2022-06-20| R&DTechnology

Why CRY2 matters: Studying Control of Plants and Human Growth

by Eduardo Longoria
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Despite what one would expect; humans share between 20 and 50% of their DNA with the plant kingdom on average. Equally unexpected; is the discovery of a potential cancer treatment by studying how plant growth is controlled. Despite this surprise, scientists in Cold Spring Harbor, New York have found protein activity in plants that may hold a connection to the growth of cancer cells in the human body. 


Progress in Plant Proteins


These scientists, Ullas Pedmale and former post-doctoral fellow Louise Lindback, along with their team, were originally studying plant growth with the intent of harnessing their research to improve agriculture. Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, has a history of good research with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. 

The research that the team conducted yielded results that describe how proteins called UBP12 and UBP13 help regulate a photoreceptor called CRY2. This photoreceptor, UV-A/Blue Light Photoreceptor Cryptochrome 2, is responsible for controlling the growth of the plant. Specifically, in plants the UBP 12 and UBP 13 proteins help degrade the CRY2 photoreceptor. In low light conditions these two proteins will increase in concentration to degrade CRY2 at a higher rate in order to encourage the growth of longer stems that may help the plant reach light. This effect can be replicated if researchers simply increase the UBP12 and UBP13 concentrations. Plants need the right amount of CRY2 to know when to grow and flower. As such, if a farmer or botanist needed to increase crop yield or delay the flowering of their plants, manipulating the concentrations of these proteins could prove incredibly helpful. Being able to understand growth has a long list of economic and possibly medical benefits.   

“We have a way to understand growth here—and we could manipulate growth just by manipulating two proteins. We have found a way we can actually increase flower output. You need flowering for food. If there’s no flower, there is no grain, no rice, no wheat, no maize,” said Pedmale. 

Related article: Life Began with RNA Theory Gets Renewed Support 


Human Applications


In humans the equivalent of the CRY2 is HCRY (Human Cryptochrome 2). This protein is a flavin adenine dinucleotide-binding protein that is blue light sensitive and functions in regulating the circadian rhythm. Human CRY1 and Human CRY2 proteins form a negative feedback loop with themselves by acting as transcriptional repressors. 

The sequence of HCRY2 is heavily conserved throughout the animal kingdom and implies the importance of this protein in animal life. In incidences of miscoding of this protein people can suffer sleep disturbances. Along with this problem, disruptions to the circadian rhythm have been linked to longer term increases in incidence of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It is a possibility that further research on the human CRY proteins could help make the human circadian rhythm more tolerant to changes and better able to manage modern life without inducing diseases. 

The Pedmale lab and their colleagues at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory hope that their discovery can bear fruit in cancer research and the management of growth in other species. An institution with eight Nobel prize winners and 600 total scientists, students and technicians will likely continue to churn out quality research in the days to come.

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