Scientist peers into cell division mechanics

August 4, 2011
Scientist peers into cell division mechanics
UW researcher Jay Gatlin prepares the machine that inserts microscopic probes into a cell spindle to measure the forces of the inward and outward pulls on microtubules, which act as structural elements like trusses and beams in a building. The probes are manipulated by joysticks. Credit: UW Photo

A researcher at the University of Wyoming is peeling away the mysteries enshrouding a cellular process occurring billions of times a day in a body, is absolutely precious to life and traces back through the murky eons of time to our origins - a living Xerox copier set on automatic.

It's cell division, studied by every high school biology student, but Jay Gatlin, an assistant professor in the Department of in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and his laboratory team take such study exponentially higher.

For example, he measures the amount of force (measured in picoNewtons) exerted to pull toward opposite ends of the , the football-shaped form with two distinct poles that takes shape during cell division. One Newton roughly corresponds to the weight of a cup of tea. If a Newton is divided by 1 million, the result is a microNewton. If a microNewton is divided by 1 million, the result is 1 picoNewton.

Gatlin says is very much a mechanical process.

"This structure (spindle) is assembled by the cell, and its function is to physically pull duplicated chromosomes apart. The spindle has to pull apart chromosomes attached through linkages. During mitosis, all the chromosomes align and a checkpoint becomes inactivated and - Bam! - the cell divides," he says. "This movement requires the generation of force. We know very little about what sort of forces this thing is capable of generating. By understanding the forces, the dynamics, we can learn a lot about the structure itself, how it is assembled, how it works."

Gatlin wants to improve the resolution of measurements by developing new microscopy-based approaches.

"There are forces that want to bring the two poles together and forces that want to keep them apart," he says. "I'm interested in measuring the magnitude of the forces in hopes that, by understanding or characterizing these forces, we will begin to have a better understanding of spindle function in general, how it pulls the chromosomes apart and what it is capable of doing."

Explore further: Researchers work out the mechanics of asymmetric cell division

Related Stories

Researchers shed light on shrinking of chromosomes

June 11, 2007

A human cell contains an enormous 1.8 metres of DNA partitioned into 46 chromosomes. These have to be copied and distributed equally into two daughter cells at every division. Condensation, the shortening of chromosomes, ...

A unique arrangement for egg cell division

August 9, 2007

Which genes are passed on from mother to child is decided very early on during the maturation of the egg cell in the ovary. In a cell division process that is unique to egg cells, half of the chromosomes are eliminated from ...

Scientists deconstruct cell division

February 8, 2009

The last step of the cell cycle is the brief but spectacularly dynamic and complicated mitosis phase, which leads to the duplication of one mother cell into two daughter cells. In mitosis, the chromosomes condense and the ...

Slicing chromosomes leads to new insights into cell division

May 29, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By using ultrafast laser pulses to slice off pieces of chromosomes and observe how the chromosomes behave, biomedical engineers at the University of Michigan have gained pivotal insights into mitosis, the ...

Recommended for you

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

Why a mutant rice called Big Grain1 yields such big grains

August 24, 2015

(Phys.org)—Rice is one of the most important staple crops grown by humans—very possibly the most important in history. With 4.3 billion inhabitants, Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population, so it's unsurprising ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.