London: Finding a cure for cancer may lie in knowing - and controlling - various ways in which a human cell divides.
Researchers at University of Exeter in Britain have found that cells demonstrate considerable flexibility in the way they divide. This finding, they hope, may have links to the underlying causes of many cancers.
The study 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 cells.
In order to understand the phenomenon, biosciences researchers James Wakefield, Daniel Hayward and Jeremy Metz combined highly detailed microscopy and image analysis with genetic and protein manipulation of fruit fly embryos.
They found that the cell can use each pathway in a complementary way, and 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 pathways.
It was previously thought that in order for chromosomes to line up and be correctly separated, microtubules have to extend from specific microtubule-organising centres in the cell, called centrosomes.
However, the study, published in the journal Developmental Cell, 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.
The researchers are currently investigating cancer links in the light of these findings.