New insights into cell division: Researchers develop minimal system

January 14, 2013

All living organisms consist of cells that have arisen from other living cells by the process of cell division. However, it is not yet fully understood just how this important process takes place.

Scientists at the Institute (MPI) of Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich have now developed a minimal , which brings together key components of the cell division apparatus. With the aid of this minimal model, the researchers were able to take a closer look at the biophysical mechanisms involved. "Our model may help to develop and test new treatments for diseases caused by errors in cell division," said Sven Vogel, scientist at the MPI of Biochemistry. The results of the study have now been published in the new journal eLife.

The researchers of the department "Cellular and " try to remodel the structures of a cell with the help of a modular approach. Their aim is to observe and visualize step by step the underlying mechanisms of living systems. "Our vision is to assemble more and more building blocks of natural and synthetic until we finally have the minimal version of a cell in front of us," said Petra Schwille, director at the MPI of Biochemistry. Using such an approach, the scientists have now succeeded in investigating the process of cell division in greater detail.

Making two out of one

During cell division both the genetic information and the cell plasma must be distributed correctly to the two . Moreover, the two newly created cells must be separated physically from each other. An important component of this cell division machinery is the cell cortex. This layer is located directly below the and consists of a thin layer of thread-like protein chains, so-called actin filaments. During the actual division process, motors from the interior of the cell exert force on the actin filaments, causing the cell cortex to constrict in the middle and ultimately to divide.

The Max Planck researchers have now constructed an artificial minimal actin cortex (MAC) on which they can study the physical phenomena more precisely. To achieve this, the researchers combined only the most essential components of the cell division machinery, thus creating a synthetic minimal system. Such a system is a very simplified model for complex processes. In nature, by contrast, cells took several million years to develop and were not precisely planned and constructed. "For that reason some of the processes may be more complex than they theoretically need to be," the biophysicist Sven Vogel said. "This complexity often makes it almost impossible to study the basic mechanisms in detail."

One research finding the minimal system revealed was that the addition of myosin motors to the MAC induces actin pattern formation. Moreover, the myosin motors break individual into fragments and compact them. The Martinsried researchers are certain that artificial minimal systems will contribute to a detailed understanding of cell division. Vogel added: "Our findings and minimal systems may help to develop and test new treatments for diseases that are caused by errors in cell division."

Explore further: Self-forming biological scaffolding: Model system that can interpret the role of cross-linking proteins

More information: S. Vogel, Z. Petrasek, F. Heinemann, P. Schwille: Myosin Motors Fragment and Compact Membrane-Bound Actin Filaments, eLife, January 8, 2013.
DOI: 10.7554/eLife.00116

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Whydening Gyre
1 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2013
Question here is - are they EXACT duplicates? If they have shorter telomeres, the are not...
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2013
Question here is - are they EXACT duplicates? If they have shorter telomeres, the are not...

Why would they be shorter?
not rated yet Jan 15, 2013
They are describing modern cells of course, actually eukaryotes in the paper.

Interestingly, original protocells didn't need a dedicated mechanism, since spontaneously formed liposomes from lipids also spontaneously divide during growth. They could encapsulate early crystallized RNA replicator populations, which would then randomly divide between daughter cells. I.e. "not precisely planned and constructed."

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