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Illustration: Mikael Molin.
Illustration: Mikael Molin.
Photo: Mikael Molin
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Mechanism discovered that controls how light inhibits cell growth

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Light is fundamental for life but can also damage cells. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, in collaboration with physicists and molecular biologists from Chalmers, have now developed a method for determining how and why visible light inhibits cell growth.

Light is a two-edged sword that is fundamental to life on our planet but that also causes cell damage and cell death. This is why organisms exposed to light have developed systems not only to convert light energy into chemical energy but also to protect themselves from its toxic effects.

“It is well known that photosynthetic organisms, such as plants, have different systems for limiting light absorption to keep the light from becoming too intense and thereby toxic. What we are interested in is understanding the mechanisms non-photosynthetic organisms use to protect themselves against visible light,” says Anders Blomberg, professor of functional genomics at the University of Gothenburg.

Even visible light can cause damage

It is well known that ultraviolet light, which we cannot see and which has wavelengths less than 400 nanometres (nm), causes serious damage to DNA.

But it is unclear how and why visible light (wavelengths in the 400–700 nm spectrum) damages living organisms.

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, in collaboration with physicist and molecular biologists from Chalmers, have now developed a method for determining how and why visible light inhibits cell growth.

“We used this method to understand how baker's yeast, a common model for human cells that is easy and problem-free to use in experiments ethically speaking, protects itself from the toxic effects of light and what genes are necessary in this defence,” says Mikael Molin, associate professor at Chalmers.

Discovered fundamental defence mechanism

The researchers found that a special signalling mechanism, called cAMP dependent protein kinase, is central for the ability of cells to sense and protect themselves from damage caused by visible light.

“Nearly all cell types, including most types of human cells, signal using this protein kinase, and this knowledge can thus help us understand how light affects many different life forms. This is an incredibly important insight,” says Jonas Warringer, researcher at the University of Gothenburg.

Anders Blomberg, professor of functional genomics at the Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Gothenburg, +46 (0)733-60 46 24, anders.blomberg@cmb.gu.se

Mikael Molin, associate professor at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, Chalmers, +46 (0)70-650 29 71, mikael.molin@chalmers.se

Jonas Warringer, senior lecturer at the Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Gothenburg, +46 (0)31-786 25 89, mobile: +46 (0)730-22 63 22, jonas.warringer@cmb.gu.se

 

Facts about the research

The findings have now been published in BMC Biology.

Title: Protein kinase A controls yeast growth in visible light

Online publication: https://bmcbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12915-020-00867-4