"The old view is that the nucleus is simply a warehouse for chromosomes," says Wilson, associate professor of cell biology in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences. "But new research and imaging techniques show that the nucleus is really the cell's mothership, a crucial and very active source of information, support and control."
It's not too surprising that the nucleus itself has been overshadowed by the easy-to-see reams of genetic material and the fascinatingly tiny machinery that loosens, prepares, reads and copies genes. But in the last 10 or 15 years, evidence has mounted that these interior processes are actively linked to the nucleus, not just randomly taking place inside it, says Wilson, also chair of the public information committee of the American Society for Cell Biology, which helped organize the session.
Wilson and others, for example, are investigating rope-like nuclear proteins called lamins, which form networks throughout the nucleus. A few years ago, scientists discovered that mutations in the gene for "A-type" lamins cause Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, the third most common of the muscle-wasting disorders.
"That changed everything," says Wilson. "Until then, it was difficult to get federal funding to study lamins -- they were seen as boring. However, once they were linked to a human disease, scientists inside and outside the field appreciated that these proteins are doing unexpected, unexplained things."