Dynamic Instability of Microtubules

The discovery of the dynamic instability of microtubules was a milestone in cytoskeleton research. Prior to these studies, the prevailing theory about microtubule dynamics at the time was that polymers continuously lost subunits on one end and gained them on the other, called treadmilling. The authors of these studies, Mitchison and Kirschner, originally were not interested in studying this process. Instead, they set out to study how centrosomes affect microtubule polymerization. However, in doing some dilution experiments, they observed results that were incompatible with this theory. They shifted gears and turned their attention to studying these findings in more detail. What they found was that microtubules exist in two different, interconvertible states. That is, microtubules grow and shorten depending on the concentration of tubulin. They coined this process dynamic instability.

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