A walk on the rough side

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Life can be hard. There are times when you find yourself in the most unfriendly circumstances and, more often than not, the best way to deal with the situation is to find your own solution and wriggle your own way out. Living species are the most imaginative of beings when it comes to designing defence mechanisms. Some release nasty smells to ward off predators, or melt into the landscape and become invisible to them. While others live in protective shells, inject toxins that paralyse, or are simply wise enough to walk away from danger. Many species have also chosen to live in places no one would ever dream of settling down in and, over time, have developed ways to flourish in severe temperatures, faced with a total lack of water and under crushing pressures. Among these are tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets. One tardigrade in particular, Ramazzottius varieornatus, lives in very harsh conditions and even seems to have found a way to survive harmful radiation. Thanks to a protein which has been dubbed damage suppressor protein.

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Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook

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There is a famous sequence in Quai des Brumes – a very popular French film shot in the 1930s – in which Jean Gabin, subdued by the sky blue of his interlocutor’s gaze, leans over and breathes into Michèle Morgan’s ear, “T’as d’beaux yeux tu sais” – meaning literally: “You’ve got beautiful eyes you know” ... though it means far more. The blue of an eye is both fascinating and mysterious, and we are getting closer to an explanation for it. It is common knowledge that the colour of our eyes is due to the accumulation of a pigment in the iris – melanin – whose synthesis depends on the activity of a protein known as P protein. Despite years of research, scientists had not been able to pin down a modification in P protein, which could explain the azure of a look, until recently when the long sought after mutation was discovered – only not at all where they were expecting it!

A little bit of praise!

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Your articles are very well written, lucid, and contain just enough information to excite the reader to want to learn more about the topic being discussed. They fall in a very rare category where they are accessible to everyone, from the undergraduate students to research students who want to have a basic idea of the topics being discussed. Some of your articles, like "Our hollow architecture" and "Throb" are outstanding pieces.

I would highly recommend your articles as a necessary reading in undergrad classes to get students inspired about the various avenues of research.”

— Rohan Chaubal, Senior Researcher in Genomics

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