On the right track

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Left only to the passage of time, everything gravitates towards chaos. Gardens become overgrown. Roads gather potholes and cracks. Relationships wither, and teeth rot. We have ways of dealing with this however. Gardeners look after the lawns, engineers inspect the roads, therapists have a go at unravelling relationships, and dentists tend to our mouths. Life, too, has its keepers. Left unattended, the very essence of life - our DNA - will collect unfortunate mutations that have the power to wreak havoc inside us. Over time, our cells have found ways of coping with this by promoting, for example, self-destruction so as not to propagate what has become unhealthy, or by repairing damaged DNA. As a result, cells are kept on the right track. Who, though, is the keeper? Different keepers are summoned at different stages and depending on the cell's fate. One protein, however, seems to be the orchestrator. Its name is p53, and it has been studied extensively since the 1970s because when it goes wrong, life is at stake.

SwissProt
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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