Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


How cells brace themselves for starvation

Sugar, cholesterol, phosphates, zinc – a healthy body is amazingly good at keeping such vital nutrients at appropriate levels within its cells.

From an engineering point of view, one all-purpose model of pump on the surface of a cell should suffice to keep these levels constant: When the concentration of a nutrient, say, sugar, drops inside the cell, the pump mechanism could simply go into higher gear until the sugar levels are back to normal.

Yet strangely enough, such cells let in their nutrients using two types of pump: One is active in "good times," when a particular nutrient is abundant in the cell's environment; the other is a "bad-times" pump that springs into action only when the nutrient becomes scarce. Why does the cell need this dual mechanism?

A new Weizmann Institute study, reported in Science, might provide the answer. The research was conducted in the lab of Prof. Naama Barkai of the Molecular Genetics Department by postdoctoral fellow Dr. Sagi Levy and graduate student Moshe Kafri with lab technician Miri Carmi.

It had been known for a while that when the levels of phosphate or zinc drop in the surroundings of a yeast cell, the number of "bad-times" pumps on the cell surface soars up to a hundred-fold. When phosphate or zinc becomes abundant again, the "bad-times" pumps withdraw while the "good-times" pumps return to the cell surface in large numbers.

In their new study, the scientists discovered that cells which repress their "bad-times" pumps when a nutrient is abundant were much more efficient at preparing for starvation and at recovering afterwards than the cells that had been genetically engineered to avoid this repression. The conclusion: The "good-times" pumps apparently serve as a signaling mechanism that warns the yeast cell of approaching starvation. Such advance warning gives the cell more time to store up on the scarce nutrient; the thorough preparation also helps the cell to start growing faster once starvation is over.

Thus, the dual-pump system appears to be part of a regulatory mechanism that allows the cell to deal effectively with fluctuations in nutrient supply. This clever mechanism offers the cell survival advantages that could not be provided by just one type of pump.

If these findings prove to be applicable to human cells, they could explain how our bodies maintain adequate levels of various nutrients in tissues and organs. Understanding the dual-pump regulation could be crucial because it might be defective in various metabolic disorders.

Prof. Naama Barkai's research is supported by the Helen and Martin Kimmel Award for Innovative Investigation; the Jeanne and Joseph Nissim Foundation for Life Sciences Research; the Carolito Stiftung; Lorna Greenberg Scherzer, Canada; the estate of John Hunter; the Minna James Heineman Stiftung; the European Research Council; and the estate of Hilda Jacoby-Schaerf. Prof. Barkai is the incumbent of the Lorna Greenberg Scherzer Professorial Chair.

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. Noted for its wide-ranging exploration of the natural and exact sciences, the Institute is home to 2,700 scientists, students, technicians and supporting staff. Institute research efforts include the search for new ways of fighting disease and hunger, examining leading questions in mathematics and computer science, probing the physics of matter and the universe, creating novel materials and developing new strategies for protecting the environment.

Weizmann Institute news releases are posted on the World Wide Web at, and are also available at

Yivsam Azgad | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>