Cell Biology

Hidden Benefits

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Science  13 Oct 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5490, pp. 233
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5490.233d

Prion diseases like the neurodegenerative disorder vCJD can be devastating. Two questions of interest are, why did prions evolve, and how are they maintained in the genome?

True and Lindquist looked at yeast prions and discovered that they can be important in generating phenotypic diversity. One of the best-studied yeast prions is known as [PSI+]. When switched on via a conformational change, it allows ribosomes to read through translational stop codons, which results in the synthesis of proteins with extra amino acids attached. These changes in protein expression profiles are capable of producing a phenotype conducive to fitness, depending on the particular environment within which the yeast cells grow. It is this potential for phenotypic variation that is thought to maintain the prion trait in the yeast genome and that may help it adapt to exploit environmental conditions. — SMH

Nature407, 477 (2000)

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