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Penn biologists discover how 'silent' mutations influence protein production
Date:4/9/2009

PHILADELPHIA - Biologists at the University of Pennsylvania have revealed a hidden code that determines the expression level of a gene, providing a way to distinguish efficient genes from inefficient ones. The new research, which involved creating hundreds of synthetic green-glowing genes, provides an explanation for how a cell "knows" how much of each protein to make, providing just the right amount of protein to maintain homeostasis yet not too much to cause cell toxicity.

In the study, Penn biologists analyzed how protein levels are governed by synonymous, or silent, mutations within the protein-coding region.

Synonymous mutations do not change the amino-acid sequence of a protein, but they can nevertheless influence the amount of the protein that is produced. The researchers identified the mechanism underlying this regulation: synonymous mutations determine mRNA folding and thereby the eventual protein level. The researchers also identified a class of mutations that did not directly affect protein levels but slowed bacterial growth.

For biologists, these results fundamentally change the understanding of the role of synonymous mutations, which were previously considered evolutionarily neutral. The findings may also improve the design of therapeutic genes. Many drugs, such as insulin, are produced by transgenic cell lines. Using optimized genes will produce larger amounts of therapeutic proteins while keeping the transgenic, carrier cells healthy and fast-growing.

The human genome contains more than 20,000 genes that encode the proteins present in a human body. Some of these proteins are needed in bulk, while for others a tiny amount is sufficient and a large amount would be toxic. The question is how cells "know" how much of each protein to make.

To answer this question, Joshua B. Plotkin, senior author and the Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology in Penn's School of Arts and
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Contact: Jordan Reese
jreese@upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert  

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