Scientists have made a discovery that could enable new insights into cell division.
A team from the Universities of Edinburgh, Wisconsin and Oregon have observed a phenomenon which is known throughout nature but has never been seen before in dividing cells.
Their discovery could aid understanding of the final stages of cell division.
It could also help explain puzzling experimental observations from several decades ago.
The collaborating researchers discovered that, as a dividing cell prepares for the final stages of separating into two daughter cells, its surface becomes highly active - a state which is known as an excitability.
The biological phenomenon of excitability, which involves a large pulse-like response to a small stimulus, has long been known to explain biological processes such as neural pulses and muscular contractions.
Scientists were surprised to find that excitability plays a crucial role in where the dividing line is drawn between two separating daughter cells.
Errors in this process are known to cause faulty separation of the genetic material and can lead to cancer.
One of the fundamental properties of excitability is the ability to propagate as waves, for example, in the waves of contraction observed in human hearts.
Researchers used cutting edge techniques to see for the first time these waves sweeping the surface of frog and starfish embryonic cells as they prepared to divide.
A team from the School of Biological Sciences led the computational part of the study, which is published in Nature Cell Biology.
Excitability is found in many biological systems. We hope our observations will prove useful as a basis for helping our fellow scientists understand the fundamental nature of cells.