once it's been pinched into two parts.

Turns out there are several proteins that help the microfilaments make the cell walls pliable and stretchy. Now that these proteins have been identified, say scientists, we understand better the mystery of cell division. Beyond that, it's possible that these discoveries could help prevent runaway cell division in cancers. Or maybe it could tissue engineers grow a ton of cells really quickly.

Says one of the lead researchers, Bruce Bowerman:

We have found a completely new way of thinking about how cells remodel their internal skeletons such that they undergo the shape changes needed to divide and produce daughter cells. Some of these proteins already are targets of some cancer drugs. Now we have the opportunity to study and understand how certain proteins stabilize microfilaments within cells and inhibit cell division, and how other proteins act to modulate the stiffness of a cell's membrane to allow them to undergo shape changes needed for cell division and proliferation.

Researchers Gain New Insight into Wonder of Cell Division [University of Oregon Press Room]