A cell in the human body is like a microscopic factory which produces proteins, each with its functions and tasks to accomplish. Within cells, the genes handle the series of steps required to develop proteins. This process is scientifically known as gene expression.
Although two cells might be identical and function in the same environment and for the same purposes, the amount of proteins each of them produces is different. That is what scientists call “noise,” and it is variability with a significant role in viral infection, antibiotic resistance, or drug resistance in cancer cells.
A team of scientists headed by Leor S. Weinberger, Ph.D., the William and Ute Bowes Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for Cell Circuitry at the Gladstone Institutes, studied the factors within cells that might influence the “noise.”
“We are trying to determine whether differences in one step along the assembly line influences the final amount of proteins produced more than other steps,” said Weinberger.
Scientists study the factors within cells that impact the “noise” that influences the production of the proteins
Employing several computational and experimental methods the group of scientists explored how a variety of cells generated distinct proteins in different amounts and estimated the “noise” for every step in the production of proteins process.
“When thinking about gene expression, we used to be unsure how each step contributed to the final outcome. But we discovered that one step works very differently than we thought. It’s as if you always thought the production process was very streamlined, but then realized it’s actually much noisier,” explained Maike Hansen, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar in Weinberger’s laboratory.
The recent discovery revealed that the scientific community could’ve misinterpreted a significant step in gene expression.
“We’ve discovered an important step that increases cell-to-cell differences. These differences contribute to difficulties in treating various diseases. Once we understand the mechanisms involved, we can start to exploit them for therapeutic targets,” said Weinberger.