Penn Biologists Simulate Protein Translation in a Cell

Associate Professor of Biology Joshua B. Plotkin and Postdoctoral Fellow Premal Shah have used a computational model to shed new light on what sets the pace of protein translation in cells. Their discoveries were released in a recent paper in Cell.

The inner workings of a cell involve hundreds of thousands of discrete molecules, engaged in a repeating cycle of interactions that sustain life. Underlying this activity is the formation of proteins. Since they are the building blocks of cellular function, scientists are intensely interested in how cells create protein.

Collaborating with scientists in the United Kingdom, the Penn-led team created a theoretical model of protein translation in the well-studied yeast cell. It simulates translation based on parameters inferred from an experimental snapshot of ribosome interactions with messenger RNAs. Known as mRNAs, these molecules contain the genetic instructions to assemble a protein.

The team discovered that the speed of protein production is limited by the availability of free ribosomes, the cell’s protein synthesizing factories.

Knowing how the process works is helpful in a variety of biotechnology applications. For example, scientists could find ways to optimize a cell’s protein production when it comes to beneficial proteins such as insulin.

The study was supported by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, David & Lucile Packard Foundation,James S. McDonnell Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and U.S. Department of the Interior.

Read the full story here.

Arts & Sciences News

Michael C. Horowitz Awarded Department of Defense Grant to Lead Team on Study of Autonomous Systems and AI

Michael C. Horowitz, Professor of Political Science, will oversee the study of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence.

View Article >
Earthquakes at the Nanoscale

In collaboration with Robert Carpick and David Goldsby, Tian, who graduated from Penn in 2017 with a doctorate in physics, recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters which attempts to tackle these devastating natural phenomena by investigating the laws of friction at the smallest possible scale, the nanoscale.

View Article >
Doris Wagner Named Robert I. Williams Term Professor

A leader in the fields of plant biology, chromatin modification, and epigenetics, Wagner’s research focuses on understanding at the molecular level the complex changes that occur when an organism switches developmental programs.

View Article >
Wrongful Convictions Reported for 6 Percent of Crimes

A study from Penn criminologists results in the first general estimate for the prison population as a whole.

View Article >
Race Has a Place in Human Genetics Research, Philosopher Argues

Penn philosopher Quayshawn Spencer says there is a racial classification that’s medically useful to reliably sample human genetic diversity.

View Article >
Exploring the Sounds of the Middle Ages

Assistant Professor of Music Mary Channen Caldwell's freshman seminar course, “Hearing (in) the Middle Ages,” explores a range of sounds heard throughout the medieval period, whether produced by people, instruments, bells, or animals.

View Article >