Could there really be such thing as a cellular snooze button?

algaeErin Mensch (11 AM Micro) found another article she found interesting, from Science Daily. In this story, scientists from Michigan State University identified a gene from algae in research about biofuel production that also appears to be involved in the development of human cancers. As Erin notes, it is much easier to grow things like algae in the lab, and if you can get information about human diseases at the same time, that’s a great thing. Here is Erin’s summary:

Michigan State University has discovered what they think could help solve many problems in the world such as tumor growth and oil production. A man by the name of Christoph Benning is a professor at Michigan State University and teaches biochemistry and molecular biology. He and his team were working in the laboratory trying to find a way to make algae’s capacity as a biofuel expand. In the process of trying to do that, they discovered the protein CHT7. They believe this protein is able to decide when the cells are resting or hard at work reproducing rapidly. They called it the “cellular snooze button”. This could help the oil production industry and the cancer research tremendously. The protein could enhance the production of oil and could make the tumor cells in “resting state”.

Christoph Benning explained how he was working with algae because like yeast it is easy to work with in a laboratory setting whereas many human cells are not able to grow in laboratory setting. This makes studying human disease so much harder. He says algae are able to be manipulated in the lab which helps scientists study them closely. He believes algae are able to do the same if not even more for us than yeast can. He claims he discovered this protein when noticed that when algae are essentially awake they are able to grow and when they are asleep they are able to make oil. In order to have algae able to make viable biofuel they would have to be able to grow and make oil at the same time. Benning figured out that the way to have the algae producing oil and growing at the same time is the protein CHT7. This protein would be able to tell the cells to either be awake or asleep. Depending if they were awake or asleep they would either be producing oil or growing. This is a fascinating concept and could be the start of something that changes medicine and the oil industry forever.

Benning’s next step in this process is to create an organism that does not rest and is always active. This could then help scientists able to make an enormous amount of viable oil. More importantly is could help with suppressing the growth of tumors. Ultimately this protein CHT7 could make the cancer cells not able to divide. First, they would have to look at it from the other perspective, which is how to get a cell to grow rapidly and uncontrollably. This would then explain to us about tumor growth. Once we understand tumor growth it would be easier to figure out how to prevent the rapid growth all together.  I found this article very interesting because it is always exciting when scientists find out new research that could possibly stop cancer. I hope that Benning is able to keep going with this experiment and find out more about the protein CHT7. I also found it interesting that algae have to do with oil production. I hope to read an article in the future about this being a successful protein that is able to tell tumor cells to stop rapidly dividing.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on October 20, 2014, in Guest Post, Microbes in the News. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. There are a number of things I like about this post. The writer did a nice job of discussing regulation of cell growth in algae and the possibility of connecting that knowledge with potential human applications. The post also makes an important point about how we can study complex biological processes, such as those in human and other eukaryotic multicellular cells, in simpler microbial cells such as algae and yeast. This fundamental biological principle was first enunciated by a Dutch microbiologist/biochemist, Albert Kluyver, in the 1930s. However, as an old writing professor I can’t help nagging about excessive wordiness. For example, rather than saying “A man by the name of Christoph Benning is a professor at Michigan State University and teaches biochemistry and molecular biology” (21 words) why not say “Christoph Benning, a professor at Michigan State University, teaches biochemistry and molecular biology.” (13 words)

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