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The discovery of tubulin

The Journal of Cell Biology
The Rockefeller University Press
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1083/jcb1694fta1
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1694fta From the Archive JCB • VOLUME 169 • NUMBER 4 • 2005552 The discovery of tubulin n 1963, improved fixation methods led to the definitive identification of microtubules (see “Microtubules get a name” JCB. 168:852). Just one year later, Gary Borisy embarked on a daring project to isolate the main component of those microtubules. The effort was initiated by Edwin Taylor at the University of Chicago. Taylor was interested in using colchicine to study mitosis. Unfortunately, “the liter- ature on the effects of colchicine was very confused,” says Borisy. Colchicine was known to destroy the mitotic spindle but could also inhibit a disparate collection of other processes including distracting oddi- I ties such as cellulose deposition in plants. Colchicine did, however, bind with high affinity and simple kinetics to cells, suggesting that isolation of a complex of colchicine with its binding protein(s) should be possible (Taylor, 1965). As a new graduate student in Taylor’s lab, Borisy “got very excited” by the prospect of finding the colchicine-binding protein. “I begged to do this as a thesis project,” says Borisy. “He said no, no, no, it’s too risky. But I begged to do it.” Others told him, “ ‘You’ll have nonspecific binding and it’ll be a mess.’ But what did I know—I was a student.” Colchicine did turn out to be specific, and Borisy did succeed in isolating a colchi- cine-binding activity from extracts of tissue culture cells (Borisy and Taylor, 1967a). The highest binding activity came from di- viding cells, the isolated mitotic apparatus (Borisy and Taylor, 1967b), cilia, sperm tails (Shelanski and Taylor, 1967), and brain tissue. The brain tissue was a tempor- ary scare: “It seemed like, oh my goodness, this is a totally nonspecific binding reaction and it’s a mess,” says Borisy. But there was a common denominator in that all the sources had an abundance of microtubules. Further correlation came when the colchicine-binding activity w

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