Too Much of a Good Thing
The DNA is wrapped in chromosomes that are present in duplicates and form pairs. However, defects in cell division often lead to an increased number of chromosomes. Zuzana Storchova and her team want to decipher how single extra chromosomes or excess chromosome sets affect the equilibrium of the cell.
During cell division, all chromosomes must be copied and distributed correctly to the daughter cells. Zuzana Storchova and her colleagues discovered that defects in this complex process can strongly affect cellular physiology and can lead to excess or loss of chromosomes or entire chromosome sets. The team wants to analyze the underlying mechanisms by means of state-of-the-art microscopic methods. Using these, they can directly observe the distribution of the chromosomes during cell division and in real time, as well as the subsequent fate of the cells with erroneous chromosomes.
Good for evolution…
Excess chromosome sets can also have positive effects: Given that their genetic information is not directly necessary for the survival of the cells, new gene variants can be quickly tried out. Together with natural selection, such modifications ensure the evolutional development of a species. In addition, cells with excess chromosome sets are often larger and more productive.
… but bad for health
However, an altered number of chromosomes is also characteristic for cancer cells. How can they survive with such defects and even spread all over the body? The scientists have already identified some genes in yeast cells that ensure survival despite excess chromosome sets. If these genes also exist in human tumor cells, they could possibly be an important target for cancer therapy.