During cell division, each daughter cell must inherit exactly one copy of the chromosome. Errors can lead to cell death or cancer in somatic cells, and developmental disorders in the germline. Two macromolecular machines coordinate chromosome segregation: the µm-scale spindle moves chromosomes through its growing and shrinking microtubules, and the 100nm-scale kinetochore anchors chromosomes to spindle microtubules and regulates their segregation. How do these two machines precisely and robustly divide chromosomes, and how do their nm-scale constituents work together to generate µm-scale movements?
Our work focuses on the basic requirements of accurate chromosome segregation: moving chromosomes, and moving them to the right places. How do shrinking and growing microtubule tips generate force to move chromosomes, and how do chromosomes hold on to such dynamic structures? Furthermore, how can the spindle be strong enough to oppose these forces, and yet dynamic enough to remodel itself as chromosomes move? Finally, how does the cell verify that chromosome copies are correctly attached to the spindle prior to segregating them, such that its genetic material will be equally distributed to daughter cells?
To address these questions, one must uncover how molecules, mechanics and cellular function relate to each other. We thus use an inter-disciplinary approach. We mechanically perturb cells by cutting their structures and poking them, probe key players using cell and molecular tools, and map how the cell’s machines are organized and designed using sub-diffraction imaging.