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
Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells
12.12.2018 | Universität Basel
Smelling the forest – not the trees
12.12.2018 | Universität Konstanz
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.
Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.
Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine
12.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine