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Friday, 2 June, 2000, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Frog spawn yields clues to life

Frog spawn nucleii are perfect for study
For decades fascinating only to little boys, frog spawn is now at the heart of a major scientific breakthrough.

Experiments on the frog eggs have given clues to one of the most important building blocks of life itself.

And while the scientists responsible know that many years' work lie ahead, they say that it could eventually help doctors produce treatments for cancer and other diseases.

A study, conducted at the University of Dundee, and published in the journal Science, found that a single body chemical plays a key role in controlling the development of the membrane which surrounds the nucleus of the cell.

This is the part of the cell which holds the genes which, in turn, control the way the body develops and operates.

The "nuclear envelope", as the membrane is called, is important because it plays a large role in both the function of genes and the division and growth of cells.

The study team, led by Dr Paul Clarke at the University's Biomedical Research Centre, managed to use the body chemical, or enzyme, called Ran, to create their own nuclear envelopes.

These formed around tiny microscopic beads, and Dr Clarke hopes this will add to their understanding - and allow them to study the effects of the enzyme more closely.

He said: "Previously, it has not been understood how the structure of the nuclear envelope is controlled during cell division.

"This structure is very similar in the cells of all animals, plants and fungi."

'New therapies'

"It will help us to discover new ways in which cell division could be controlled and may allow new therapies for cancer and other diseases to be discovered."

This is because cancer happens when something goes wrong in the way that a cell divides and reproduces.

Cells divide too much - and then do not die off when they should.

The research at Dundee was originally funded by the Cancer Research Campaign, but is now paid for by official government research grants.

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