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article imageSwitching algae on and off may help with cancer and biofuels

By Tim Sandle     Oct 17, 2014 in Science
Scientists have found a way to switch certain cells on and off – a type of “cellular snooze button”. Knowing this could potentially help researchers improve biofuel production and cancer detection.
A research group have located and characterized a protein called CHT7. This protein appears to control cellular activity, in terms of when a cell enters a “resting state”. This has been shown through work on algae. From this, researchers think that they can control the growth of algae to help with oil production and potentially switch off tumor growth in human forms of cancer.
The reason for focusing on algae is because the organism easy to grow in the laboratory (unlike human cells). The discovery came about when researchers were looking into biofuels. They noted that when algae are “awake” they do not produce oil; however, when they are “asleep” they produce oil. With the aim of maximising oil production, the researchers looked into ways to put the algae into a resting state for longer periods of time.
The production of oil is part of the algae’s natural mechanism when it is subject to environmental stress. It is part of a process to conserve energy and nutrients. This is all based around the CHT7 protein.
By genetically engineering the protein researchers think they can manipulate algae and produce higher quantities of biofuel. The promise does not stop there, for the finding presents scientists with a new mechanism for looking into tumor growth. It is hoped that the same “sleep” and “wake” process can be manipulated to turn off tumor cells.
The research was led by Christoph Benning, MSU professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research is titled “The protein Compromised Hydrolysis of Triacylglycerols 7 (CHT7) acts as a repressor of cellular quiescence in Chlamydomonas”.
More about Cells, Cancer, Biofuels, Algae
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