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Van Andel Research Institute Study Provides New Details Of Fundamental Cellular Process

January 24, 2012

Study of plant hormone could have far-reaching implications for cell biology and disease research

A recent Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) study published in the journal Science investigating the molecular structure and function of an essential plant hormone could profoundly change our understanding of a key cell process, and might ultimately lead to the development of new drugs for a variety of diseases.

The study builds on earlier work by the same team of investigators at VARI that was published in the journal Nature in 2009. That study shed light on how plants respond when they are under stress from extreme temperatures, drought and other harsh environmental conditions and was later named by Science as one of the top scientific breakthroughs of 2009.

The current research conducted on the plant hormone Abscisic acid (ABA) determined that during signal transduction — the basic process of intercellular and intracellular communication — certain enzymes mimic the structure of the opposing enzyme. This insight may enable scientists to more accurately develop mechanisms to activate or inhibit intercellular and intracellular communication, which could lead to the development of plants that more readily survive drought or other conditions of stress.

In mammalian cells the ability to impact communication has numerous and far-reaching implications.  For example, applications that inhibit or activate cell communication in out-of-control metastasizing cancer cells have enormous potential to affect tumor growth.

“This type of finding once again demonstrates the importance of identifying, mapping and understanding fundamental cellular and molecular processes because of the profound implications for human health,” said H. Eric Xu, Ph.D., Director of the VARI Center for Structural Biology and Drug Discovery and co-author of the current Science study.

The lead authors of the current Science study are Fen-Fen Soon, Ley-Moy Ng, and Edward Zhou. The project was carried out in conjunction and collaboration with scientists from the National University of Singapore, Purdue University, The Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Florida, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Synchrotron Research Center of Northwestern University, and University of California at Riverside.

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