Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
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VIDEO: A map showing how the 552 pieces of the pore complex fit together could inform research into numerous diseases. view more 

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Like an island nation, the nucleus of a cell has a transportation problem. Evolution has enclosed it with a double membrane, the nuclear envelope, which protects DNA but also cuts it off from the rest of the cell. Nature’s solution is a massive–by molecular standards–cylindrical configuration known as the nuclear pore complex, through which imports and exports travel, connecting the bulk of the cell with its headquarters.

In research described March 14 in Nature, scientists at Rockefeller University and their colleagues have delineated the architecture of the nuclear pore complex in yeast cells. The biological blueprint they uncovered shares principles sometimes seen on a much larger scale in concrete, steel, and wire.

“It reminds us of a suspension bridge, in which a combination of sturdy and flexible parts produce a stress-resilient structure,” says Michael P. Rout, who led the work together with Brian T. Chait.

The pore complex contains 552 component proteins, called nucleoporins, and scientists hadn’t previously known how they all fit together. It took a combination of approaches to assemble a comprehensive map of these pieces.

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