Researchers find protein that may be useful for biofuel and cancer research

Researchers looking into biofuel alternatives have made a discovery that may help further cancer research.

Michigan State University researchers say they have found what they call a cellular snooze button in algae cells.

The ‘snooze button’ is a protein called Protein Compromised Hydrolysis of Triacylglycerols 7 or CHT7.

Christoph Benning is a professor at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at MSU.

He said they found that CHT7 interacts with proteins involved with tumor suppression.

Benning said researchers made the discovery while they were looking into biofuels made from algae.

“And so the goal is to make algae fuel competitive with fossil fuel. It is sustainable and then will hopefully allow us to replace fossil fuels to increasing amounts to not produce more CO2 into the atmosphere, which has negative consequences for the environment,” Benning said.

He said researchers found a mutant algae that couldn’t come out of “sleep mode”. Then, he says, they took a closer look.

“Then when we basically compared its makeup, we immediately saw that it was similar to proteins that occur in human cells,” Benning said, “And these proteins interact with tumor suppressor protein. And that protein is very heavily researched and known to be involved in the formation of tumors.”

Benning said looking at CHT7 in algae allows researchers to see how cell division takes place in more complex tumor cells.

“The algae is a single-celled organism, which is much less complex than a multicellular tumor cell or a multicellular organism, and it allows us in a more simple way to actually study this,” Benning said, “And so the algae, we think, is a model for what’s going on in an animal cell when it starts to decide whether to divide or not.”

Benning said the funding for his biofuel research is no longer available. He said now he’s exploring the idea of suggesting research using photosynthetic algae as a model for cancer cells.

Thanks to WKAR Public Media in Lansing for help with this story.


MSU Study Links energy and cancer research

PNAS The Protein Compromised Hydrolysis of Triaglycerols 7