Nav: Home

Building bridges within the cell -- using light

August 01, 2017

Each cell in the body is made up of a number of tiny sealed membranous subunits called organelles, and they send things like lipids back and forth to allow the cell to function. A process called membrane tethering is responsible for bridging the gap between organelles at a specialized subcellular zone called membrane contact sites and, now, researchers have a way to manipulate this tethering. "For the first time, we're able to build bridges of different lengths in living cells to connect subcellular compartments with great temporal and spatial control," said Yubin Zhou, PhD, associate professor at the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology and principal investigator on this work, which was the cover story this week in the journal Chemical Science.

Zhou's method, a variant of which he used in previous research to control immune cells, is called optogenetics, and involves using light to control the function of proteins. In this case, the proteins are the building blocks of the bridge between organelles, and the length of that bridge--even if the difference is only in nanometers--can influence the function of the cell because it is over the bridge that organelles exchange critical building blocks such as lipids and send messengers such as calcium ions.

When this process is disrupted, there can be devastating consequences like cell death and metabolic dysfunction. "The optogenetic tools developed in the study might hold great promise to rescue these detrimental conditions with a simple pulse of light," Zhou said. "The potential impact is likely to be broad and profound, in that it allows the use of non-invasive light, for the first time, to study and manipulate these subcellular structures that are considered to be one of the most challenging and elusive in mammalian cells."

Although this initial work focused on the connection between the plasma membrane of the cell and an organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum, future work will be broadened to other places of connection, such as between the endoplasmic reticulum and the mitochondria.

"These tools will furnish untapped potentials for scientists to conveniently rewire cell signaling, control protein-lipid associations, perturb intracellular communication among organelles and tweak the motion and behavior of proteins embedded within biological membranes," Zhou said. "It opens untold new research areas, and we believe this work could have wide implications for multiple disciplines."
-end-
The study was done in collaboration with the laboratory of Yun Huang, PhD, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences & Technology, who researches cancer.

Texas A&M University

Related Proteins Articles:

Discovering, counting, cataloguing proteins
Scientists describe a well-defined mitochondrial proteome in baker's yeast.
Interrogating proteins
Scientists from the University of Bristol have designed a new protein structure, and are using it to understand how protein structures are stabilized.
Ancient proteins studied in detail
How did protein interactions arise and how have they developed?
What can we learn from dinosaur proteins?
Researchers recently confirmed it is possible to extract proteins from 80-million-year-old dinosaur bones.
Relocation of proteins with a new nanobody tool
Researchers at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel have developed a new method by which proteins can be transported to a new location in a cell.
Proteins that can take the heat
Ancient proteins may offer clues on how to engineer proteins that can withstand the high temperatures required in industrial applications, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Designer proteins fold DNA
Florian Praetorius and Professor Hendrik Dietz of the Technical University of Munich have developed a new method that can be used to construct custom hybrid structures using DNA and proteins.
The proteins that domesticated our genomes
EPFL scientists have carried out a genomic and evolutionary study of a large and enigmatic family of human proteins, to demonstrate that it is responsible for harnessing the millions of transposable elements in the human genome.
Rare proteins collapse earlier
Some organisms are able to survive in hot springs, while others can only live at mild temperatures because their proteins aren't able to withstand such extreme heat.
How proteins reshape cell membranes
Small 'bubbles' frequently form on membranes of cells and are taken up into their interior.

Related Proteins Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...