Biological Sciences

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Discovery opens door to drugs derived from protein

9th April 2009

Drugs which are derived from protein such as insulin and antibody therapies could be produced more efficiently following a fresh discovery about DNA, research suggests.

Scientists have found a way to predict how individual genes in our DNA which control the production of proteins that make up our bodies determine how much of a protein is made.

The development by researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Pennsylvania together with Harvard University could allow scientists to manipulate genes to produce large quantities of useful proteins for pharmaceutical use. Therapeutic proteins are increasingly prescribed to treat a range of illnesses.

Researchers created 154 varieties of a gene that produces a green fluorescent protein, making the protein easy to identify. They introduced the variants into a bacteria cell, wherein the protein was produced. It was found that the variations in the gene made no difference to the type of protein produced by it, but did affect the quantity of protein produced.

The scientists found that for those genes that produced only small amounts of protein, a section of the molecule involved in the process was tightly coiled, literally blocking production of the protein. Scientists believe the corresponding region of DNA could be manipulated to influence the output of protein as required.

The researchers also found that some variations of the gene did not affect the amount of protein produced, but caused harm to the bacteria. This has significant implications for our understanding of how genetic variations can cause damage to cells.

The study, part-funded by the Wellcome Trust and the BBSRC, was published in the journal Science.

Dr Grzegorz Kudla, who took part in the study, said: "The human genome contains more than 20,000 genes, which carry the code for all the proteins present in our bodies. Some of these proteins are needed in bulk, while for others a tiny amount is sufficient. We have discovered another layer in the genetic code, by which DNA controls not only the type of proteins produced, but their amount."

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