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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Scientists at ETH Zurich Figure Out the Genomic Instruction Manual for a Key Variable – How A

Our bodies are run by proteins. Genes control the proteins produced inside our bodies. Now, researchers have started to achieve the goal of understanding the mechanisms by which genes control the rate at which proteins are created. The rate of production obviously is a key variable in understanding function. So, this great new science was published in the April 16, 2010 theory section of Cell, one of the world’s great science journals. It explains a genetic subcode.

Why does this matter ? Rate of production is a key variable because too much or too little can make all the difference, and now scientists are starting to know more about how that process is regulated. Also, now we start to see, perhaps, why the same protein can be made through different combinations of amino acids. And, as the article says, a great pragmatic result is that the ability to "read the directions" for rate of production may soon mean that scientists can skip time consuming lab experiments that are used today to figure out a protein’s rate of production. Instead, scientists now may be able to just read the genomic instruction manual.

The article is: Cannarozzi G et al. A Role for Codon Order in Translation Dynamics. Cell 141, 355-367, April 16, 2010. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2010.02.036. The article is available in full online at no cost.

The image above, courtesy of Cell, provides a graphic abstract of the article. The article is summarized in various places. I learned of it through a ScienceDaily article (look to the right side of this blog, and you will see a news feed for articles from ScienceDaily). The researchers are part of ETH Zurich ; it’s online summary is worth reading in full. The key excerpts are set out below

"For this translation work, the cell follows a decoding procedure provided by the "genetic code", which tells what protein is made from a given sequence. The researchers from ETH and Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) now identified a new sub-code that determines at which rate given products must be made by the cell. This information has several interesting implications. First, it provides novel insights into how the decoding machinery works. Secondly, and more pragmatically, it makes possible to read information about gene expression rates directly from genomic sequences, whereas up to now, this information could only be obtained through laborious and expensive experimental approaches, such as microarrays.

"A cell must respond very quickly to injuries such as DNA damage and to potent poisons such as arsenic. The new sub-code enables us to know which genes are turned-on quickly after these insults and which are best expressed slowly. One benefit of this study is that we now can get this information using only analysis of the coding sequence", said Gina Cannarozzi, co-author of the study and Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Computational Science of ETH Zurich."

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