by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Mistakes and misinterpretation are common incidents. We are usually aware of those we can see, or hear, such as a bird flying into an undetected window or a person who has misunderstood a question. Yet, mistakes are also a recurring phenomenon at a level no living being can readily observe: the molecular level. Take, for instance, mutations that occur in an organism's DNA. Though the evolution of species may sometimes thrive on such flaws, they are also frequently the source of serious drawbacks. This is why, over time, Nature has devised different systems whose role is to detect mistakes in DNA and offer a means to fix them. Until recently, repair systems had only been considered on double-stranded DNA where the untouched strand acts as a template to re-establish an error found on the second. But when damage is found on single-stranded DNA, what happens? Is it even possible to make amends? Against all odds: yes. Such a repair system involves a protein that has been coined HMCES, which is found throughout the three domains of life, and even in certain viruses it seems.

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 : Tyrannosaurus rex and collagen

Fossils are old because they are made out of stone. Until recently, as far as science was concerned, organic tissues - such as bone matrix - had little chance to survive the passage of time. Organic soft tissues - such as cells and blood vessels for instance - had almost no chance at all. Two years ago though, a 68 million year-old Tyrannosaurus rex was unearthed from one thousand cubic metres of sandstone. The mineral from the bone of one of its femurs was removed and, to the scientists' astonishment, they found minute traces of organic soft tissue which had survived millions of years.

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 source unknown whose work we reproduce on our site!