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Scientists seek cause for what makes good cell go bad

Genetic mutations--sudden, random and usually harmful changes to the structure of a gene--are only one factor that determines the ultimate fate of a cell. Chicago scientists have discovered that a non-genetic molecular process also can play a role, and that experimenters can influence this process in bacteria, they report in the April 1 issue of the journal Nature.

The research team, led by Philippe Cluzel, Assistant Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago, arrived at its finding by analyzing E. coli's chemotaxis system, the system that transmits the biochemical signals responsible for cell locomotion.

"We studied this simple system in bacteria as a model system for the general study of signal transduction networks," Cluzel said. "Signal transduction networks are everywhere in nature. The division of our cells is controlled by a signal transduction network, and its malfunction causes cancers."

The network that controls the movement of E. coli, a single-celled organism, is much simpler than the system that divides human cells. But signal transduction networks exhibit the same design principles across species, Cluzel said. Consequently, researchers will now attempt to apply their research methods to higher organisms.

A combination of traditional genetic experiments and computer simulations contributed to the study. "The methods they're using I think in many ways are the future of biology," said Michael North, deputy director of the Center for Complex Adaptive Systems Simulation at Argonne National Laboratory. North, who did not participate in the study but who is familiar with its findings, lauded Cluzel and his co-authors for their mathematical rigor and for pushing signal transduction research to new levels of volume and efficiency. "They were able to collect more data than anyone had in the past by a wide margin," North said.

Cluzel's team focused its study on monitoring and analyzing the intracellular signals
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Contact: Steve Koppes
skoppes@uchicago.edu
773-702-8366
University of Chicago
31-Mar-2004


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