On the benefits of disorder

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Like rules, paradigms are liable to be broken. By the end of the 20th century, the 'one gene - one protein' paradigm had shifted as scientists grasped the realm of mRNA splicing and post-translational modifications. Today, we know that one gene may give rise to several amino-acid sequences which can be further modified on their surface. Each of these events produces a protein with a different function. Another paradigm is the 'structure - function' paradigm, where a protein's function is defined by the fold it adopts in space, itself dictated by the underlying amino-acid sequence. However, early on in 2000, scientists were observing regions on a protein, which seem to adopt no particular 3D conformation at all but, instead, several conformations depending on the environment. These peculiar regions have since been termed 'disordered regions'. As an illustration, disordered regions located in a protein known as YTHDF are involved in the formation of stress granules when a cell is under some kind of pressure.

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