Washington State Magazine

Winter 2002

Winter 2002

In This Issue...


Bridges to Prosperity :: When Ethiopian partisans blew up a bridge to stop the advance of Mussolini, they also split a region. Ken Frantz put it back together. by Teresa Wippel

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Bridges to prosperity :: Photographs of Ethiopia by Zoe Keone.}

A matter of survival :: One of the simplest truths of nature is that if a species is to survive, it must reproduce. faculty researchers explore reproduction's mysteries and threats. by Mary Aegerter

Friendly People :: William Hewitt built his dream on Blake Island. Hewitt is gone, but his dream lives on in Native tradition and the rich aroma of roasting salmon. by Pat Caraher

Taking the University to the people :: Cooperative Extension still offers advice on how to can your tomatoes or care for your chickens. But it also does much more, probing needs and providing solutions in every corner of the state. by Tim Steury

The Puyallup Fair :: Every year in late summer, more than a million people gather in Puyallup to eat cotton candy, endure the latest thrill rides--and watch 4-H-ers show their stuff. by Pat Caraher




Cover: Ken Frantz '71, right, founding executive director of Bridges to Prosperity, Inc., participates in a ribbon cutting ceremony with Ethiopian provincial officials and an Ethiopian orthodox priest. The ceremony marked the reopening of Second Portuguese Bridge, which spans the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. Virtually impassable since World War II, the bridge had been repaired by Frantz and his crew of volunteers from Bridges to Prosperity, ending years of isolation for communities on both sides of the river. Read the story. Photo by Zoe Keone.

Howard Hosick, professor of genetics and cell biology in the School of Molecular Biosciences. Robert Hubner


Howard Hosick, professor of genetics and cell biology in the School of Molecular Biosciences. Robert Hubner

What's protein got to do with it?

by | © Washington State University

it is now possible to measure the activities of thousands of genes and corresponding proteins-all at once. The methods are reasonably straightforward technically, and all the necessary bits and pieces are available to anyone-for a price. A lot of razzle-dazzle and hype have accompanied this technological breakthrough. Certainly mountains of data will be generated, and many interesting insights will be gained in the next few years.

But then what? Ironically, we are blessed with almost too much of a good thing. University labs worldwide and dozens of newly spawned biotech companies are working day and night to devise methods for sorting out all this information. Meanwhile, some of the most interesting outcomes of this technology have focused not on the macro-scale events but rather on smaller, more tractable questions relating to how a few specific gene products facilitate-or prevent-one specific part of one specific cell function. This effort has been aided by computer modeling techniques and other sophisticated technologies that allow us to understand in excruciating detail how biological molecules are shaped and how this shape dictates their function.

Meanwhile, a related, perhaps even more profound, question is being approached using these same methods: how did these exquisitely intricate circuits of gene expression ever evolve in the first place? The truth is dawning that techniques and genes aren't all there is to the story. For example, the goal of the new U.S. Department of Energy's Genomes to Life program is "to venture beyond characterizing such individual life components as genes and other DNA sequences toward a more comprehensive, integrated view of biology at a whole-systems level."

We are still a long, long way from a truly comprehensive understanding of even the simplest cell. With the maturing of our approaches to the relevant issues, maybe we're due for a quantum leap in our understanding of how all we life forms are put together in so many different but basically similar designs.

Howard Hosick is a professor of genetics and cell biology in the School of Molecular Biosciences. 

A little background

Genomics is the study of the genome, which is all the genes, or the complete set of genetic information, within an organism. Its recent culmination was the mapping of the human genome by two separate research groups. As monumental an accomplishment as it is, however, the Human Genome Project's completion was just a little bit of a let-down, because it forced everyone to face the fact that genes don't actually do anything by themselves.

Genes code for the production of proteins, which actually do the body's work. So in order to really understand how the body functions, we must study the proteins. Mapping the genome has enabled us to pursue proteomics, the study of all the proteins in an organism and how their interaction makes it function.

And you thought genomics was complicated (you had heard of genomics, right?)

Whereas the human body is thought to comprise about 40 thousand genes, these genes probably code for over 100 thousand proteins. To make things more complicated, the mix of proteins varies from one cell type to the next. That mix changes as conditions change, for example when you have a cold or have just eaten a meal.

What does this mean for Professor Hosick's work?

Among other things, Hosick studies the mechanisms of breast cancer development. And what's a primary ingredient of tumors? And of the growth factors that stimulate their formation? You guessed it. Proteins.

A couple of analogies you can insert into the next dinner party conversation about proteomics:

Genes are the recipes to the proteins' banquet.

The genome is the musical score to the proteomics symphony.

Beyond the hype, what's the big deal?

TWO WORDS: "diagnosis" and "drugs."

Categories: Biological sciences | Tags: Genetics, Proteins

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