Signs and signals
By Brona McVittie
A magnificent orchestration of signaling pathways interweaves to direct development from fertilised egg cell to adult. The same pathway components - proteins that convey external signals to the genome in the cell nucleus - exist in most animals. So understanding how signaling pathways work in flies is relevant to humans. While such pathways instruct development, when overactive or active in the wrong tissue, they can lead to cancer.
Technological advance now means scientists need no longer study cancer-risk genes one at a time. New techniques facilitate the analysis of entire gene networks and the way their protein products interact. “We’re trying to create profiles of many different genes in parallel,” explains Michael Boutros (German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany), who is co-ordinating the EU-funded CancerPathways network project in a bid to uncover new drug targets.
Michael introduces the metaphor of transport and trafficking to explain his research. “Consider a complex public transport system. When trains or information get blocked, the whole system is affected. Stopping trains at certain stations may impact more strongly on the network than blockages elsewhere. We’re trying to find all these critical points in cell systems where, if blockage occurs, the greatest impact is felt.“