We are studying the molecular machines inside cells that copy DNA to understand more about how this process works.
New cells are made by cells division, when one cell splits into two new ‘daughter’ cells. Every time a cell divides it has to copy all of its DNA and distribute it equally between the daughters. If this doesn’t happen properly then the new cells can end up with the wrong amount of DNA, which can cause them to stop growing, die, or even become cancerous.
We are using precision nanotechnology techniques that work at the level of single molecules to look at the tiny biological ‘machines’ that copy DNA in a range of cell types, including frog eggs, yeast and viruses. For example, we can see how fast each part of the process happens, reveal subtle differences between individual machines, find out how the ‘ladder’ of DNA is unwound so that it can be copied, and see how the DNA copying machines deal with barriers on their way.
Our technology is providing us with extremely detailed measurements explaining how the DNA copying machinery works in healthy cells. We are also finding out what happens when cells have to cope with the challenge of copying damaged DNA that can cause cancer.