Breaking DNA

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Science  26 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6276, pp. 916-917
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2509

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To maintain a constant number of chromosomes from one generation to the next, sexual organisms reduce the genome complement in their gametes through the specialized cellular division of meiosis. Accurate separation of homologous chromosomes during meiosis relies on a dedicated mechanism of DNA recombination that is initiated by DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) made by a protein called sporulation protein 11 (Spo11) (1). Meiotic recombination helps connect homologous chromosomes to promote their accurate segregation, and also shuffles alleles between homologous chromosomes to increase diversity. Spo11 is encoded in nearly all sequenced eukaryotic genomes, and it is likely that most species that carry out meiotic recombination use Spo11-generated DSBs as the initiators (2). Spo11 is thus an ancient and fundamental part of sexual reproduction. On pages 939 and 943 of this issue, Vrielynck et al. (3) and Robert et al. (4) report the discovery of a long-sought partner of Spo11 in plants and mice, respectively.