Work of Four TSRI Scientists Contribute in Science
Magazine's Top-Ten Breakthroughs of Year
By Jason Socrates
The work of four scientists at The Scripps Research Institute
(TSRI) was cited by Science magazine among three of
the journal's annual list of the top-ten breakthroughs of
the year. The complete list appears in the December 20, 2002
issue of Science.
All four scientists are in the Department of Cell Biology
at TSRI. In addition, three of the scientists are members
of TSRI's Institute for Childhood and Neglected Diseases (ICND).
The ICND was created to apply the burgeoning knowledge of
genes and their interactions to understand, address, reduce,
and treat specific childhood diseases, early-onset diseases,
and "neglected" diseases, which affect populations primarily
in developing countries.
The four scientists and their breakthroughs are:
Professor Steve Kay for "[work on] a new class of
light-responsive cells in the retinas of mammals." Kay recently
demonstrated that the gene Opn4, which codes for the protein
Melanopsin, is the elusive pigment gene that captures light
and keeps your body tuned to a daily cyclecalled a circadian
rhythm. "This is the key protein in the eye that sends signals
to the clock," says Kay.
This research should help in the development of strategies
for correcting sleep disorders, many of which are related
to circadian rhythms. Furthermore, understanding the protein
that resets the body's clock should help in research aimed
at countering the most common circadian problemsthe
jet-lag one feels after overseas flights or fatigue when working
Assistant Professor Ardem Patapoutian for discoveries
that "helped explain why spicy food feels hot, and breath
mints give the mouth a chill." Patapoutian identified and
isolated a protein, called TRPM8, that mediates the body's
ability to sense cold and menthol through the skin. TRPM8
is the first cold-sensing molecule that has ever been identified
and may be an important basic target for pain-modulating drugs.
He also identified and cloned the first-known gene that
makes skin cells able to sense warm temperatures by making
a membrane protein, called TRPV3, that opens when it senses
a temperature above a certain level and allows ions to pass
through and cause an electrical potential that signals the
brain. "This protein may be an important target for drugs,"
says Patapoutian, "because, like other TRP channels, it may
be involved in inflammation and pain-mediation."
Assistant Professor Elizabeth Winzeler and Professor
John Yates, who both contributed research in support of
the publication of "genome sequence drafts for organisms with
major agriculture and public health relevance for the developing
Winzeler found a way to use a relatively new but readily
available technology to quickly detect markers in the DNA
of the most deadly type of malaria pathogen. The technology
could enable scientists and public health workers to identify
the particular strain of malaria during an outbreak and determine
if it is drug resistant or not. The work should also make
it easier to follow the spread of drug resistance around the
world, and to assist health ministries in countries where
malaria is a problem to come up with strategies to thwart
"One of the reasons for the resurgence of malaria in Africa
and in other parts of the world is the spread of drug resistance,"
Yates led a large effort to determine the "proteome" of
the most deadly form of the malaria pathogenPlasmodium
falciparum. Knowing which proteins are expressed by Plasmodium
falciparum should help scientists understand how the pathogen
causes malaria and, with luck, how to thwart it. These efforts
will pay huge dividends in global healthcare if even a few
of the newly identified proteins lead to the development of
new malaria vaccinesand Yates and his colleagues found
more than 2,400 proteins.
"This is the first instance that I know of where these proteomics
studies have gone along side-by-side with the genome sequencing
project," he says.
The December 20, 2002 issue of Science is currently
available at www.sciencemag.org.