Visualizing “Unfurling” Microtubule Growth

Living cells depend absolutely on tubulin, a protein that forms hollow tube-like polymers, called microtubules, that form scaffolding for moving materials inside the cell. Tubulin-based microtubule scaffolding allows cells to move, keeps things in place or moves them around. When cells divide, microtubule fibers pull the chromosomes apart into new cells. Cells with defects in tubulin polymerization die.

Microtubule fibers are hollow rods made of much smaller tubulin subunits that spontaneously assemble at one end of the rod, but exactly how they do this inside the crowded environment of living cells has been a mystery. Now researchers at UC Davis have uncovered the mechanism that puts these blocks in place, illustrated in a new animation.