The length of things

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

It is important to know when to stop. A cell has to know when to stop expanding. A flower's pistil and its stamen when to stop elongating. And a flagellum to stop extending. Because there is a fair chance that without this knowledge, it would be difficult to keep organisms alive. But how do all these various parts of living matter know when the time has come to stop growing? There must be a mechanism of some kind. A sort of molecular device which holds up a STOP sign, or acts as a means of measure when something has reached the required shape or length. Recently, such a scheme was discovered in the flagella of the alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii; a ruler of sorts that defines not only the length of the units which make up the axoneme but also the nature of the flagellum's structure. This molecular yardstick is a protein known as coiled-coil domain-containing protein 40 - or CCDC40.

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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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 Jodee Knowles whose work we reproduce on our site!