KU Medical Center researcher helps discover a key element of bacterial cell reproduction

August 31, 2011

Joe Lutkenhaus, PhD

A scientist at the University of Kansas Medical Center led a team of researchers who have uncovered a critical element that helps regulate the bacterial cell division process. Joseph Lutkenhaus, PhD, a Distinguished Professor of Microbiology, Molecular Genetics and Immunology, is co-author of the research article published in the August issue of the journal Cell.

The research conducted by Lutkenhaus and his fellow scientists from KU Medical Center, the University of Kansas and the APS Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, focused on the unique interaction between two proteins involved in regulating bacterial cell division.

"This is a unique discovery that provides keen insight into novel events during cell division," said Paul Terranova, PhD, vice chancellor for research at KU Medical Center.

Lutkenhaus is considered one of the country's foremost bacterial cell researchers, and in 1991, he gained worldwide attention for his discovery that FtsZ, a protein in all bacterial cells, forms a ring in the middle of a cell when it is preparing to divide.

"We have known for some time now that FtsZ is the key protein that puts cell reproduction into motion in bacteria," said Lutkenhaus. "But what we didn't know until now is how this protein was able to line up right in the middle of the cell and form the Z-ring that causes a cell to divide into two daughter cells."

What Lutkenhaus and his colleagues discovered is that two other proteins, MinD and MinE, cooperate to oscillate from one end of the cell to the other, restricting the Z-ring to the center of the cell, where the concentration of the two bouncing proteins is the least.

"The two proteins bounce around like Tarzan swinging on vines through the jungle," Lutkenhaus said. "It was quite exciting, because the mechanism had been a completely unexplored part of cell biology until now."


Last modified: Sep 13, 2011