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Unwrapping DNA delivers cell insights

University scientists have shed light on how DNA is compacted as cells divide, helping explain how cell renewal can fail.

Thousands of proteins have been discovered which are crucial for the compaction of DNA up to 10,000 times its usual size, which occurs when cells split in two.

This research could shed light on what happens when this packaging process fails and cells divide abnormally, which can cause cancer and embryo miscarriage.

Vital proteins

A large-scale study combining various scientific techniques enabled the definition of some 4,000 proteins involved in cell division.

Genetic material is protected and folded by the proteins just before cell division takes place.

Those proteins that are vital to this process can now be identified.

Joint project

Researchers hope the study will help them better understand the influence these proteins have on cell division.

The research, led by Professor William Earnshaw and Professor Juri Rappsilber, was carried out in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Japanese National Institute of Genetics in Mishima, Japan. It was supported by the Wellcome Trust and published in the journal Cell.

Until now, our understanding of the very complex way in which DNA moves during cell division was patchy. This latest development allows us, for the first time, to fully identify all the proteins that take parting the process, and how they interact with one another. Future work is needed to reveal more of the intricacies of this process and how to prevent it from going wrong.

Professor William EarnshawSchool of Biological Sciences