Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


From Gene to Protein – New Insights of MDC/BIMBS Researchers

How do genes control us? This fundamental question of life still remains elusive despite decades of research. Genes are blueprints for proteins, but it is the proteins that actually carry out vital functions in the body for maintaining life.
Diseases such as cancer are characterized by altered genes, but also by disturbed protein production. But how is protein production controlled? Researchers of the Max Delbrück Center (MDC), Germany, have now comprehensively quantified gene expression for the first time. According to their latest findings, control mainly occurs in the cytoplasm of the cell and not in the ‘high-security tract’ of the cell nucleus (Nature doi:10.1038/nature10098)*.

Corrected 2nd paragraph with additions

The results also highlight where gene expression can get out of control. The research was enabled by the close collaboration of a team led by the biologists Björn Schwanhäusser, Matthias Selbach, the systems biologist Jana Wolf and the biologist Wei Chen of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the MDC (Nature doi:10.1038/nature10098)*.The Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) was launched by the MDC in 2008, supported by start-up funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Senate of Berlin. The focus of Medical Systems Biology is not on genes and their proteins as isolated components, but on their regulation and their interaction with each other and on their relevance for disease processes. Since its inception, the internationally renowned BIMSB has become a beacon in the Berlin research landscape. It works closely with other institutions in numerous research networks and participates in excellence clusters with the Berlin universities, collaborating in particular with Humboldt University and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and also with New York University.

Proteins are the major building blocks of life. “They control virtually all biological processes ranging from heartbeat and oxygen transport up to and including thinking,” Matthias Selbach explained. The blueprint for proteins is stored in the genes in the cell nucleus. The messenger RNA (mRNA) formed in the cell nucleus (transcription) brings a copy of the blueprint to the protein factories of the cell in the cytoplasm, to the ribosomes. There the information of the mRNAs is used for protein production (translation). The fundamental question was which of the two processes, i.e. transcription or translation, plays the dominant role in regulating cellular protein levels.

The starting point of the MDC researchers was to measure the turnover of cellular mRNAs and proteins and mRNA and protein levels. They used high-throughput technologies such as quantitative mass spectrometry and the latest sequencing techniques, which are available close by at the MDC / BIMSB. In total, they quantified proteins and mRNAs for more than 5,000 genes. By means of mathematical modeling, the researchers drew conclusions from the collected data about the control of protein levels. Intriguingly, they observed that cellular protein levels mainly depend on translation of mRNAs in the protein factories of the cytoplasm. “The ribosomes ultimately determine protein abundance. Some mRNAs are translated into only one protein per hour, others are translated 200 times,” Matthias Selbach said.

Cells work in an energy-efficient way
Furthermore, the researchers found that cells use their resources very efficiently. Most mRNAs and proteins of abundantly expressed housekeeping genes (these genes maintain the normal operations of the body) are very stable. In this way the cell saves valuable energy, because protein production consumes many resources. In contrast, proteins responsible for rapid signaling processes are typically unstable. Cells can therefore quickly adapt to changes in their surroundings. This may also explain why the decisive control step takes place in the cytoplasm and not in the nucleus. Since it constitutes the last step in the production chain, this allows cells to respond dynamically to their environment.

The researchers hope their results will also be relevant for diseases. "So far, this is purely basic research,” Matthias Selbach stressed. "But we also know that the production of proteins is disturbed in many diseases, for example cancer." Very little is known about where the process gets out of control. Until now, researchers focused almost exclusively on the nucleus to find answers to this question. The new findings, however, show that the protein factories in the cytoplasm are of great significance. Perhaps this is where the key to understanding diseases can be found.

*Global quantification of mammalian gene expression control
Björn Schwanhäusser1, Dorothea Busse1, Na Li1, Gunnar Dittmar1, Johannes Schuchhardt2, Jana Wolf1, Wei Chen1 & Matthias Selbach1

1Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Robert-Rössle-Str. 10, D-13092 Berlin, Germany. 2MicroDiscovery GmbH, Marienburger Str. 1, D-10405 Berlin, Germany.

Barbara Bachtler
Press Department
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
Member of the Helmholtz Association
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10; 13125 Berlin; Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 33

Barbara Bachtler | Max-Delbrück-Centrum
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 >>>