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Scientists of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have developed a tool to eliminate essential proteins from cells with a flash of light. The new method makes it possible to study the function of essential proteins.
Proteins not only provide much of the structural architecture of cells, they also perform most of the executive functions by acting as highly specific chemical catalysts. Hence, they are intimately involved in all fundamental biological processes, including metabolism, growth and cell division. Conversely, alterations in their shapes and activity result in the development of disorders. In order to understand the processes controlled by proteins, it is necessary to understand how each of them works. Biologists normally deduce the role of a protein by analyzing what happens when it is damaged or deleted altogether.
Gene - Case - Proteins - Survival - Organism
Experimentally, this is usually accomplished by mutating or deleting the gene that encodes it. However, in the case of proteins that are essential for the survival of the organism, or of cell types that are required for a particular process, this approach is not very informative, as such mutants tend to die before it can provide insights into the protein's actual function.
Researchers led by Professor Heinrich Leonhardt at LMU's Biocenter have now developed a tool that gets around this problem. Their method makes use of either light or specific chemicals to trigger the selective degradation of the protein of interest. The procedure, and a review of the results so far obtained with it, are reported in the journal Nature Communications.
Order - Technology - Cell - System - Leonhardt
"In order to develop this technology, we reprogrammed the cell's waste-disposal system," says Leonhardt. Proteins that are defective or are no longer required are normally designated for disposal by enzymatically attaching a molecule called ubiquitin to them. The ubiquitin marker is then recognized by a molecular complex called a proteasome, which essentially acts as a shredder...
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