Research into fruit fly cells could lead to cancer insights

January 1, 2014

New research by scientists at the University of Exeter has shown that cells demonstrate remarkable flexibility and versatility when it comes to how they divide - a finding with potential links to the underlying causes of many cancers.

The study, published today in Developmental Cell, describes a number of routes to the formation of a microtubule spindle – the tracks along which DNA moves when a cell divides in order to make two genetically identical .

In order to understand the phenomenon, the authors, including Biosciences researchers Dr. James Wakefield, PhD student Daniel Hayward and Experimental Officer in Image Analysis, Dr. Jeremy Metz, combined highly detailed microscopy and with genetic and protein manipulation of fruit fly embryos.

The innovative research not only describes how the cell can use each pathway in a complementary way, but also that removal of one pathway leads to the cell increasing its use of the others. The researchers also identified that a central molecular complex – Augmin – was needed for all of these routes.

The authors were the first to identify that each of four pathways of spindle formation could occur in fruit fly embryos.

It was previously thought that, in order for chromosomes – packages containing DNA – to line up and be correctly separated, have to extend from specific microtubule-organising centres in the cell, called centrosomes. However, this study found that microtubules could additionally develop from the chromosomes themselves, or at arbitrary sites throughout the main body of the cell, if the centrosomes were missing.

All of these routes to spindle formation appeared to be dependent on Augmin - a protein complex responsible for amplifying the number of microtubules in the cell.

Dr. Wakefield said of the project "We have all these different spindle formation pathways working in humans. Because the cell is flexible in which pathway it uses to make the spindle, individuals who are genetically compromised in one pathway may well grow and develop normally. But it will mean they have fewer routes to spindle formation, theoretically predisposing them to errors in cell division as they age."

The group are currently investigating cancer links in light of these findings.

Explore further: A unique arrangement for egg cell division

Related Stories

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 ...

EGF growth factor accelerates cell division, study finds

May 14, 2013

Biologists at Heidelberg University have discovered new approaches for the treatment of cancer. They investigated how a special signalling molecule, the epidermal growth factor (EGF), stimulates the separation of chromosomes ...

Molecular motors” involved in chromosome transport observed

November 26, 2013

Researchers at Waseda University in Japan have for the first time directly observed the "molecular motor", called Xkid, that plays a critical role in facilitating the proper alignment of chromosomes during cell division. ...

Recommended for you

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...


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.