On Microtubules and 2018 goals

Microtubules grow (via polymerization) or shrink (via depolymerization)**

In 2018, I will strive to be like a microtubule.

Wait- don’t go yet! Hear me out! As a graduate student in a Cell Biology department, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about cells and the proteins within them. So, it is no small wonder that on this last day of 2017, here I am pondering the past year, and drawing cell-related analogies.

So: let’s unpack this: what are microtubules, and why would I want to be like them in 2018?

Microtubules are one of the major cytoskeletal (cyto=cell and skeletal=exactly what you’re imagining: a scaffold/support, just like our skeletons) structures in eukaryotic cells. They are long, hollow structures that are made of a structured polymer-like assembly of two proteins called α-tubulin and β-tubulin. Attached to the tubulin molecules is another molecule called guanine tri-phosphate (GTP). When the GTP is happily bound, the microtubule grows and polymerizes. When GTP breaks apart, it changes the structure of the β-tubulin that it is attached to and is unable to polymerize with the α-tubulin. The microtubule will then start to depolymerize and shrink.

This impressive ability to switch up polymerization status is a part of a property of microtubules called “dynamic instability”. Microtubules have this property because a key role that they play is to change and adjust in length depending on what the cell needs. For example: is the cell about to divide? this will mean that some microtubules will need to shrink, and others will need to grow in order to facilitate cell division. Basically, the versatility demonstrated by microtubules allows for the cells to adjust and respond to their circumstances.

This is all great, but what does this mean for me?

This means that this year, as I traverse the hills and valleys associated with graduate school and life as a whole, I will strive to be versatile enough to adjust to what my surrounding environment requires of me in order to learn, grow, and be a better student, scientist, and person.

This mindset will put me in a proactive space to break down bad habits and build up good ones. This will need me to actively discern when I need help and ask for it sooner rather than later. This approach will ultimately require me to be responsive, willing and able to extend myself where necessary, and fall back when necessary. Just like a microtubule would!

You didn’t expect so much depth from a cytoskeletal component of a cell, now did you?

If you’d like to read more about these fascinating structures, a neat resource:

  • Horio, Tetsuya, and Takashi Murata. “The role of dynamic instability in microtubule organization.” Frontiers in plant science 5 (2014).
  • **Image source: © 1999 The American Society for Cell Biology Rochlin, M. W., Dailey, M. E. & Bridgman, P. C. Polymerizing microtubules activate site-directed F-actin assembly in nerve growth cones. Molecular Biology of the Cell 10, 2309–2327 (1999) doi: 10.1091/mbc.10.7.2309. All rights reserved.
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