The study of the cell cycle focuses on mechanisms that regulate the timing and frequency of DNA duplication and cell division. As a biological concept, the cell cycle is defined as the period between successive divisions of a cell. During this period, the contents of the cell must be accurately replicated. Microscopists had known about cell division for more than one hundred years, but not until the 1950s, through the pioneering work of Alma Howard and Stephen Pelc, did they become aware that DNA replication took place only at a specific phase of the cell cycle and that this phase was clearly separated from mitosis. Howard and Pelc's work in the broad bean, Vicia faba, revealed that the cell goes through many discrete phases before and after cell division. From this understanding, scientists then identified the four characteristic phases of the cell cycle: mitosis (M), gap 1 (G1), DNA synthesis (S), and gap 2 (G2). The study of these phases, the proteins that regulate them, and the complex biochemical interactions that stop or start DNA replication and cell division (cytokinesis) are the primary concerns of cell cycle biologists.
The most significant progress in this research field came with the demonstration that specific protein complexes involving cyclins were critical for regulating the passage of cells through the cell cycle. These early observations came from biological studies of the cells of rapidly dividing fertilized frog eggs as well as mutant yeast cells that could not divide. The observations suggested that regulation of the cell cycle is conserved throughout eukaryotes, which has since proved to be the case. The mechanism of division in bacteria differs from that of eukaryotes, and the control of their cell cycle is also somewhat different, although again it is linked with DNA replication.
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald