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Separation of Powers

Amoeba cytoskeleton – inner structure – provides insight into diversity and evolution and targets for treating amoeba infections

26 March 2022

Separation of Powers

Key components of the cytoskeleton in all eukaryotic cells, those with a defined nucleus, microtubules are involved in many fundamental processes, from intracellular transport to cell division. These filaments are composed of proteins known as tubulins, which are typically multi-functional. Yet, in the amoeba Naegleri gruberi, a unicellular eukaryote distantly related to animals and fungi, different and evolutionarily distinct sets of tubulins perform specific tasks. Some make up the cytoskeleton when the crawling amoeba transitions to a swimming form, with a flagellum (right, in yellow), while others, more divergent from other eukaryote tubulins, form its mitotic spindle (left, in blue), separating chromosomes during cell division. Besides illuminating the ancient evolution of eukaryotic life, studying these tubulins could help tackle a more immediate problem: N. gruberi’s distinctive mitotic tubulins are conserved in the closely-related amoeba N. fowleri, which causes serious infections of the brain, making them useful targets for potential treatments.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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