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High-powered microscopes reveal workings of yeast cells

1 May 2012

Using high-powered microscopes, scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, have made a stunning observation of the architecture within a cell - and identified for the first time how this architecture changes during the formation of gametes, also known as sex cells, in order to successfully complete the process. The findings could impact on the treatment of disorders caused by a misregulation of cellular structures called microtubules, such as cancer.

Model microtubules (Green) in yeast cell. Copyright: European Molecular Biology Laboratory Heidelberg/University of Leicester
Fission yeast wildtype cells - model microtubules are green, the spindle pole bodies (SPBs) are modelled in blue and the nuclear envelope is shown in magenta. Image: European Molecular Biology Laboratory Heidelberg/University of Leicester

The study led by Dr Kayoko Tanaka from the University of Leicester, focused on microtubules - fibrous structures that play essential roles in a cell. Looking at yeast cells, the researchers discovered for the first time the precise structure adopted by microtubules, which play a vital role in the process of gamete formation, and identified the protein responsible for creating the structure. They also found that the protein needs to be regulated in order to complete gamete formation, failure of which may lead to production of gametes with the wrong number of chromosomes. In humans, these may contribute to genetic conditions such as Down's Syndrome.

With the use of high-powered fluorescent and confocal microscopes at the University of Leicester, as well as electron microscopes at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory Heidelberg, Dr Tanaka and her team were for the first time able to 'visualise' the architecture of the microtubules in the yeast cell undergoing gamete formation.

The international team of scientists hope the information obtained will bring new insights into the basic mechanisms of cellular regulation, which may be applicable to higher organisms including humans.

Dr Tanaka had a BBSRC New Investigator award to conduct this research which is published in Current Biology.


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