Biologists reveal structure of cell nucleus 'gatekeeper'

Biologists reveal structure of cell nucleus 'gatekeeper'
Composite structure of an edge element of the nuclear pore complex, coating the double-membrane that surrounds the cell’s nucleus. The elongated edge element is composed of several large proteins and traverses circular openings in the nuclear envelope like spokes, to form a lattice-like scaffold (only one spoke is shown). Photo - Image: Janet Iwasa, courtesy Nature

( -- Biologists led by associate professor Thomas Schwartz (MIT) have worked out a rudimentary architectural plan for the nuclear pore complex (NPC), the gatekeeper of the cell's nucleus.

The massive NPC, which allows molecules such as RNAs and proteins, to move in and out of the nucleus, is one of the largest macromolecular structures in the cell (containing about 5 million atoms). Its structure has been considered a "holy grail" in for many decades. Schwartz and his team found that the NPC scaffold forms an open lattice structure, similar to another membrane coating complex, called COPII. That complex has far fewer components and is involved in a completely different cellular process, called vesicular transport, by which materials move in, out and around the cell enclosed in vesicles.

The finding reveals a remarkable evolutionary story. The proteins that form the building blocks in the NPC and the COPII vesicle coats are so unique that they still have not been identified anywhere else in the cell. Once the models of the proteins were complete, it became clear that these two cellular structures share a common ancestor, dating back over one billion years, which already contained the same building blocks connected in very similar fashion. Second, discovering the specific relationship between the NPC and the much simpler, better understood COPII vesicle coat constitutes a significant step toward understanding the entire NPC assembly, which appears to be remarkably modular and most likely self-assembling.

Graduate student Stephen Brohawn created a complex of three nuclear pore proteins in bacteria and grew microscopic crystals of the complex. Then he solved the structure of the complex by . In general, complexes as large as this, especially nuclear pore proteins, are notoriously difficult to crystallize and solve the structure of, but strategies such as solving the structure of small pieces of the complex separately made the problem tractable.

Understanding structurally that the NPC and the COPII vesicle coat are evolutionarily related opens up a wide avenue of future research. The structures available now are still only pieces within the entire nuclear pore complex puzzle. However, unraveling the common architecture now serves as a guide to employ the next steps toward understanding the entire transport machine. Also, several other ideas about the NPC architecture that were largely speculative can now be put to rest.

"A complete structure of the NPC is the project of a lifetime, but we have shown that it is feasible and worth it, and that many unexpected discoveries can be made on the road as well," says Schwartz.

More information: "Molecular architecture of the Nup84-Nup145C-Sec13 edge element in the lattice," Stephen Brohawn and Thomas Schwartz. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, Oct. 25, 2009.

Provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (news : web)

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Research identifies 3-D structure of key nuclear pore building block

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Oct 27, 2009
An interesting bit of biochemical history revealed in the complex and unique structures within the cell. The question is not whether life evolved once the first cell appeared, the question is how did the complex genetic information on DNA first appear with an Intelligent Designer in order to code for such complex proteins! To those committed to a purely materialistic explanation there is no clear cut scientific answer, just a lot of hand waving and ad-hominems for those of us who reject a materialistic philosophical explanation but not evolutionary theory. The truth is that materialists can't explain the origin of complex information anymore than they can explain the origin of the universe in the big bang from nothingness without invoking the supernatural.

Oct 27, 2009
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Oct 28, 2009
I've heard that natural selection didn't apply till the 1st life forms began to evolve. That would mean after the 1st one celled organism arose. Complex protein machines therefore do NOT apply! What's more, the specifically complex genetic information required to make such complex proteins did not arise as spontaneous accidents by some pre-natural selection process. The most viable scientific conclusion is that the info was purposefully designed.

Oct 30, 2009
The truth is that materialists can't explain the origin of complex information

I can.

It comes from the environment. Random mutations are pruned by the environment. Kind of like when a sculptor chisels away the parts that aren't what is wanted. What remains was shaped buy the sculptor. Which in biology is the environment.
anymore than they can explain the origin of the universe in the big bang from nothingness without invoking the supernatural.

How about math? Is that to supernatural for you? Before the BB there was math. True I can't prove it but I don't expect to either.

Nothing is explained by saying 'god did it'. That leaves an unexplained god. There is no reason to assume a god did it and good reasons not to. Assuming that it can't be figured makes it VERY HARD to figure it out.

Gods are religion and maybe philosophy but they make for poor science. Well except for Comparative Religions anyway.


Oct 30, 2009
So name the "alledged" ancestor then...?

Hard to do that when there aren't any fossils with that level of detail even recently.

Why do you find the reasoning questionable? Two chemicals with similar structure are likely to have evolved from a common ancestor chemical. What is so hard to understand about that?

To give an example.

Hemoglobin is made up of four units. Two pairs of two different units. The larger unit contains the an almost exact copy of the smaller unit as a subset of it. It is pretty obvious that they both came from a common predecessor molecule. Kind of like modern domestic dogs all came from wolves.


Oct 30, 2009
I've heard that natural selection didn't apply till the 1st life forms began to evolve.

Seems likely anyway. It kind of depends on what you define as a lifeform. Some people don't think a simple self or perhaps co-reproducing molecule would qualify as life.

In any case it is true that natural selection can't select unless there is something to select from.
That would mean after the 1st one celled organism arose.

No. It means after any not quite exact self or co-reproducing molecule arises. No need for cells. Indeed a lipid envelope could arise from non biological processes. It has been done labs.
Complex protein machines therefore do NOT apply!

Why not? I mean besides that few think life started with proteins that is. All that is needed is reproduction that is not quite accurate.
What's more, the specifically complex

I suspect that you have heard about Dembski. He doesn't understand that the specifier is the environment. Not him.


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