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New study to explore cellular circuitry

As part of a $4.88 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), molecular biologists from the University of Rochester Medical Center will join a team seeking to create the first complete wiring diagram of a living cell. By wiring diagram, researchers mean a detailed model, not only of the cell's genes and their function, but also of the interplay between them. When complete, the diagram has the potential to reveal cellular approaches to treating many diseases, including cancer.

The Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) Program at NSF supports research into central questions in biology by integrating disciplines. Over the next five years, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences, the principal grant recipient, will lead a team of biochemists and computer scientists in an attempt to diagram Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a type of yeast. Although a single-celled fungus, yeast shares many genetic traits with humans, making it a useful model. Researchers hope to build a computer model of gene and protein function, and then test predictions against real world experiments.

For the purposes of the study, each individual gene, and proteins built according to directions stored in that gene, will represent one basic unit of the wiring diagram. The diagram will also be based on the emerging theory that these basic units are modular, or replaceable. Should a single gene/protein module fail, other modules can be re-wired so that existing components replace the faulty circuit. In addition, researchers now believe that modules with related functions are grouped together in networks.

"With most genes redundant and related to other genes and proteins in predictable ways, we can begin to identify the function of unknown cellular players based on their neighbors and associates," said Eric M. Phizicky, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the medical center. "That puts us within reach of a completed diagram and th
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Contact: Greg Williams
Greg_Williams@urmc.rochester.edu
585-273-3678
University of Rochester Medical Center
7-Sep-2005


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