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Pairing up: How chromosomes find each other
Date:11/1/2011

KANSAS CITY, MOAfter more than a century of study, mysteries still remain about the process of meiosisa special type of cell division that helps insure genetic diversity in sexually-reproducing organisms. Now, researchers at Stowers Institute for Medical Research shed light on an early and critical step in meiosis.

The research, to be published in the Nov. 8, 2011 issue of Current Biology, clarifies the role of key chromosomal regions called centromeres in the formation of a structure known as the synaptonemal complex (SC). "Understanding this and other mechanisms involved in meiosis is important because of the crucial role meiosis plays in normal reproductionand the dire consequences of meiosis gone awry," says R. Scott Hawley, Ph.D., who led the research at Stowers.

"Failure of the meiotic division is probably the most common cause of spontaneous abortion and causes a number of birth defects such Down syndrome," Hawley says.

Meiosis reduces the number of chromosomes carried by an individual's regular cells by half, allocating precisely one copy of each chromosome to each egg or sperm cell and thus ensuring that the proper number of chromosomes is passed from parent to offspring. And because chromosomes come in pairs23 sets in humansthe chromosomes must be properly matched up before they can be divvied up.

"Chromosome 1 from your dad has to be paired with chromosome 1 from your mom, chromosome 2 from your dad with chromosome 2 from your mom, and so on," Hawley explains, "and that's a real trick. There's no room for error; the first step of pairing is the most critical part of the meiotic process. You get that part wrong, and everything else is going to fail."

The task is something like trying to find your mate in a big box store. It helps if you remember what they are wearing and what parts of the store they usually frequent (for example, movies or big-screen TVs). Similarly, chromosomes can pair up more
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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
gxk@stowers.org
816-806-1036
Stowers Institute for Medical Research
Source:Eurekalert  

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