In the beginning

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

It is one of the many mysteries of our existence. How does life begin? What gives the first nudge? Is there, for that matter, a primordial poke? Over the millennia, scholars have tried to define the actual notion of life as a whole - which may seem obvious to some, but just sit down for a while and give it a thought. How are creatures made? How do they begin? What, for instance, goes on inside a womb? Theories varied according to the knowledge of the times, and explanations shifted from the near mystical to the anatomical, closely followed by the cellular until the 1980s, when - thanks to the rise of novel technologies - researchers could consider embryology at the level of the molecular. Though we are still really asking the same questions, what we know about the making of life has been dramatically fine-tuned and we now delve into the minute, wondering which molecules drive cells to become one part of an organism or another. What factors kickstart the process of a cell's fate? Today, we have part of the answer: the tetra-peptide repeat homeobox proteins. Transcription factors without which the very first embryonic cell divisions would not occur.

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

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A little bit of praise!

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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

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