Our researchers seek to understand the activity of and interactions between the many molecules that make up the complex world of the cell. They investigate how the molecules and specialized structures inside of our cells work in concert with each other, in a precisely choreographed dance, to ensure that biological processes happen when and how they should.
Whitehead Institute scientists are studying cell division, an intricate process, every aspect of which must be executed correctly for normal growth and development. Our bodies each began as one cell that had to divide an astounding number of times to create the roughly 30 trillion cells that make up a human body--and billions of these cells continue to divide every day. By identifying the molecules involved in cell division, and determining how cells carry out the process, our researchers are improving our understanding of cell division in normal development and in turn how it may go awry in diseases like cancer.
Our researchers are investigating the molecular mechanisms that help orchestrate and carry out chromosome segregation, and have identified key components of the kinetochore, a protein complex that assembles in the center of chromosomes to connect them to the molecules that pull them apart. Our researchers also seek to understand instances in which chromosome segregation is non-random.
Stem cells are full of possibility, able to differentiate, or turn into, nearly any specialized cell type that the body needs, like a blood cell, a skin cell, or a neuron. When a stem cell divides, often one of the daughter cells remains a stem cell, while the other daughter cell progresses through increasingly specialized divisions to become a specific, typically non-dividing, differentiated cell type. Our researchers seek to understand this asymmetric cell division: how is it determined which daughter cell will differentiate and which will not, and what mechanisms facilitate this?
Errors in cell division are common in cancer. When chromosomes are not properly divvied up, cells may end up with the wrong set of chromosomes and the wrong number of chromosomes—states commonly observed in cancer cells. By better understanding the molecular biology of chromosome segregation and cell division, our researchers provide useful insights into how these processes may be disrupted in disease.
Institute Member Iain Cheeseman determined the structure of the centromere, a cellular component essential for chromosome replication.
Whitehead Institute Member Richard Young has made fundamental discoveries on the function and regulatory role of phase-separated condensates in cells.