December 8, 2006

Discovery Lecture examines cell cycle’s delicate dance

Featured Image

After delivering the most recent Discovery Lecture, Kathleen Gould, Ph.D., second from left, talks with, from left, Liliana Solnica-Krezel, Ph.D., Ela Knapik, M.D., and Patricia Labosky, Ph.D.
Photo by Anne Rayner

Discovery Lecture examines cell cycle’s delicate dance

It is humbling to consider that each of us started life as a single cell.

Equally humbling, perhaps, is the realization that we have much to learn when it comes to our own development.

For nearly 20 years, Kathleen Gould, Ph.D., has dedicated herself to filling in the gaps in our understanding of the "macromolecular machines" that give rise to our flesh and bone.

Gould, professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is internationally known for her research on the control of the cell cycle.

On Nov. 30, in the sixth installment of the Vanderbilt Discovery Lecture Series, Gould described her recent research on cytokinesis — the process by which the cytoplasm is separated to produce new cells — and how this is precisely coordinated with nuclear division.

Failure to properly coordinate these events can lead to cell death or genomic instability, and can predispose organisms to a variety of disease states including cancer, she said.

Gould has pursued her task with the determination and creativity of a resourceful detective, using all the tools at her command, from biochemistry and proteomics to structural biology and genetics.

It's not all dark alleys and late nights, however. Gould's discoveries have helped reveal the beauty of this fundamental activity of life.

Using yeast as a model organism, for example, she and her colleagues have helped determine the three-dimensional structure of the anaphase promoting complex (APC), a key player in the final stages of cell division.

APC looks a bit like a catcher's mitt, with a deep pocket for "catching" proteins that were important in preparing the cell for division but which now must be inactivated.

"Isn't it lovely?" Gould exclaimed, as the bright yellow computer-generated structure of APC was projected on a screen.

"We're beginning to get a picture of how this machine is organized."

"What is really thrilling to us," she continued, is evidence that the structure of the yeast APC is conserved in higher organisms.

Gould's enthusiasm is infectious. She has won several faculty awards and has mentored 11 graduate students.

As they continue their inventory of the marvelous machine of cell division, Gould and her colleagues are driven as much by their appreciation for the beauty of life as they are by their curiosity.

It is, as Gould might say, a humbling experience.

For a complete schedule of the Discovery Lecture Series and archived video of previous lectures, go to