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Midwives Assist in Amoeba Labor

Humans aren¿t the only creatures who need a helping hand when it comes to giving birth. According to a report published today in the journal Nature, amoebas sometime seek a midwife when the going gets tough. The finding sheds light on how these single-celled organisms multiply faster than other eukaryotic cells.

Amoeba reproduction is an asexual event in which the organism doubles its genetic material, creates two nuclei and then sets about dividing into two cells. Whereas a human mother¿s girth increases up until birth, an ameoba mother becomes pinched in the middle, forming a narrow waist. But in at least one kind of amoeba, when it comes to cleaving the tether that binds "mother" and "daugher" together, the process stalls and the two cells struggle to disconnect. Previously scientists had envisioned only two outcomes at this critical stage. Either the mother and daughter succeed in stretching the tether to its breaking point, or they give up in the tug-of-war and revert to being a single cell with two nuclei.

The new research, conducted by scientists at the Weizmann Institute, now reveals another possibility. The team found that in a number of cases, a third amoeba came to the rescue, lodging itself between mother and daughter, and exerting pressure on the tether until it snapped. On further investigation, they discovered that, in fact, the conjoined amoebas actually send out a chemical distress signal, to which the midwives respond.

The team plans to study the exact composition of this chemical attractant, as well as the mechanisms of its release and reception in the future. A better understanding of amoeba reproduction could one day help scientists to control dysentery and other amoeba-borne diseases.

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