The cells of higher organisms have an internal mechanism for chewing up and recycling parts of themselves, particularly in times of stress, like starvation and disease. But nobody is quite sure yet whether this recently discovered process protects cells, or causes damage.
This process of internal house-cleaning in the cell is called autophagy – literally self-eating – and it is now considered the second form of programmed cell death (PCD). Apoptosis, the first kind of programmed cell death to be characterized, is now also known as Type I PCD.
Genes governing Type II PCD, autophagy, have been identified recently in many species, starting with bakers yeast, and some of the environmental triggers that start the process are being found. But there is still quite a bit of science to do before autophagy can be understood as either a good thing or a bad thing. The evidence points both ways. "Its likely to be both, depending on when it happens," said Daniel Klionsky, a research professor at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Instituteand professor of molecular cellular and developmental biology and biological chemistry.
Karl Leif Bates | EurekAlert!
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