Cell biology “storm” provides a view of the choreography of life

Credit: National Institutes of Health

Researchers found the key settings to provide a dynamic view of a cytoskeletal “storm”

The experimental system was designed to use cells from the African clawed frog. The movie which is represented in the GIF above begins with microtubules (red) radiating outward in an apparent effort to prepare for cell division. The microtubules adjust their lengths with the help of the protein EB-1 (green) at their tips. As the microtubules grow and bump into the walls of a lab-generated, jelly-textured enclosure (dark outline), they buckle—and the whole array then whirls around the center.

Cells are constantly on the move and before a cell divides it undergoes a process called mitosis. As part of this process, microtubules, which are structural proteins that help make up the cell’s cytoskeleton, reorganize the newly copied chromosomes into a dense, football-shaped spindle.

The cytoskeleton is made from protein structures called microtubules—the wispy threads surrounding the purple DNA-containing nucleus—and filaments of a protein called actin. Both actin and microtubules are critical for growth and movement.

Abdullah Bashar Sami, a Ph.D. student, shot the movie as a part of his basic research to explore the still poorly understood physical forces generated by microtubules. The movie won first place in the 2019 Green Fluorescent Protein Image and Video Contest sponsored by the American Society for Cell Biology.

Like many movies, the setting was key to this video’s success. The video was shot inside a microfluidic chamber, designed in the Jesse Gatlin Lab at the University of Wyoming, to study the physics of microtubule assembly just before cells divide.

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