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Discovery illuminates elusive proton channel gene in dinoflagellates
Date:10/24/2011

(CHICAGO) -- A 40-year search for a gene that causes some one-celled sea creatures to flash at night and is also found in others that produce deadly red tides, has been successfully culminated by a group of scientists led by Thomas E. DeCoursey, PhD, professor of biophysics and physiology at Rush University Medical Center.

The gene, discovered in a tiny marine organism called a dinoflagellate (Karlodinium veneficum), controls voltage-gated proton channels, which, in addition to triggering luminescence in certain single-cell sea creatures, activate many important biological mechanisms in other species, including humans.

Results of the study by DeCoursey, Susan M. E. Smith and co-researchers were published in the October 17, 2011 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was funded in part by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The existence of a voltage-gated proton channel in bioluminescent dinoflagellates was proposed in 1972 by J. Woodland Hastings, a co-author on the current study, and his colleague Margaret Fogel. They hypothesized that proton channels helped trigger the flash by activating luciferase, an enzyme that helps produce luminescence. But until now, the genetic code responsible for the proton channels in dinoflagellates had not been identified, although it had been decrypted in humans, mice, algae and sea squirts.

Voltage-gated proton channels are extremely versatile. In humans, they are involved in several basic biological processes, including release of histamine in basophils, a type of white blood cell. Proton channels also play a role in the production of reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide that kill bacteria in phagocytes, another kind of white blood cell, and in maturation of sperm immediately before fertilization.

In the current study, DeCoursey and co-researchers mined the gene sequence libra
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Contact: Deb Song
deb_song@rush.edu
312-942-0588
Rush University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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