My watch list
my.chemeurope.com  
Login  

Chemical chaperones have helped proteins for billions of years

24-Feb-2014

An ancient chemical, present for billions of years, appears to have helped proteins function properly since time immemorial.

Proteins are the body's workhorses, and like horses they often work in teams. There exists a modern day team of multiple chaperone proteins that help other proteins fold into the complex 3D shapes they must achieve to function. This is necessary to avert many serious diseases caused when proteins misbehave.

But what happened before this team of chaperones was formed? How did the primordial cells that were the ancestors of modern life keep their proteins folded and functional?

Scientists from the University of Michigan discovered that an extremely simple, ancient chemical called polyphosphate can perform the role of a chaperone. It likely played that role billions of years ago, and still keeps its old job today.

"Polyphosphate has likely been present since life began on Earth, and is thought to exist in all living creatures," said postdoctoral researcher Michael Gray. "This means it's extremely important, but no one really knew what it was for.

"We found that bacteria accumulate polyphosphate to defend against disease-causing, protein unfolding conditions. Purified polyphosphate works well to protect proteins in the test tube, showing that this simple chemical can substitute for the complex team of protein chaperones."

The discovery unravels a long­standing evolutionary mystery that could lead to new strategies for treating protein folding diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, which occur when proteins misfold or pile up.

"Once we know how to manipulate the levels of polyphosphate in cells and organisms, we should be able to improve protein folding and develop countermeasures against protein folding diseases," said Ursula Jakob, the U-M professor in charge of the research.

Facts, background information, dossiers
  • protein folding
  • chaperones
  • University of Michigan
More about University of Michigan
  • News

    Spray-on coating could ice-proof airplanes, power lines, windshields

    On your car windshield, ice is a nuisance. But on an airplane, a wind turbine, an oil rig or power line, it can be downright dangerous. And removing it with the methods that are available today--usually chemical melting agents or labor-intensive scrapers and hammers--is difficult and expens ... more

    Carbon capture analyst: 'Coal should stay in the ground'

    Serious flaws have been found in a decade's worth of studies about the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the climate. The findings, from the University of Michigan, are released as world leaders at COP21 attempt to negotiate the globe's first internationally binding ... more

    A new spin on spintronics

    A team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Western Michigan University is exploring new materials that could yield higher computational speeds and lower power consumption, even in harsh environments.Most modern electronic circuitry relies on controlling electronic charge with ... more

  • Videos

    Icephobic Coating

    University of Michigan researchers demonstrate a durable ice-repellent coating that could help keep everything from airplanes to ships, power lines and windshields ice-free. more

Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE