Johns Hopkins biologist leads team that unlocks mystery of protein function
What makes the body of a person or any other organism work can for the most part be summed up in a word: proteins.
These big molecules carry out almost all processes in living organisms, including moving other molecules from one place to another, replicating DNA, conveying genetic information from genes to cells, controlling immune response, driving metabolism and building muscle. Not all protein molecules are created equal, though, and some are better understood than others.
Now, a team of scientists led by a Johns Hopkins University biologist has cracked a key part of the mystery surrounding proteins that emerged as a distinct type less than 30 years ago. The finding reported in the online journal eLife could eventually lead to treatments for diseases that range from cancer to neurological disorders.
Vincent Hilser, professor and chair of the Johns Hopkins Department of Biology, said it’s not possible to say when this new research will translate into improved treatments, “but what is clear is understanding how these things work is a critical step toward that.”
These so-called “intrinsically disordered proteins” do not look like the more familiar type, but they make up about 40 percent of all proteins. Perhaps more important, they constitute the majority of proteins involved in the process called “transcription.” That’s how the instructions in genetic code are conveyed to cells and ultimately body tissues.