The colour red

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Plants cannot walk. Unable to drift down to the local café, attend this evening's book launch or gate-crash a party, flowers have had to resort to other ways of connecting. True, their roots may wander and branches may wave, but really what appears above ground level is pretty moored. Yet that is where their reproductive organs are, which need to meet so that the plant's pollen can be fertilized. This is achieved indirectly by using animal pollinators - whose attention, however, needs to be grabbed. Nectar fulfils this role wonderfully. A sweet liquid secreted by flowers, nectar is concocted to tempt insects or vertebrates whose bodies, as they feed off it, may inadvertently pick up pollen in one flower and deposit it, in all innocence, on another flower's stigma. So as not to be missed, a little like waving a flag, a flower's nectar may occasionally be brightly coloured: yellow, deep purple, blue, green, red or even black. In this light, the striking red nectar of Nesocodon mauritianus, a blue flower endemic to the island of Mauritius, seems to have evolved to attract a day gecko and is synthesized thanks to the close collaboration of three enzymes: Nec1, Nec2 and Nec3.

Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook

More from Protein Spotlight

Tales From A Small World

Tales From A Small World cover

Tales From A Small World is a collection of the first hundred articles which originally appeared on this site. Published in September 2009, the book is enriched by poems from the Dublin poet, Pat Ingoldsby. Learn more and order your copy online.

Journey Into A Tiny World

Journey Into A Tiny World cover

« Globin and Poietin set out to save Lily's life. But time is running short and they can't find the marrow... Here is the tale of their courage, fun and laughter on a journey that takes them deep into the tiniest of worlds.» For children. Learn more and order your copy online.

Snapshot : Nav1.7

Though uncomfortable, the feeling of pain is necessary. It is like a sixth sense. If you break a leg, there’s a fair chance that you would call for help, rather than try to walk. And burning your hand once is warning enough to avoid it happening a second time. Pain exists for a purpose. When felt, our spontaneous reaction is to immobilise what hurts so that it can rest and restore itself. The memory of pain is just as crucial since it prevents us from repeating a prior painful experience which damaged a part of our body. It is for this precise reason that a young Pakistani boy spent a lot of his time in hospital. He was a busker who walked across red hot charcoal. Without ever feeling pain. How is this possible? Recently, scientists found a protein which seems to at the heart of insensitivity to pain: the Nav1.7 protein.

A little bit of praise!

“I recently stumbled upon your columns. Let me congratulate you on achieving the near impossible, for your articles have enabled me to successfully marry IT with the Life Sciences and better explain the concepts of bioinformatics to those who are not in the know of the field.

Your articles are very well written, lucid, and contain just enough information to excite the reader to want to learn more about the topic being discussed. They fall in a very rare category where they are accessible to everyone, from the undergraduate students to research students who want to have a basic idea of the topics being discussed. Some of your articles, like "Our hollow architecture" and "Throb" are outstanding pieces.

I would highly recommend your articles as a necessary reading in undergrad classes to get students inspired about the various avenues of research.”

— Rohan Chaubal, Senior Researcher in Genomics

Thank you to Rafael Araujo whose work we reproduce on our site!