Blaming things on genetics–everything from lateness to diet quirks–is wildly popular these days. However, DNA’s role in your body’s overall destiny has been greatly exaggerated. Sure, DNA is the “master blueprint”, but any one gene from that blueprint can contain instructions for making hundreds or thousands of tiny cell parts. And even so, there are plenty of cell parts that defy the master template.
Proteins–tiny biological machines made from proteins that you eat– are key players in pretty much every biological process that happens. Yet, their behavior remains almost impossible to decipher. Scientists have gotten pretty good at decoding genes and RNA snippets, and tracking a single type of protein is pretty doable. Also, since RNA snippets are templates for building proteins, scientists often use RNA data to estimate the total number of proteins. But there are thousands of different protein forms in every cell; tracking all of them at once remains basically impossible.
However, variations in those proteins can make an enormous difference in processes like weight gain. And according to a new study, our most-used method for estimating protein numbers–counting the RNAs–only works about 30% of the time.
As in, according to science’s latest numbers, at least 2/3rds of all “genetic bad luck” happens outside of genes.
Continue reading “Why You Can Blame Your Metabolism on Liver Proteomics Instead of Your Genes” »
About the “Under the Radar” series: Some scientific concepts come up again and again in interviews with scientists but never find their way into newspaper headlines. Each post in this series follows one of those biology “bogeys” that fly under journalism’s radar through 3 different mini-stories.
Story #1: Scientists splice up a CRISPR chicken…and find an evolutionary shortcut
Birds’ brains have all of the tools to make mammal-like neurons, according to a study in Science from August. And, incredibly, the researchers behind the study only had to tinker with one gene that changes how chicken cells edit their RNA to unlock several seemingly unrelated mammal neuron traits in chicken neural precursor cells.
It was as if the chicken cells instantly acquired a whole bunch of mutations at once, instead of just one.
Researchers think that this gene editing process– aka “alternative splicing”–may explain why some traits seem to have evolved at such high speeds.
“This is a process that has diverged very rapidly during evolution to produce different versions of proteins,” University of Toronto geneticist Ben Blencowe explained in a phone interview.
500 million years is a long time to evolve, but it’s still hard to account for all of the diversity in vertebrates based on variation in DNA base pairs alone.
The key to animal diversity lies in an aspect of biology that your high school biology class kinda sorta covered, but lots of people forget all the steps after they’re done cramming for the test.
Continue reading “Splice of Life: 3 Examples of How Nature Edits Its Own Genes” »
Host Defense and Viral Immune Evasion: A Proteomics Perspective
In Plain English:
Human cells and viruses are locked in a protein-based arms race for global domination: Will the cell’s defensive proteins successfully recognize viral DNA and alert the immune system? Or will the virus counter with proteins that stop the defensive proteins in their tracks? The answer is that both of these processes are happening all the time.
Ileana Cristea of Princeton University’s Molecular Biology Department
Harvard Medical School’s Microbiology & Immunobiology department
What it covered:
Full disclosure: I got to the talk about 10 minutes late after being stopped by a security guard (who wasn’t sure how to react to a 22-year-old with a backpack who could speak proteomics-babble but couldn’t produce a student ID). So I missed the first few slides of the talk, but when I arrived, Dr. Cristea was introducing the HMS research crowd to Gamma-Interferon-Inducible Protein 16 (IFI-16) and its role in the innate immune system. Continue reading “Viruses can shut down our anti-viral proteins – Recap of talk by Dr. Ileana Cristea” »