[RESEARCH INSIDER] The Cell as City – Brick Roads and Buildings

Kinesin protein walking on microtubule (Photo: Youtube)

Research Insider this week gets up close with Shu Yao Leong who is in her first year pursuing a PhD in Cellular Nanoscience at the University of Tübingen. Her research field is in microtubule and intracellular dynamics at the nanocellular level. Research Insider also identifies the areas of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which the research covers and its impact. 


What got you into your research field?

Honestly, I kind of fell into it. I just liked the elegant simplicity of microtubules that is surprisingly complex. Microtubules are like little brick roads laid out inside the cell, on which little transporter proteins can walk to move stuff around. This road (microtubule) is made up of only two types of bricks (alpha- and beta-tubulin proteins). Despite this, the roads can take very complex architecture, just like how bricks in our world can be used to lay down a road but also build castles and towers. It is like studying the architecture of the cell as a city.

Shu Yao is in her first-year pursuing a PhD in Cellular Nanoscience in University of Tübingen

What is the novelty of your research?

Two transporters (Kinesin-8 and -13) are renowned as microtubule depolymerases in animals. This means that these transporters can destroy the road (microtubule) they walk on. This is important for recycling of the bricks (tubulin) to build new roads (microtubules). However, moss Kinesin-8 and -13 did not destroy these roads (microtubules). Our research showed that Kinesin-8 could still walk on these roads (microtubules), whereas Kinesin-13 instead showed a different ability to cause road destruction events (microtubule catastrophe). This means that microtubule dynamics in moss and possibly plants are quite different from animals.

Why is your research important?

These roads (microtubules) are important for DNA delivery to daughter cells when the cell divides. Thus, these particular roads (microtubules) need to be perfect. In animals, when Kinesin-8 and/or -13 are removed, these roads (microtubules) become too long, causing problems in DNA delivery. However, moss Kinesin-8 and -13 did not actively destroy these roads (microtubules) and their removal from moss cells did not result in overly long roads (microtubules). Importantly, DNA could be successfully delivered, albeit with some delay. This hints that division of DNA in plants is more different from that in animals than previously thought.

What is the SDG impact of your research?

Themes and patterns in nature tend to repeat. While many cellular processes seem effectually similar, there are differences in the details. Broadening our understanding of important cellular processes provides us with a springboard to make educated guesses about other cellular processes which are not as easy to study. It is similar to how we can guess how a building was
built if we had studied the construction of many other buildings. Our research furthers the understanding of cell division and microtubule-based processes, adding a worthy puzzle piece to the picture of life.

Watch episode #7 of Malaysian Research Insider, a webinar series organised by Malaysian Biosciences Scholars (MBIOS) and 100 Scientists of Malaysia in collaboration with Science Media Centre Malaysia with Shu Yao Leong

**All previous posts about Research Insider: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/research-insider/

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