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The Art in Science

Product Image Highways and Byways

Highways and Byways

Sarah Kearns, Graduate Student, Chemical Biology (Verhey Laboratory), University of Michigan Medical School

Just like cities, our cells have a complicated system of molecular roads called microtubules. These long filaments serve as molecular highways for cargo transport. Motor proteins walk along these roads to deliver organelles and other proteins to the right place in the cell. Just like human drivers follow road signs and use GPS to navigate, cellular motors follow chemical changes to the microtubules to know where to go. We can visualize these chemical changes by staining certain road signs with colored dyes and then looking at cells under a microscope. In this image, the microtubule highways are stained in red and a certain chemical change called acetylation, which signals a sturdy road, is shown in yellow. Our lab has identified some specific motors that prefer strong signals like this, but what is this particular stretch of abundant acetylation doing? Back to the lab to find out!