Researchers have uncovered that chromosomes have an active role to play in cell division in animals, which occurs precisely when a cell splits into new daughter cells.

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers detailed their observations, showing chromosomes release signals and influence the cell cortex to reinforce action involving microscopic structures cable-like in form called microtubules. During cell division, microtubules pull chromosomes to opposite sides of a cell and is in charge of telling the cell cortex where division should take place.

Cell division is a process that happens in all life forms. The human body, for instance, is the result of just one cell dividing billions of times to create tissues and yet some of its cells keep on dividing billions of times in a day for life. Molecular mechanisms involving cell division have not been understood clearly, with chromosomes believed to not have an active role in cytokinesis, until now.

Gilles Hickson, one of the authors for the study, said that cell division includes mitosis, the process of chromosomes separating after a cell splits into two as they are pulled apart by microtubules. Using sophisticated microscopy and powerful genetic tools, the researchers were able to identify that one of the signals acts through an enzyme complex called Sds22-PP1, a phosphatase located within kinetochores.

He further explained that as chromosomes are separated and the enzyme gets to work, the polar membrane in a cell softens, easing cell elongation and facilitating division happening at the equator.

"This is important because cell division is so central to life, and to certain diseases," stated Hickson, acknowledging the discovery as having significance in advancing what the scientific community already knows about cell division.

Cancers, for example, are caused by uncontrolled cell division. Understanding the underlying processes then signifies the potential for targeting cellular structures that could aid in keeping the disease from beginning and spreading.

Further research, however, is needed to determine exactly at what point the cell division process goes wrong and how underlying mechanisms can be exploited. The researchers are confident though that they will get there, with help from genetic models, like the one of the fruit fly.

Nelio Rodrigues, Buzz Baum, Sergey Lekomtsev, Janos Kriston-Vizi and Silvana Jananji also contributed to the study.

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