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One gene, two important proteins

When the Human Genome Project first revealed last year that humans possess only an estimated 30,000 genes - fives times more than a mustard weed plant - the fact that many genes code for more than just one protein assumed greater importance. Such protein variations, researchers reasoned, must play an even larger role in contributing to the remarkable complexity of human beings.

This notion has been supported recently by Rockefeller University scientists, who report the discovery of a novel protein variation within a single fruit fly gene, or "gene locus." Specifically, they show that the fly's one and only "STAT" gene locus - the human counterpart of which plays a role in cancer - codes for a second protein that inhibits the activity of the originally characterized STAT protein.

In this post-genomic era, findings like this one make it more and more clear that alternate proteins, or protein isoforms, should be considered when attempting to explain complex biological phenomena, says James E. Darnell Jr., Ph.D., principal author of the report published in the Sept. 15 issue of Genes and Development.

The discovery of an inhibitory STAT protein suggests possible novel treatments for the approximately 50 percent of human cancers in which STAT proteins are known to be overactive. These include leukemia, breast cancer and head and neck cancer.

Other authors of this research paper include first authors Melissa A. Henriksen, Ph.D., and Aurel Betz, Ph.D., and second author Marc V. Fucillo, all from The Rockefeller University. Darnell is the head of the Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology at Rockefeller and co-author of the popular textbook Molecular Cell Biology.

The STAT genes, first identified by the Darnell laboratory in 1992, code for a set of proteins that help cells throughout the body to interpret and respond to dozens of incoming chemical messages. They are found in a variety of organisms, from slime molds to humans, and are ess
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Contact: Whitney Clavin
clavinw@rockefeller.edu
212-327-7250
Rockefeller University
14-Sep-2002


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