A scientist at the University of Liverpool will lead a £4 million study to analyse the entire protein content of ‘baker’s yeast’ to further understanding of how living cells function.
Many proteins that have counterparts in the human body, such as cell cycle proteins and signalling proteins, were first discovered through the study of Saccharomyces cerevisiae – a species of budding yeast, thought to have been originally isolated on the skins of grapes. Commonly used in baking and brewing it shares the complex cell structure of both plants and animals and has become a model organism for scientists studying areas such as metabolism, neurodegenerative disease and ageing.
Scientists have worked for many years to catalogue the proteins present in the yeast cell, but have yet to establish precisely how many copies of each protein are present and how they interact with each other. If researchers can quantify cellular proteins they will be able to understand more fully how cells operate and why in some cases they fail to perform their ‘normal’ function in the body.
Proteins in the body participate in every process of a cell – from the contraction of muscles to immune response – and scientists at the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester are using the yeast cell to understand how proteins perform these complex functions by using new proteomic technology.
Professor Rob Beynon, from the University’s Proteomics and Functional Genomics Group, explains: “Our goal is to count the number of proteins inside a cell, to provide the essential link between genes and the proteins that they specify. To do this, we developed a new technology which uses artificial ‘designer’ proteins as tools to take a census of the proteins in a cell.
“The research should also allow us to determine how rapidly a cell builds and destroys proteins, and how they recycle the proteins that they no longer need. Understanding how all of these processes work is important to our knowledge of how the cell operates, and also allows us to develop models to predict the outcome when these systems go wrong in cases of disease. Surprisingly, approximately 20% of all genes associated with disease in humans have a counterpart in yeast.”
The research, in collaboration with the University of Manchester, is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Notes to editors:
1. The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £93 million annually.
2. The University of Manchester, also a member of the Russell Group, was ranked with the elite group of research universities traditionally formed by the triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London in the recent Research Assessment Exercise 2008. Its external research income is £263 million