Researchers use cells to expand nature's repertoire

Dec 17, 2013 by Bill Hathaway
Yale team uses cells to expand nature’s repertoire
Created by artificial proteins, tumor cells on left invade muscle cells in pink. Credit: DiMaio lab/Yale

Using a cell's own internal machinery, Yale researchers have produced proteins not found in nature that can cause cancer in mice, they report Dec. 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study not only sheds light on the way cancers may form, but also illustrates a new and efficient method to produce novel proteins that can be used for a variety of research, industrial, and medical purposes.

"This is a new class of biologically active proteins, which we found by simply expressing random in and letting the cells find the active ones for us," said Dr. Daniel DiMaio, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Genetics, deputy director of the Yale Cancer Center, and senior author of the study.

Cell proteins are shaped by evolution from combinations of the 20 amino acids that make up the genetic alphabet, usually in chains of hundreds of amino acids. The Yale team was led by DiMaio and Yale College undergraduate Kelly M. Chacon, who conducted the experiment as part of her senior thesis. They wanted to know if they could create short, biologically active proteins that never existed in cells or had been discarded by the process of natural selection. They screened hundreds of thousands of consisting of random sequences of only 29 and identified four novel sequences that produced new proteins active in cell membranes. These tiny proteins do not appear to have ever occurred naturally and when introduced into mice, formed tumors—proving they were biologically active.

DiMaio notes that the random nature of natural selection may have led organisms to discard potentially useful structures that can be identified using this screening technique. These new forms of proteins can be used for a host of purposes, such as enhancing therapeutic responses or developing new molecules to create new biomaterials or disposal of waste.

"We will gain new insights into how proteins work and make novel products that we have not even considered yet," DiMaio said. "In addition, we may need to rethink our definition of genes, because cells may naturally express these sorts of small proteins, which have been overlooked."

Explore further: Researchers find new recipe for novel proteins

More information: De novo selection of oncogenes, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1315298111

Related Stories

Researchers find new recipe for novel proteins

Dec 17, 2013

(Phys.org) —Yale researchers have discovered a targeted way to make proteins not generally found in nature by expanding the information encrypted in the genetic code.

New proteins inhibit HIV infection in cell cultures

Jul 24, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Yale Cancer Center scientists have developed a new class of proteins that inhibit HIV infection in cell cultures and may open the way to new strategies for treating and preventing infection ...

Researchers develop new method for tracking cell signaling

Jul 10, 2013

Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, together with collaborators in Germany, have developed a new method for identifying the cell of origin of intracellular and secreted proteins within multicellular environments.

Recommended for you

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

21 minutes ago

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

Rapid and accurate mRNA detection in plant tissues

1 hour ago

Gene expression is the process whereby the genetic information of DNA is used to manufacture functional products, such as proteins, which have numerous different functions in living organisms. Messenger RNA (mRNA) serves ...

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

20 hours ago

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth exterior is actually made up of a patchwork of cells in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interested in how these ...

Adventurous bacteria

21 hours ago

To reproduce or to conquer the world? Surprisingly, bacteria also face this problem. Theoretical biophysicists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now shown how these organisms should ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...