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DNA images captured during cell division

tech reviews Updated: Jan 08, 2008 11:10 IST
Scientists capture vital DNA images during cell division

Researchers have for the first time captured detailed images of life's essence and revealed the structure of a DNA-protein complex that is crucial in the spread of antibiotic resistance among bacteria.

The dazzling pictures reveal a key step in the process of cell division, which all organisms must undergo to survive. The moment occurs deep within a cell, as two proteins work in concert to unzip a strand of DNA to create two new cells.

Until now, scientists seeking to directly observe this essential process could only view fuzzy images taken by an electron microscope.

A scientist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has changed that by perfecting a technique employed by biophysicist Rosalind Franklin more than half a century ago to gather the first images of DNA.

The research focuses on how DNA separates and maintains its integrity when a cell divides. Using X-ray crystallography, the team led by structural biologists Maria Schumacher, with colleagues at the University of Sydney, Australia, produced clear 3-D images of the structure that results when two proteins connect with a DNA site to "segregate" DNA during cell division.

"We solve structures to answer questions about how molecules carry out their biological functions. Without knowing the structure, you can't understand molecular mechanisms at a detailed level," says Schumacher, associate professor.

In this case, Schumacher and colleagues answer a basic science question and flag a possible target for clinical attack on antibiotic-resistant Staphlococcus Aureas, a tenacious and often lethal staph infection.