Led by Dr. Janet Smith, this study offers important insights into the evolution of kinases, which are enzymes involved in cell communication pathways. Approximately 2.5% of human genes code for protein kinases, and mutations in many of these genes are at the root of a range of human diseases. Dictyostelium is a widely used model organism for scientific study, as it is remarkably similar to mammalian cells, and it is amenable to a range of laboratory techniques.
To solve the kinome of Dictyostelium, Dr. Smith and her colleagues at Boston Biomedical utilized the power of bioinformatics, a cutting edge scientific technique which employs databases and computer algorithms to allow researchers to gain information and compile data about genes and kinases in a fast and efficient way, which can be very useful for drug discovery and development.
According to Dr. Smith, Dictyostelium provides a simple model in which to study conserved cellular processes, and illuminates a period in the evolutionary history of the metazoa after the divergence of the plants but before that of the fungi. "Our findings document the impressive evolutionary creativity of the Dictyostelium kinome- a large portion of the kinases are unique to Dictyostelium, and are probably involved in unique aspects of this organism's biology," said Dr. Smith.
But conservation is also a major theme. By comparing the Dictyostelium kinome with those of other organisms, the authors find 46 types of kinases that appear to be conserved in all organisms, and are likely to be involved in fundamental cellular processes. "We believe this study will be very useful to researchers who are studying cell communication pathways in other organisms, including vertebrates, by demonstrating what aspects of signaling are conserved, and revealing opportunities to use Dictyostelium to understand important human proteins."