Building on earlier pioneering work by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, an international consortium of university researchers has produced the most comprehensive virtual reconstruction of human metabolism to date. Scientists could use the model, known as Recon 2, to identify causes of and new treatments for diseases like cancer, diabetes and even psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Each person’s metabolism, which represents the conversion of food sources into energy and the assembly of molecules, is determined by genetics, environment and nutrition.
The researchers presented Recon 2 in a paper published online March 3 in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Doctors have long recognized the importance of metabolic imbalances as an underlying cause of disease, but scientists have been ramping up their research on the connection as a result of compelling evidence enabled by the Human Genome Project and advances in systems biology, which leverages the power of high-powered computing to build vast interactive databases of biological information.
“Recon 2 allows biomedical researchers to study the human metabolic network with more precision than was ever previously possible. This is essential to understanding where and how specific metabolic pathways go off track to create disease,” said Bernhard Palsson, Galletti Professor of Bioengineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
“It’s like having the coordinates of all the cars in town, but no street map. Without this tool, we don’t know why people are moving the way they are,” said Palsson....
Open an undergraduate biochemistry textbook and you will learn that enzymes are highly efficient and specific in catalyzing chemical reactions in living organisms, and that they evolved to this state from their “sloppy” and “promiscuous” ancestors to allow cells to grow more efficiently. This fundamental paradigm is being challenged in a new study by bioengineers at the University of California, San Diego, who reported in the journal Science what a few enzymologists have suspected for years: many enzymes are still pretty sloppy and promiscuous, catalyzing multiple chemical reactions in living cells, for reasons that were previously not well understood.
In this study, the research team, led by Bernhard Palsson, Galetti Professor of Bioengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, brought together decades of work on the behavior of individual enzymes to produce a genome-scale model of E. coli metabolism and report that at least 37 percent of its enzymes catalyze multiple metabolic reactions that occur in an actively growing cell.
“We’ve been able to stitch all of the enzymes together into one giant model, giving us a holistic view of what has been driving the evolution of enzymes and found that it isn’t quite what we’ve thought it to be,” said Palsson....
Eight professors at the University of California, San Diego have been named new Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.
Philip E. Bourne, Xiang-Dong Fu, Kun-Liang Guan, Yishi Jin, Peter J. Novick, Bernhard Palsson and Kang Zhang were among 503 AAAS members selected by colleagues in their disciplines to be honored this year for “efforts toward advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.”
The new Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin at a special ceremony Feb. 19 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2011 AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Their names will also be published in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Science, published by the AAAS....