We are studying the three-dimensional shapes of the molecules that cells use to organise and separate their DNA when they divide.
Every human cell contains more than two metres of DNA, divided up into 23 pairs of chromosomes (lengths of DNA), making 46 in total. Each time a cell divides to make two new cells, the original ‘parent’ cell must copy all of its DNA, then divide the chromosomes equally between the two ‘daughters’, so that each one gets the correct set of 23 pairs. Problems with this process mean that cells end up with the wrong number of chromosomes, which might cause them to stop dividing, make them die or even lead to cancer.
We are using powerful imaging techniques to discover the three-dimensional structures of the molecules involved in organising and separating chromosomes as a cell divides. Then we devise lab experiments to test our ideas.
By knowing the shapes and structures of these molecule, we can gain important insights into how they work and what happens when things go wrong. Not only are our findings shedding light on the normal processes of life, but they could point towards new approaches for preventing or treating cancer in the future.