Researchers develop tool to orchestrate protein movement within cells

Researchers can engineer cells to express new genes and produce specific , giving the cells new parts to work with. But, it's much harder to provide cells with instructions on how to organize and use those new parts. Now, new tools from University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers offer an innovative way around this problem.

Their research is published in the journal Cell.

Everything a cell does depends on how molecules are organized within the cell. Inside our cells—all cells— and other molecules undergo organization and reorganization to carry out . Like a fleet of commuter trains moving at scheduled intervals along their different routes, within a cell are organized in time and space to carry out complex but predictable functions.

While the need to organize molecules within a cell is universal among living organisms, the specific and mechanisms responsible for this organization vary. In a system specific to bacterial cells, for example, the MinD and MinE—known collectively as MinDE—interact with each other along the cell membrane to produce wave-like patterns, which aid in the movement of molecules within the cell.

When molecules fail to organize properly within a cell, it can have serious consequences, including cells dividing unevenly and improper communication within and among cells, both of which are associated with developmental disorders and diseases such as cancer.

In short, we know how to give cells some new parts, but it's much harder to provide the instructions on how to organize and use them.

The mechanisms by which molecules organize and interact with each other have been fine-tuned over millennia of evolution. When scientists engineer cells to produce new molecules, it is difficult to get cells to use those new molecules without unintentionally disrupting other natural cellular functions.

Biochemists at UW–Madison have developed a tool to control movement and organization of specific in mammalian cells while leaving other proteins alone. Their new tool harnesses the waves and oscillations derived from interactions between MinDE proteins, which are found only in bacteria and do not interfere with mammalian .

By interactions between the MinDE proteins and proteins of interest, the researchers created highly specified patterns to organize molecules within mammalian cells and induce cellular behaviors and functions. The tool allows researchers to tweak and alter the patterns in response to stimuli, essentially programming molecules to move around a cell to specific locations over time.

This innovative tool has multiple potential uses for scientists interested in specific cellular activities or studying cellular activity in a living organism.

Controlling the ratio of MinDE proteins allows the researchers to design patterns of movement that determine how molecules are organized in a cell, which could be used to orchestrate cellular activities such as moving or communicating with other cells.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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