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Microfluidic chip helps solve cellular mating puzzle

Using a biochemical version of a computer chip, a team led by Johns Hopkins researchers has solved a long-standing mystery related to the mating habits of yeast cells.

The findings, described in the Feb. 18 Advance Online Publication of the journal Nature, shed new light on the way cells send and receive signals from one another and from the environment through a process called signal transduction. That process, when impaired, can lead to cancer or other illnesses.

"Yeast is a very simple single-celled organism, but in many respects it operates much like a human cell," said Andre Levchenko, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins and supervisor of the research team. "Thats why its been studied for many years -- because what we find out in yeast often holds true for humans as well. In this study, we looked at how yeast cells signal one another when they want to merge, engaging in a type of mating behavior. Human cells talk to one another in a similar way, and its important to understand this process."

Yeast cells mate by sending out pheromone designed to catch the attention of nearby cells of the opposite mating type. When a prospective partner picks up this "scent," it alters its shape and sends a projection toward the source of the pheromone, leading to a cellular merger. This mating process is regulated by proteins inside the cell called mitogen-activated protein kinases, or MAPKs, through a chain of chemical reactions.

First, sensors on the surface of a yeast cell pick up signals that a mating partner is nearby. Then the message is passed down toward the cells control center, the nucleus. The messengers that carry it to the nucleus are MAPKs, which direct the cells response by triggering multiple genes. But biologists have been baffled for years as to why two different forms of MAPKs perk up when the mating call arrives. Only one of them, called Fus3, appeared to be in charge
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Contact: Phil Sneiderman
prs@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
21-Feb-2007


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