An ancient protein that is involved in cell division and is crucial to growth, development, and even the prevention of cancer turns out to be almost identical in plants and animals. This has been discovered by WUR biochemists together with colleagues in Cambridge. Their findings will be published in the leading journal Cell on 30 January.
For normal cell division, the cell needs to know where its top, bottom, front, back, inside and outside is in relation to the other cells around it. ‘This is crucial to the growth and development of a plant or animal,’ says Dolf Weijers, chair at Biochemistry. ‘Otherwise a plant won’t grow any leaves, or an embryo won’t develop. And uncontrolled cell division leads to cancer.’
Relatively, quite a lot is known about the development of this sense of direction – called cell polarity – in animal cells. But in the case of plants, it has long been shrouded in mystery. Weijers is working on solving that mystery. He had a major breakthrough last year when he and his group discovered a new set of proteins that ‘tell’ the cell what the poles of the compass are. They called them soseki or compass proteins. Soseki is Japanese for cornerstone, appropriate as the proteins are found in the corners of the cells.