Moving forward

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Nature's imagination seems endless, and so is Man's. For as long as humans have existed, they have twisted Nature to meet their own needs. Wood has been used to keep them warm. Whale oil has been used to make light. Water has been harnessed to make electricity. And when the era of bio-engineering developed, it was not long before scientists found ways to tinker with an organism's genome for the benefits of mankind. Nowadays, the realm of medication depends heavily on biotechnology. And so, undoubtedly, will novel biofuels. With fossil fuels slowly trickling away, it is becoming paramount to find alternative sources of fuel. And ethanol, though not a new idea, is one. Ethanol is synthesized quite naturally by microorganisms - usually as a waste product - and is the result of the degradation of sugars, by an enzyme known as inulinase, and their subsequent fermentation.

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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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Journey Into A Tiny World

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« Globin and Poietin set out to save Lily's life. But time is running short and they can't find the marrow... Here is the tale of their courage, fun and laughter on a journey that takes them deep into the tiniest of worlds.» For children. Learn more and order your copy online.

Snapshot : Menkes protein

As children some of us may remember these huge copper pans which hung over the stove, showing off a distinctive green patina that, we were told, was poisonous. And yet the jam we spread on our bread was made in them. Indeed, copper is essential to life. Without traces of this heavy metal in our system, a lot can go wrong because many enzymes depend on it. However, the level of copper inside us must be constantly checked. This is carried out by transmembrane pumps which taxi copper in and out of cells. One such copper pump is known as the Menkes disease-associated protein – simply because John Menkes, an American neurologist, was the first to describe the illness.

A little bit of praise!

“I recently stumbled upon your columns. Let me congratulate you on achieving the near impossible, for your articles have enabled me to successfully marry IT with the Life Sciences and better explain the concepts of bioinformatics to those who are not in the know of the field.

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, July 2011

Thank you to Fabrice David whose work we reproduce on our site!