A motherly mesh

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Toxic waste. Since the 19th century, our species has had to find ways of scrapping industrial detritus which is frequently dangerous. So, we dig deep down into the earth and leave the nasty stuff there or we build thick crusts of cement around it. We then count on time to do the rest. Cells also produce refuse which, unless degraded or somehow set aside, will end up by being harmful to them. So they, too, have devised ways of dealing with it - namely with all kinds of degradative systems lodged within the cells themselves. Some cells, however, are not able to get rid of their scrap material in a timely fashion. Take oocytes, for example. Most mammalian oocytes are arrested at a certain developmental stage as they await ovulation - which may take several decades. During this rather long period, oocytes are kept in a sort of lethargic state and are unable to deal with degradation. So how do they cope with their waste? The answer is ELVAs, or endo-lysosomal vesicular assemblies. Much like fishnets, ELVAs trap noxious scrap within a proteinaceous mesh whose formation is initiated by a protein known as RUFY1.

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