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▲ EXPERIMENTAL FIGURE 20-9 Rate of microtubule growth in vitro is much slower than shrinkage. Individual microtubules can be observed in the light microscope, and their lengths can be plotted at different times during assembly and disassembly. Assembly and disassembly each proceed at uniform rates, but there is a large difference between the rate of assembly and that of disassembly, as seen in the different slopes of the lines. Shortening of a microtubule is much more rapid (7 p,m/min) than growth (1 p,m/min). Notice the abrupt transitions to the shrinkage stage (catastrophe) and to the elongation stage (rescue). [Adapted from P M. Bayley, K. K. Sharma, and S. R. Martin, 1994, in Microtubules, Wiley-Liss, p. 118.]

Dynamic Instability Is an Intrinsic Property of Microtubules

Under appropriate in vitro conditions, some individual mi-crotubules oscillate between growth and shortening phases (Figure 20-9). In all cases, the rate of microtubule growth is much slower than the rate of shortening. When first discovered, this behavior of microtubules, termed dynamic instability, was surprising to researchers because they expected that under any condition all the microtubules in a solution or the same cytosol would behave identically.

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