Molecular Control Mechanism Of Embryonic Development Unraveled

February 18, 1999

National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and at California's Stanford University have shed new light on the molecular switches that control the complex process by which a single fertilized egg develops into a mature organism. Their paper is published in the February 19, 1999, issue of the journal Cell.

In humans and other mammals, the process is orchestrated in the developing embryo by a set of proteins called "Hox proteins" that control the timely expression of genes -- and thereby control the production of the "next stage" proteins needed for embryonic development. The action of Hox proteins must, in turn, be coordinated to assure the accurate development of an embryo; that coordination involves another set of proteins that act as molecular choreographers.

"Failure of the molecular systems that control development prevents normal embryonic growth, and alterations in these control systems can lead to a wide variety of cancers," explains Kamal Shukla, program director in NSF's division of cellular and molecular biosciences, which funds the research. "Understanding the molecular mechanisms that control normal embryonic development is the first step in developing strategies to prevent these errors, or to repair them when they have gone wrong." Cynthia Wolberger at Johns Hopkins and Michael Cleary at Stanford have made a major step forward in the understanding of these crucial molecular events, Shukla believes.

This research, which uses x-ray crystallography, has led to the determination of the atomic structure of "HoxB1" and a protein called Pbx1, all bound to a fragment of DNA. Pbx1 plays a central role in the modulation of Hox protein function, and mutations in it have been implicated in some childhood leukemias. By visualizing how Pbx1 interacts with a Hox protein and with DNA, Wolberger and colleagues have determined the precise way in which the proteins interact with one another to control development.

Pbx1, by interacting with Hox proteins, is able to control theexpression of many different types of proteins, says Wolberger. "Understanding how they interact with partner proteins such as Pbx1 and with DNA is key to knowledge of the mechanism by which a developing organism grows from a single fertilized egg cell into a fully differentiated creature with head and tail,arms and legs.
-end-
Media contact:
Cheryl Dybas
703-306-1070
cdybas@nsf.gov

Program contact:
Kamal Shukla
703-306-1444
kshukla@nsf.gov



National Science Foundation

Related DNA Articles from Brightsurf:

A new twist on DNA origami
A team* of scientists from ASU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) led by Hao Yan, ASU's Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, and director of the ASU Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has just announced the creation of a new type of meta-DNA structures that will open up the fields of optoelectronics (including information storage and encryption) as well as synthetic biology.

Solving a DNA mystery
''A watched pot never boils,'' as the saying goes, but that was not the case for UC Santa Barbara researchers watching a ''pot'' of liquids formed from DNA.

Junk DNA might be really, really useful for biocomputing
When you don't understand how things work, it's not unusual to think of them as just plain old junk.

Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.

Does DNA in the water tell us how many fish are there?
Researchers have developed a new non-invasive method to count individual fish by measuring the concentration of environmental DNA in the water, which could be applied for quantitative monitoring of aquatic ecosystems.

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.

Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.

DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.

A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.

From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.

Read More: DNA News and DNA Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.