Unnatural stuff

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Ever had to deal with tiny polystyrene balls clinging to your carpet? Or admired the neat narrow grooves stamped onto a vinyl record? Perhaps you have just acquired a sleek viscose shirt. Polystyrene, PVC, vinyl, acrylic, rayon, viscose, nylon, PET, polyester - these are words we never think twice about as they slip into a conversation. Epoxy resin and polyurethane are another two, although perhaps less well known. Others are hidden behind more descriptive names such as the popular cling film we wrap around food, which is made out of polyethylene. And there are many more. Their common denominator? Each of these materials are manmade polymers. In other words, they are artificial; Nature does not provide them. However, she can come up with some of the building blocks. Itaconic acid is one, and was first discovered in the fungus Aspergillus itaconicus which was named after it. Today, widely used in the synthesis of polymers to make lubricants, thickeners, rubber or resins for example, itaconic acid is provided in quantity by Aspergillus terreus - with the help of an enzyme known as CAD, or cis-aconitic acid decarboxylase.

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 : Titin

Senora Pilasana
Voulez-vous le taximeter?
Le tionta su la seata
Tu la tu la tu la wa
This is gibberish sung by Charlie Chaplin in ‘Modern Times’ as he struggles to satisfy an impatient audience whilst frantically seeking for his cuff – on which he had written the true lyrics – which had flown off his wrist following an unfortunate flick as he made a hasty entry to perform. He ad-libs novel lyrics to the tune of ‘Je cherche après Titine’ (‘Looking for Titine’) a then popular French song written by M.Bertal and L.Maubon in 1917, the music of which was composed by L.Daniderff. As a result, Chaplin not only added to the song’s popularity but also made it worldwide. Little did he know though that what helped him to dash around the dining-room as he searched for the lost cuff is also named…titin….

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 Pablo Picasso whose work we reproduce on our site!