science 14.12.2018 13:33

Slovenian researchers find faster way to regulate human cells

Ljubljana, 14 December - Researchers at the Chemistry Institute have found a faster way to regulate the functioning of human cells, reducing their reaction to an external signal from hours to minutes. Their research has been presented in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

Ljubljana
Schematics of cells' quick response to external signals concept.
Photo: Chemistry Institute

"Although we still do not understand the functioning of our cells completely, we can alter them to make them respond to select signals from the environment, which is very important, especially for the use of cells in medical treatments.

"Finding new ways of cell manipulation is an important branch of synthetic biology. In the last decade, scientists have managed to introduce new ways for manipulating cells but the cells' slow responsiveness was a significant restraint," the institute said in today's press release.

The institute's researchers have managed to achieve a cell's fast response to input signals, reducing its reaction time from hours to only a few minutes.

They achieved this with precisely monitored protein interactions and their post-translational modifications.

Thus, they avoided slow processes while preserving the ability of parallel and consecutive processing of information and forming logical circuits in cells.

The mechanism resembles natural processes such as blood coagulation and should be useful for diverse medical and non-medical applications.

The project, whose presentation is available at https://rdcu.be/bdbGi, started as a student team project for a 2016 science competition.

Only weeks before the publication of the Slovenian research, a similar project by a group of scientists from the US university of Caltech was presented in Science.

According to Jan Lonzarić, a co-author of the article, this is a confirmation that a "significant problem has been broached" and that "we've found a robust solution".

Roman Jerala, the mentor of the group of students that started the project, added that due to the difference in the mechanisms of the systems, the Slovenian system was faster and allowed for wider usage in different cell types.

This is the third article by researchers of the institute's synthetic biology department published in a Nature journal in a month, which is very rare even among the best teams of researchers in the world, the institute said.

The research was financially supported by the Slovenian Research Agency.