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Scientists uncover how cells kill themselves for the benefit of the organism

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Posted August 23, 2019

You are just billions of different cells interacting between themselves in order to maintain this big beautiful organism that is you. Sometimes this includes cells committing suicide – they have to vacate their place for the benefit of others. The self-destruction of cells in humans and plants, however, is not understood very well, but this new research showed that a protein SARM1 plays a key role in cellular suicide.

The same discovery could help solving the mystery of neurodegenerative diseases and lead to disease-resistant plants. Image credit: Erald Mecani via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

That is one of those things that majority of life on Earth has in common – cells that have to know when to commit suicide. This usually happens when cells are unhealthy. For example, infected cells have to die so that the rest of the organism can survive and thrive. Keeping sick cells could infect others, allowing the disease to spread. This is essentially how our immune response works – infected cells commit suicide for the benefit of the entire organism. Interestingly, by studying proteins involved in this process scientists also found out more about plants.

Researchers from Australia were studying cell suicide in neurons and found  common ways human and plant cells bring about cell elimination. Methods of structural biology, biochemistry, neurobiology and plant science were brought together to analyse cells and proteins in order to see the mechanism of cell suicide. Researchers found that a protein called SARM1 is key for cell suicide, especially in neurodegenerative diseases. Scientists revealed its three-dimensional structure and made advancement to see why cells break down in various diseases. This could eventually lead to new therapies that could stop or even reverse this breakdown. At the same time, this could also lead towards disease-resistant plants.

This is one of those areas where we can clearly see that we’re not much more than just multi-cell organisms. The same basic discovery could help humans and plants, because some of the processes we go through are actually quite similar. Bostjan Kobe, co-leader of the study, said: “Specific plant resistance genes can protect plants from disease, but how the products of these genes work has been poorly understood. Part of this resistance is that – similar to human neurons – infected cells self-destruct”.

Understanding this process will lead to the creation of disease-resistant plants as well as innovative therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. It is cool to see scientific advancements that could turn to medical innovations of better plants for food. But this is the very beginning of this research and we will have to wait to see what kind of results it would create.

 

Source: University of Queensland

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