It can be found in all life forms, and serves a multitude of purposes, from energy storage to stress response to bone calcification.
This molecular jack-of-all trades is polyphosphate, a long chain of phosphate molecules. Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, are now the first to uncover how this chain is assembled in eukaryotes (organisms whose cells have a nucleus).The study, published this week in Science, uncovers the function of a single protein with a wide range of potential implications ranging from improving crops to fighting diseases such as sleeping sickness.
“This protein is like a factory,” says Klaus Scheffzek, whose group carried out the research at EMBL in collaboration with the Département de Biochimie at the Université de Lausanne, Switzerland, and others, “it sits in the vacuolar membrane, generates long chains of polyphosphates and we speculate that it sends them straight to the vacuole for storage.”
Vtc4p is partly embedded in the membrane and has a ‘tail’ hanging into the cell, which removes a phosphate molecule from ATP, an important energy carrier in the cell. Vtc4p uses the energy that is released by that cleavage to add the newly-acquired phosphate to a growing chain of phosphates. Since the rest of Vtc4 straddles the membrane, scientists suspect this protein probably transfers the polyphosphate chain to the vacuole as it produces it.
The researchers determined Vtc4p’s function by looking at its 3D structure.
“This study emphasises the importance of structural biology not just to show what molecules look like and how they work but also what that function is,” says Michael Hothorn from Scheffzek’s group at EMBL, who is presently at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.
Since polyphosphate is a ubiquitous, multi-tasking molecule with many different functions, discovering how it is produced could have implications for many different fields. Although Vtc4p is not present in plants, the discovery could have implications for agriculture, for instance in the production of fertilizers and high-yield crops. Polyphosphate is important for plant growth, and the scientists suspect Vtc4p could play an important role in making it available to plants that have fungi living in their roots. Because the VTC can move from the membrane of the vacuole to that of the cell, it could assemble phosphate chains and transfer them to outside the fungus cell, where they would be available to the plant.
The research could also pave the way for new treatments for diseases such as sleeping sickness and Chagas disease, as the parasites that cause them need polyphosphate chains to survive.
Anna-Lynn Wegener | EMBL
Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute
'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences
27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
27.10.2016 | Life Sciences