Dartmouth researcher goes to Cape Cod to study cell division

May 09, 2001

Hanover, NH - Like many who visit Cape Cod in the summer, Roger Sloboda, Ira Allen Eastman Professor of Biology at Dartmouth College, goes for the clams. Not the fried ones, however. He prefers his clams ripe with eggs.

Sloboda's been making this trip since 1980 to study how cells divide, a process called mitosis. With support from the Whiting Foundation, he will embark on his annual journey to the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA, in early June. Surf clams, found in the cold coastal waters of the North Atlantic, are fertile from May through July, and he can obtain millions of egg cells from a single female clam.

During his eight weeks at MBL, Sloboda will study approximately 250 surf clams, each providing millions of live eggs. Surf clams are ideal for this research mainly because of the large volume of eggs they create, and how easily they can be manipulated to undergo mitosis at the same time.

"The eggs can be induced to undergo cell division synchronously, and I can study millions of cells, each at the very same stage of division," Sloboda said. His research aims to better understand the phase of cell division when the chromosomes separate. Defects in this process are involved in such human problems as cancer and Down's syndrome. Because the mechanism for cell division in clams is similar to that in most animals, what Sloboda learns from his research may some day be applied to human cells.

Sloboda and his Dartmouth students have already determined that a protein called p62 is required for cell division, and his lab also discovered that a cell's nucleus appears to store p62 for use during this process. This summer's research will focus on two questions: is p62's residence in the nucleus required for healthy cell division, and what other proteins interact with p62 during cell division.

The unique research facilities at MBL, which include trained divers to collect the clams, along with large volumes of aerated, filtered and chilled sea water with the proper amounts of plankton and other microorganisms, make it possible to conduct this research. "It's impractical to recreate this lab at Dartmouth," Sloboda said, although he will freeze thousands of samples for use while working with both undergraduate and graduate students back in Hanover.
NOTE: A photo of Roger Sloboda can be e-mailed upon request to sue.knapp@dartmouth.edu

Dartmouth College

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