Proteins — tools of living cells — can’t do their job if they’re not in shape. Literally.
And a new study is the first to image the various stages of a protein’s undoing, which will lend valuable insight to treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Those are just two of the diseases caused by proteins that are misfolded — their amino acid chains are not arranged correctly, resulting in a misshapen three-dimensional structure. When misfolded, these proteins don’t work and, in the case of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, gunk up the brain and eventually destroy nerve cells.
Understanding how proteins fold is crucial to developing ways to prevent and treat these diseases. Previous attempts to document the process have involved heat or chemicals, creating conditions under which the proteins quickly unraveled and thus limiting observation of the in-between states.
Queen bee larvae floating in royal jelly
What’s the News: It’s long been known that a female bee’s place in the social order—whether she becomes a worker or a queen—depends not on her genes, but on whether she eats royal jelly. A study published in Nature found that royalactin, a protein found in royal jelly, is responsible for many of the physical differences that distinguish queens from the hoi polloi of the hive—and, surprisingly, that royalactin can even cause fruit flies to develop queen bee-like traits. This finding also shines light on how, at a cellular level, royal jelly turns bees into queens.