When temperatures get cold, newly-discovered process helps fruit flies cope

July 21, 2014
Drosophila sp fly. Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim / Wikipedia. GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Cold-blooded animals cannot regulate their body temperature, so their cells are stressed when facing temperature extremes. Worse still, even at slightly colder temperatures, some biological processes in the cell are slowed down more than others, which should throw the cells' delicate chemical balance out of whack. Yet, those cells manage to keep their biological processes coordinated. Now researchers from the University of Rochester and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory have found out how they do that.

"The production of proteins is a key process in all , and it is important to make the right amounts of each at just the right time," said Michael Welte, an associate professor of biology at the University of Rochester. "What we have discovered are factors responsible for keeping that process perfectly coordinated in at least one type of cold-blooded animal."

Welte and his team made their discovery while studying the internal mechanisms of the of the fruit fly, known as Drosophila.

Welte explains that the production of certain proteins takes place along a type of assembly line that carries from the nucleus to the posterior end of the egg cell, where these proteins are then manufactured. When temperatures drop, the rate at which the proteins are built slows down significantly more than the rate at which the raw materials are delivered—something that has the potential of throwing off the entire operation. What keeps the assembly line functioning—based on the new research—is a protein called Klar. It does that by slowing down the rate at which the raw materials are delivered, to match the rate of protein building.

The research findings were published today in The Journal of Cell Biology.

The protein consists of microtubules that serve as train tracks on which the raw materials—including messenger RNA (mRNA)—are carried to the protein-making machinery, called ribosomes. It's there that a protein called "Oskar" is produced. The role of Oskar is to mark the posterior end of the cell so that the future embryo forms its tail in the right place.

As temperatures decreased, Welte found that the protein-building process failed when Klar was removed from the egg cell. Only when Klar was present did the fruit fly develop properly.

Unlike , humans and other warm-blooded animals do have a mechanism for adjusting internal temperatures. But Welte speculates that when internal temperatures do fluctuate in humans, as in the case of fevers, our cells may also need a way to coordinate the protein-building process. "While we don't have the Klar protein in our cells, the mechanism for producing proteins is very similar."

Explore further: Lipid droplets play an unexpected role in embryo development

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers design first artificial ribosome

July 29, 2015

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins ...

Studies reveal details of error correction in cell division

July 29, 2015

Cell biologists led by Thomas Maresca at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with collaborators elsewhere, report an advance in understanding the workings of an error correction mechanism that helps cells detect and ...

Researchers discover new type of mycovirus

July 29, 2015

Researchers, led by Dr Robert Coutts, Leverhulme Research Fellow from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, and Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou, Research Associate at Imperial College, have discovered ...

Stressed out plants send animal-like signals

July 29, 2015

University of Adelaide research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.