A shrewd tweak

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

The chairs were rickety. So I rummaged around the kitchen drawer, extracted an old knife and used its tip to drive a few screws back into the wood. The knife kept on losing grip and I kept on swearing. The fastest and least infuriating way to have done the job would have been to go down to the cellar and find a screwdriver. Both utensils can be used to drive in screws, but one has been intentionally manufactured to perform just that, simultaneously reducing the time and energy involved. Nature, too, has its screwdrivers. Given time and chance, it will always take the opportunity to select a commodity which will make things, if not easier, at least more in tune with what is needed. One example: ribosomes are huge molecular complexes whose role is to synthesize proteins in cells. Until recently, it was thought that all ribosomes were alike. A bit like kitchen knives. However, it turns out that some ribosomes differ slightly in their makeup and are found only in certain kinds of cell - presumably because they synthesize proteins particular to these cells. One such ribosome has been discovered in sperm cells, along with a protein known as large ribosomal subunit protein eL39-like*, or RPL39L.

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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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 Rima Staines whose work we reproduce on our site!