Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A protein coat helps chromosomes keep their distance


Researchers at IMBA – Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences have identified a protein that disperses chromosomes during cell division, as Nature reports.

Billions of your cells divide every day. Cell division fuels growth and also replaces short-lived cells in some organs, like your skin, blood, and gut.

The surface of chromosomes is covered with surfactant-like proteins during cell division. These proteins act similar to soap to disperse chromosomes and prevent them from clustering together.


One end of Ki-67 attaches to the chromosome; the other end extends away from it. These “surfactant” properties prevent chromosomes from clustering together and enable their independent motility.


Dividing cells cycle through different stages. During most of this cycle, cells are at work expressing genes. At this stage chromosomes are spread out as a network of long threads that fill the entire volume of the cell nucleus.

As the cell prepares to divide, the chromosomes replicate and undergo a dramatic metamorphosis. They compact into iconic X-shaped bodies which can move around independently to transport one copy of the genome to each of the daughter cells. But what enables this “individualization” of chromosomes in dividing cells has been a mystery.

A team led by Daniel Gerlich at IMBA discovered that the protein Ki-67 prevents

chromosomes from sticking together in dividing cells. Ki-67 is a well-known marker of proliferating cells and is used in cancer diagnostics to measure erratic cell division. But the function of Ki-67 in the cell was unclear. Their findings, published in the current issue of Nature, show that the chromosomes can still compact without Ki-67, but they merge into a single mass and are essentially immobile. As a consequence, cells lacking Ki-67 divide more slowly.

The team set out to determine how Ki-67 disperses chromosomes in dividing cells. Sara Cuylen, first author of the study, explains: “one end of the Ki-67 protein is attracted to chromosomes, whereas the other end extends away from them.

As a result, Ki-67 forms elongated brush-like structures at the chromosome surface – essentially a barrier that keeps them apart.” These properties of Ki-67 are reminiscent of surface-active agents (surfactants) like soap – which we use daily to break up dirt and grease. That proteins can function as surfactants inside the cell was completely unexpected.

Daniel Gerlich points out that a surfactant mechanism might also control the spatial arrangement of other cell organelles: “The cell contains many other compartments that are not confined by membranes and it was previously unknown how these compartments maintain spatial separation. It will be exciting to search for other proteins with surfactant-like properties, and to study their potential role in cellular organization”.

Original publication: Cuylen, S., Blaukopf, C., Politi, A.Z., Müller-Reichert, T., Neumann, B., Poser, I., Ellenberg, J., Hyman, A.A., Gerlich, D.W. (2016), Ki-67 acts as a biological surfactant to disperse mitotic chromosomes. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature18610

Press contact:
Ines Méhu-Blantar
IMBA Communications
Dr. Bohr Gasse 3, 1030 Vienna, Austria
Tel.: +43 664 80847 – 3628

Weitere Informationen: (Press pictures)

Mag. Ines Méhu-Blantar | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>