A breakthrough discovery into how living cells process and respond to chemical information could help advance the development of treatments for a large number of cancers and other cellular disorders that have been resistant to therapy. An international collaboration of researchers, led by scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, have unlocked the secret behind the activation of the Ras family of proteins, one of the most important components of cellular signaling networks in biology and major drivers of cancers that are among the most difficult to treat.
Archive for the ‘Interesting Studies’ Category
A man with almost no hair on his body has grown a full head of it after a novel treatment by doctors at Yale University.
There is currently no cure or long-term treatment for alopecia universalis, the disease that left the 25-year-old patient bare of hair. This is the first reported case of a successful targeted treatment for the rare, highly visible disease.
The patient has also grown eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as facial, armpit, and other hair, which he lacked at the time he sought help.
“The results are exactly what we hoped for,” said Dr. Brett A. King, assistant professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and senior author of a paper reporting the results online June 18 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. “This is a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition. While it’s one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this man based on our current understanding of the disease and the drug. We believe the same results will be duplicated in other patients, and we plan to try.”
Why would already abundant ‘natural killer’ cells proliferate even further after subduing an infection? It’s been a biological mystery for 30 years. But now Brown University scientists have an answer: After proliferation, the cells switch from marshaling the immune response to calming it down. The findings illuminate the functions of a critical immune system cell important for early defense against disease induced by viral infection.
A grandfather clock is, on its surface, a simple yet elegant machine. Tall and stately, its job is to steadily tick away the time. But a look inside reveals a much more intricate dance of parts, from precisely-fitted gears to cable-embraced pulleys and bobbing levers.
Like exploring the inner workings of a clock, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers is digging into the inner workings of the tiny cellular machines called spliceosomes, which help make all of the proteins our bodies need to function. In a recent study published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, UW-Madison’s David Brow, Samuel Butcher and colleagues have captured images of this machine, revealing details never seen before.
In their study, they reveal parts of the spliceosome — built from RNA and protein — at a greater resolution than has ever been achieved, gaining valuable insight into how the complex works and also how old its parts may be.
By better understanding the normal processes that make our cells tick, this information could some day act as a blueprint for when things go wrong. Cells are the basic units of all the tissues in our bodies, from our hearts to our brains to our skin and lungs.
It may also help other scientists studying similar cellular machinery and, moreover, it provides a glimpse back in evolutionary time, showing a closer link between proteins and RNA, DNA’s older cousin, than was once believed.
“It gives us a much better idea of how RNA and proteins interact than ever before,” says Brow, a UW-Madison professor of biomolecular chemistry.
The spliceosome is composed of six complexes that work together to edit the raw messages that come from genes, cutting out (hence, splicing) unneeded parts of the message. Ultimately, these messages are translated into proteins, which do the work of cells. The team created crystals of a part of the spliceosome called U6, made of RNA and two proteins, including one called Prp24.
Crystals are packed forms of a structure that allow scientists to capture three-dimensional images of the atoms and molecules within it. The crystals were so complete, and the resolution of the images so high, the scientists were able to see crucial details that otherwise would have been missed.
The team found that in U6, the Prp24 protein and RNA — like two partners holding hands — are intimately linked together in a type of molecular symbiosis. The structure yields clues about the relationship and the relative ages of RNA and proteins, once thought to be much wider apart on an evolutionary time scale.
“What’s so cool is the degree of co-evolution of RNA and protein,” Brow says. “It’s obvious RNA and protein had to be pretty close friends already to evolve like this.”
The images revealed that a part of Prp24 dives through a small loop in the U6 RNA, a finding that represents a major milestone on Brow and Butcher’s quest to determine how U6′s protein and RNA work together. It also confirms other findings Brow has made over the last two decades.
“No one has ever seen that before and the only way it can happen is for the RNA to open up, allow the protein to pass through, and then close again,” says Butcher, a UW-Madison professor of biochemistry.
Ultimately, Butcher says they want to understand what the entire spliceosome looks like, how the machines get built in cells and how they work.
While this is the first protein-RNA link like this seen, Brow doesn’t believe it is unique. Once more complete, high-resolution images are captured of other RNA-protein machines and their components, he thinks these connections will appear more commonly.
He hopes the findings mark a transition in the journey to understand these cellular workhorses.
“It’s exciting studying these machines,” he says. “There are only three big RNA machines. Ours evolved 2 billion years ago. But once it’s figured out, it’s done.”
The U6 crystal structure was imaged using the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory. The work was funded by a joint grant from the National Institutes of Health shared by Brow and Butcher.
Thanks to University of Wisconsin-Madison for contributing this story.
A new approach to studying microbes in the wild will allow scientists to sequence the genomes of individual species from complex mixtures. It marks a big advance for understanding the enormous diversity of microbial communities —including the human microbiome. The work is described in an article published May 22 in Early Online form in the journal G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics, published by the Genetics Society of America.
“This new method will allow us to discover many currently unknown microbial species that can’t be grown in the lab, while simultaneously assembling their genome sequences,” says co-author Maitreya Dunham, a biologist at the University of Washington’s Department of Genome Sciences.
Microbial communities, whether sampled from the ocean floor or a human mouth, are made up of many different species living together. Standard methods for sequencing these communities combine the information from all the different types of microbes in the sample. The result is a hodgepodge of genes that is challenging to analyze, and unknown species in the sample are difficult to discover.
“Our approach tells us which sequence fragments in a mixed sample came from the same genome, allowing us to construct whole genome sequences for individual species in the mix,” says co-author Jay Shendure, also of the University of Washington’s Department of Genome Sciences.
The key advance was to combine standard approaches with a method that maps out which fragments of sequence were once near each other inside a cell. The cells in the sample are first treated with a chemical that links together DNA strands that are in close proximity. Only strands that are inside the same cell will be close enough to link. The DNA is then chopped into bits, and the linked portions are isolated and sequenced.
“This elegant method enables the study of microbes in the environment,” says Brenda Andrews, editor-in-chief of the journal G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. Andrews is alsoDirector of the Donnelly Centre and the Charles H. Best Chair of Medical Research at the University of Toronto. “It will open many windows into an otherwise invisible world.”
At a time when personal microbiome sequencing is becoming extremely popular, this method breaks important ground in helping researchers to build a complete picture of the genomic content of complex mixtures of microorganisms. This complete picture will be crucial for understanding the impact of varying microbiome populations and the relevance of particular microorganisms for individual health.
CITATION: Species-Level Deconvolution of Metagenome Assemblies with Hi-C-Based Contact Probability Maps Joshua N. Burton, Ivan Liachko, Maitreya J. Dunham, and Jay Shendure. G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics g3.114.011825; Early Online May 22, 2014, doi:10.1534/g3.114.011825; PMID 24855317.
Thanks to the Genetics Society of America for contributing this story.