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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Quality control mechanisms in biology  

Cells in our body accomplish remarkably complex tasks, by the millions and in real time. Powerful quality control mechanisms ensure that these tasks are properly executed. Failure of quality control mechanisms is now understood to underlie devastating diseases including cancer and dementia.


peaking at atomsLocalization of specific elements within a cell that is undergoing mitosis, the process of cell division. The major goal of mitosis is to segregate an equal complement of chromosomes, which are highly condensed forms of DNA, to each of two daughter cells. If not resulting in cell death, failure to achieve perfect segregation of chromosomes to daughter cells is a significant risk factor for cancer and several other diseases. The top, middle, and bottom rows of micrographs represent the early, mid-, and late stages of mitosis. The green chromophore corresponds to SUMO, a small ubiquitin-like protein that is covalently tagged to other proteins and modify their function. The red chromophore corresponds to the microtubule cytoskeletal network, while the blue chromophore correspondes to the chromosomes. Please visit the webpage of Michael Matunis for additional details about SUMO and its role in various key cellular processes. 


The BMB department has a long standing tradition of defining the mechanisms used by cells to protect the integrity of their genome, thanks to several DNA repair pathways, as well as to maintain and modify the patency and functionality of their proteins, through pathways and mechanisms making extensive use of specific postranslational modifications, such a phosphorylation, ubiquitination, and sumoylation. Past pioneers  including Larry Grossman and Cecile Pickart, present leaders such as Paul Miller and Michael Matunis, and recent recruits such as Val Culotta, Jiou Wang and Anthony Leung are the main conveyers of this expertise in BMB. Failure of quality control mechanisms is now understood to underlie a variety of diseases including cancer, various neurodegenerative conditions including Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, diabetes, and aging. More information about how this research area relates to departmental priorities can be found here.