50 years on … the discovery of tubulin continues to advance cancer treatment

    1. Ritu Aneja5
    1. 1Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore
    2. 2School of Biological Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore
    3. 3A*STAR Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore, Singapore
    4. 4Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom
    5. 5Department of Biology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
    1. Correspondence should be addressed to K Crasta or R Aneja; Email: kccrasta{at}ntu.edu.sg or raneja{at}gsu.edu

    The existence of microtubules was known as early as the late 1800s, as documented by Boveri in elegant renderings of his observations of dividing cells (Satzinger 2008). It was not until the late 1940s, however, that the tubular ultrastructure of microtubules became evident due to improvements in fixation methods and electron microscopy. Based on their studies of nerve cells, De Robertis and Schmitt described them as ‘neurotubules’ (De Robertis 1968) betraying that the ubiquity of these structures across cell types was yet to be appreciated. This fact came to light in the early 1960s thanks to Slautterback’s studies of hydra (Slautterback 1963) and Ledbetter and Porter’s studies of plants (Wells 2006); these astute researchers then conferred on these tiny slender tubes their ultimate moniker (Wells 2006, Borisy et al. 2016). Shortly thereafter, the monumental achievement of discerning the fundamental component of the microtubule was made by Gary Borisy, at the time, a graduate student in the lab of Edwin Taylor at the University of Chicago. Borisy was interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of cell division, and to this end, he sought to identify the protein that binds to colchicine and thereby antagonizes mitosis (Borisy et al. 2016). Thus, unfolded a bold journey to isolate tubulin, although he did not call it as such (Wells 2006 …

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