Scientists produced an artificial chromosome in the lab to investigate how cells renew themselves – a process known as cell division. The method has allowed researchers to study key players involved in cell division – which include proteins that form much of the structure of chromosomes, and fragments of DNA that help to orchestrate the process.
The team at the University of Edinburgh focused on a region inside chromosomes – known as the centromere – which plays a pivotal role in the regulation of cell division. They found that a complex series of steps takes place to form a barrier that prevents centromeres from being invaded and inactivated by other regions of the chromosome. This helps to maintain a fully functional centromere, thereby reducing the chances of errors occurring when the chromosomes separate, the team says.
Professor William Earnshaw, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “The creation of a protective barrier shields centromeres from other parts of the chromosome during cell division, which prevents disease-causing errors from occurring. The study was made possible by our unique synthetic chromosome system, which allowed us to study the structure and maintenance of centromeres in remarkable detail.”
Citation: “Epigenetic engineering reveals a balance between histone modifications and transcription in kinetochore maintenance”. Oscar Molina, Giulia Vargiu, Maria Alba Abad, Alisa Zhiteneva, A. Arockia Jeyaprakash, Hiroshi Masumoto, Natalay Kouprina, Vladimir Larionov & William C. Earnshaw. Nature Communications 2016 vol: 7 pp: 13334.
Research funding: Wellcome Trust, National Institutes of Health, Kazusa DNA Research Institute.
Adapted from press release by University of Edinburgh.