Category: Genes of the Week

Under this category, articles on certain specific genes are published regularly. Usually genes are picked which are currently interesting for parts of the scientific community. However, sometimes, I’ll pick a “classic”. Stay tuned!


Bonding in the Brain: Oxytocin

Some genes have such a long and extensive history of research that it is difficult to decide where to start. This article will be about oxytocin, and also about love and caring, but also xenophobia and dishonesty. As a starting point for this story, I choose a cute little rodent from North America, the prairie vole. The prairie vole lives distinctly monogamous, which is rather unusual in the animal kingdom. Even the closely related and almost identical-looking montane vole is not monogamous. This has left researchers wondering why these behaviors are so different.… Read more


The Main Protease of SARS-CoV2: Finding drug candidates with X-rays

“With the ending –ase you can always assume that it is a really bad protein that breaks something else.”

My cell biology professor in the first semester of my biology degree

As the study of biology progresses, one naturally learns that the above statement – quoted freely from my memory – is not always entirely true. But in fact, most proteins that end in –ase are those that can break down something else. What they split is usually indicated by the syllable in front of it. A protease thus is a protein that can cleave (other) proteins. So does the Coronavirus have a protease to break down the proteins in our cells? No, because at least the main protease of the coronavirus, also known as MPro for short, cleaves the viruses own proteins. And why this is so important for the coronavirus that MPro is being intensively researched as a potential target for drugs against Covid-19, is what I would like to explain in this article.… Read more


What the heck is Comirnaty? Or Tozinameran?

Well, for sure it is a rough start into 2021. But the Covid-19 vaccinations, however slow they are in many places, give some hope. I was asked to write something on this subject. After all, the vaccines developed so rapidly by Moderna, BionTech and Pfizer are RNA vaccines. So are they giving us a gene? And what does that mean?… Read more


The CLN Genes – When Children get Dementia

When it comes to dementia – the progressive loss of nerve cells and thus also of cognitive performance – most people immediately think of older people, perhaps their grandparents. Not many people know that dementia can affect the youngest. The diagnosis of “childhood dementia”, Batten disease, or neural ceroid lipofuscinosis, NCL for short, means a severe shock for around 15-20 parents a year in Germany. The prognosis is difficult to accept: Batten disease usually causes blindness and progressive loss of motor and cognitive functions and results in death in early adulthood. … Read more

Theresa with Doctor's Cap and Polar Bear. (c) Lars Nilse. 2

BSX – several years of my life and a thesis at last

People who know me well and in person, friends, family, colleagues, my boss, always looked at me in disbelief. “What? There is no Gene of the Week article on Bsx???” They are astonished because Bsx is the gene that has been with me, or- sometimes even more so – has been following me, for several years. Even if originally this wasn’t planned at all, the Bsx gene was holding so many previously unknown functions for me to discover that I ultimately filled most of my doctoral thesis by researching and describing these functions. In other words: I owe my amazing doctor’s hat mostly to the Bsx gene. But let’s start at the beginning.… Read more


TMPRSS2, the entry point of SARS-CoV2 – Part 2

Thank you very much for your keen interest in my article from last week in which I explained that SARS-CoV-2 binds to the ACE2 protein on our cell surfaces so that it can enter our cells together with ACE2 itself. Over the last few weeks you have probably read quite a few times that Covid-19 often isn’t just cause an infection of the lungs, but probably affects many other tissues as well. Usually this is attributed to ACE2 being present in many other tissues. The idea behind it: all cells that carry ACE2 can be infected by SARS-CoV2. Well, today I would like to explain why it’s not that simple. If we look at the viral entry process in more detail, we find that at first only a part (the S1 part) of the spike protein binds to the ACE2 receptor and then…… Read more


ACE2, the entry point of SARS-CoV2 – Part 1

Coronaviruses. For my part, I actually didn’t know anything about them, until the beginning of this very special year 2020. And then this year everything turned upside down and by now you have probably all heard enough of the latest coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV2. For those of you who spent the last months on Mars: SARS-CoV2 is the third strain of coronaviruses that recently expanded its range of host animals successfully to include humans and in this new host, us, can trigger serious respiratory diseases. … Read more


MYBPC3: Editing the Human Germline

So, last week it was published. For some the breakthrough, for others the breaking of taboos. Researchers around the controversial stem cell guru Shoukhrat Mitalipov have “CRISPRed” out a serious hereditary disease from human embryos. Hopefully most of my readers know by now that CRISPR are those amazing “gene scissors” that can be designed in such a way that they can create a DNA double-strand break at (almost) any point in the genome. If, at the same time as this, CRISPR is programmed against a certain defective gene, a “healthy” variant of this gene is introduced into a cell, there is a high chance that this cell will replace the disease-causing gene with the correct variant. And if this cell is now a fertilized egg cell, then all the offspring of this cell and with it the entire organism will carry the repaired gene version. … Read more

Tardigrade with Helmet 0

Dsup: What are water baers doing in space?

Whoever read the newspaper lately, probably came across this story: the BBC has written about it, but also The Guardian and the Washington Post: there might be life now on the moon! The questions: since when? from where? and what kind? are easy to answer: since April 2019, from Earth and it’s water bears or tardigrades. I still remember my biology undergrad classes: tardigrades were a highlight in them! … Read more


Upf3a, the genetic crisis manager

We have reached a stage where the amount of studies that describe the function of a particular gene in a particular model organism and under particular conditions has become unmanageable. At the same time, articles that describe a completely new cellular mechanism that may occur in all animal and plant cells, but has remained hidden so far, became extremely rare. That’s why the two articles that appeared in the journal Nature last week are so special. And to understand what makes them special, we need to have a closer look on a paradoxical observation in the field of genetics that has become more prevalent over the last few years.… Read more

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