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How Cells Grow

May 20, 2012

How do living cells figure out when and where to grow? A collaboration between Lehigh University physicists and University of Miami biologists addresses this important fundamental question in basic cell biology. The study, Oscillatory Dynamics of Cdc42 GTPase In The Control of Polarized Growth, appears in the journal Science Express.

Assistant Professor Dimitrios Vavylonis and graduate student Tyler Drake joined a University of Miami research team led by Associate Professor Fulvia Verde to learn that protein Cdc42 begins the ballet of proteins that change cell polarity, by oscillating throughout the cellular membrane of new cells. By changing polarity, Cdc42 regulates shape, structure and function in yeast cells. This oscillatory mechanism may be a general strategy among all self-organizing biological systems, not just simple yeast.

Researchers used fluorescent markers to tag each of the many proteins involved, observing the protein oscillate, switching sides about every five minutes. The fluctuations provide an adaptable mechanism for cells to control their size and structure in the fast-changing environment within.

The findings demonstrate just part of the complex process of cell growth and differentiation, but mark how advanced the science of biophysics has become. Only recently has the clear imaging and monitoring of protein activity become possible at the minute sizes and shortened time scales of individual cell maturation.

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