Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

'Snooze button' on biological clocks improves cell adaptability

18.02.2013
The circadian clocks that control and influence dozens of basic biological processes have an unexpected "snooze button" that helps cells adapt to changes in their environment.
A study by Vanderbilt University researchers published online Feb. 17 by the journal Nature provides compelling new evidence that at least some species can alter the way that their biological clocks function by using different "synonyms" that exist in the genetic code.

"This provides organisms with a novel and previously unappreciated mechanism for responding to changes in their environment," said Professor of Biological Sciences Carl Johnson. He and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Antonis Rokas collaborated on the study.

Like many written languages, the genetic code is filled with synonyms: differently spelled "words" that have the same or very similar meanings. For a long time, biologists thought that these synonyms, called synonymous codons, were in fact interchangeable. Recently, they have realized that this is not the case and that differences in synonymous codon usage have a significant impact on cellular processes, so scientists have advanced a wide variety of ideas about the role that these variations play.

The new insight is not only an important advance in understanding evolution at the molecular level, but it also has potential applications in biotechnology, such as biofuel production, and gene therapy.

"While biological clocks are vital to maintaining healthy patterns of sleep, metabolism, physiology and behavior, under certain environmental conditions strict adherence to these rhythms can be disadvantageous," said Michael Sesma of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which partially funded the work. "This work shows how organisms can ignore the clock under certain circumstances—much like hitting a biological snooze button on the internal timepiece—and enhance their survival in the face of ever-changing circumstances."

The basic letters of the genetic code are a quartet of molecules (nucleic acids) designated A, C, G and U. These are combined into 61 triplets called codons, which are analogous to words. The codons provide the blueprints that the cell's protein-building machinery uses to generate amino acids, which are the basic building blocks that make all the proteins found in living organisms. However, cells only use 20 amino acids. That means a number of amino acids are produced by several different codons. For example, CCA, CCG and CCC are synonymous codons because they all encode for the same amino acid, proline.

It turns out that there is a reason for this redundancy. Some codons are faster and easier for cells to process and assemble into proteins than others. Recognition of this difference led to the concept of optimal codons and the hypothesis that natural selection should drive organisms – particularly fast growing ones – to use genes that use optimal codons to make critical proteins that need to be highly abundant or synthesized rapidly in cells.

The problem with this hypothesis was shown by Johnson and Rokas' study of the effect of changing codon usage on the simple biological clock found in single-celled cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and a similar study of the more complex biological clock found in bread mold performed by a team led by Yi Liu that were published together.

"What the Liu team found was that optimizing all the codons used by the fungal biological clock knocked the clock out, which was totally unexpected! Those researchers concluded that clock proteins in the fungus are not properly assembled if they are synthesized too rapidly; it's as if the speed of one's writing affected our ability to read the text," Johnson summarized.

In the cyanobacteria, however, the researchers observed a different phenomenon. At Vanderbilt, Research Associate Professor Yao Xu optimized the codons in the cyanobacteria's biological clock. This did not shut the clock down in the algae, but it did have a more subtle, but potentially as profound effect: It significantly reduced cell survival at certain temperatures.

"Xu figured that the biological clock with optimized codons might work better at lower temperatures and it did," Johnson said. However the substitution also modified the biological clock so it ran with a longer, 30-hour period. When forced to operate in a 24-hour daily light/dark cycles, the bacteria with the optimized clock grew significantly slower than "wild-type" cells. "In cyanobacteria, it's as if writing speed changes the meaning," said Rokas.

The potential importance of changes in synonymous codon usage in adapting to environmental factors is magnified by the fact that they can influence the operation of biological clocks, which function as a key adaptation to daily environmental rhythms. Biological clocks control and influence dozens of different basic biological processes, including sleeping and feeding patterns, core body temperature, brain activity, hormone production and cell regeneration.

"It is now clear that variations in codon usage is a fundamental and underappreciated form of gene regulation," said Rokas.

Recognition of the importance of this process has a number of potential applications in biotechnology. For example, "it should be possible to improve the ability of algae to robustly express biofuel-producing proteins from other organisms by optimizing the codons that they use," Johnson said.

Vanderbilt graduate student Peijun Ma, postdoctoral fellow Premal Shah from the University of Pennsylvania and Yi Liu, professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center also contributed to the study, which was funded by grants from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (GM067152, GM088595, GM068496 & GM062591), the Welch Foundation (I-1560), the National Science Foundation (DEB-0844968), the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and a David & Lucille Packard Foundation Fellowship.

Visit Research News @ Vanderbilt for more research news from Vanderbilt. [Media Note: Vanderbilt has a 24/7 TV and radio studio with a dedicated fiber optic line and ISDN line. Use of the TV studio with Vanderbilt experts is free, except for reserving fiber time.]

David Salisbury | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.vanderbilt.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY

nachricht NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>