Student may have found 'missing link' of meiosis

March 28, 2014 by Stacey Shackford, Cornell University

(Medical Xpress)—It's been dubbed the holy grail of meiosis – the missing link that connects DNA repair, replication and recombination – and Najla Al-Sweel believes she may have found it. The generosity of Cornell alumni will help further investigate her discovery and share it with the world.

A Ph.D. candidate in the lab of molecular biology and genetics professor Eric Alani, Al-Sweel studies the role of a protein, Mlh3, in maintaining the "genomic integrity" of cells.

The protein serves a dual role: performing quality control of the cell's DNA as it replicates and making repairs if necessary; and facilitating communication among sections of overlapping chromosomes that are exchanging vital information during the "crossing over" phase of meiosis cell division. If that communication goes awry, the chromosomal sections cannot be cut apart, which can lead to genetic abnormalities that cause spontaneous miscarriages and birth defects.

"We don't fully understand the underlying mechanisms and how these steps are happening," Al-Sweel says. "It's like a choreographed dance, and each player has a role. The protein connected to crossing over is unknown, but we now have evidence that it is Mlh3."

While making mutations of the protein and studying how the changes affected both of its functions, Al-Sweel found domains that appeared to be specialized for meiosis only.

"It was really exciting. Now I can begin to look at how those areas work during ," Al-Sweel says.

It is not her only quest. Al-Sweel also is dedicated to creating better opportunities for women in science and bridging scientific communities in the United States and the Middle East.

Al-Sweel grew up in Virginia but attended high school and college in Saudi Arabia, where marriage between first cousins is common; so are , and it piqued Al-Sweel's interest in genetics.

The culture of Saudi Arabia led her to become a scientist. Now the culture of science has led her back to Saudi Arabia.

"When I got into science, I began to see the disparities that exist between men and women, especially in the Middle East," she says. "These ladies are smart. They really have something to offer, and that should not be taken away. It's not much better here in the United States. Female scientists have some advantages, but there is still a lot of disparity. I think it's my job to do something about it."

There is a great need for female professors in Saudi Arabia, where higher education is segregated by gender. Al-Sweel plans to become a professor there, while also keeping one foot in the United States – possibly through an adjunct faculty position – so she can continue to be exposed to techniques and technologies at the cutting edge of science.

"I can be a scientific bridge between the U.S. and the Middle East," Al-Sweel says.

A recent $20,000 award will help her do that. Established in 2011 by Tom '64 and Diann '66 Mann and Cornell parents Jeanne and Gary Newman, the Harry and Samuel Mann Outstanding Graduate Student Award was conceived by cousins Tom and Jeanne to honor their fathers, Harry and Samuel Mann, the sons of Russian immigrants who were early innovators in the production of penicillin and the sale of research biochemicals.

"Najla's work is the embodiment of the award's mission: to help people achieve their dreams and bring the people of all nations together to improve their welfare through the life sciences," Tom Mann said.

Explore further: Elderly woman dies of SARS-like virus in Saudi

Related Stories

Elderly woman dies of SARS-like virus in Saudi

May 26, 2013
An 81-year-old woman who had contracted a SARS-like coronavirus has died in Saudi Arabia, raising the death toll in the kingdom to 18, the health ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia reports one more death from new virus

March 14, 2014
Saudi Arabia says a man has died from a new respiratory virus related to SARS, bringing to 63 the deaths in the kingdom at the center of the outbreak.

Protein that culls damaged eggs identified, infertility reversed

January 30, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A new discovery by Cornell researchers may lead to therapies that allow women who are made infertile by radiation or chemotherapy treatments to have children.

Saudi begins gene mapping to research diseases

December 9, 2013
Saudi Arabia has launched a genetic code mapping project aimed at identifying the basis of chronic diseases prevalent in the desert kingdom.

Two new MERS deaths in Saudi: ministry

July 7, 2013
A Saudi man and a child have died from the MERS virus, bringing the number of deaths from the respiratory infection in the kingdom to 38, the health ministry said on Sunday.

Recommended for you

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

Fresh approach to tuberculosis vaccine offers better protection

January 17, 2018
A unique platform that resulted in a promising HIV vaccine has also led to a new, highly effective vaccine against tuberculosis that is moving toward testing in humans.

New study validates clotting risk factors in chronic kidney disease

January 17, 2018
In late 2017, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) discovered and published (Science Translational Medicine, (9) 417, Nov 2017) a potential treatment target to prevent chronic kidney disease (CKD) ...

Newly-discovered TB blood signal provides early warning for at-risk patients

January 17, 2018
Tuberculosis can be detected in people with HIV infection via a unique blood signal before symptoms appear, according to a new study by researchers from the Crick, Imperial College London and the University of Cape Town.

New study offers insights on genetic indicators of COPD risk

January 16, 2018
Researchers have discovered that genetic variations in the anatomy of the lungs could serve as indicators to help identify people who have low, but stable, lung function early in life, and those who are particularly at risk ...

Previous influenza virus exposures enhance susceptibility in another influenza pandemic

January 16, 2018
While past exposure to influenza A viruses often builds immunity to similar, and sometimes different, strains of the virus, Canadian researchers are calling for more attention to exceptions to that rule.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.