By Andrew Damstedt
Two BYU professors are joining the ranks of scientists around the world by being published in the leading scientific journal.
The Nov. 12 issue of “Science,” features research conducted by Paul Savage and a review article by Keith Crandall.
“It”s a particular honor to write a perspective to ”Science” because it is the premier journal in science, not just my particular field,” Crandall said. “It is a nice opportunity and honor to be asked.”
Paul Savage, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, worked with scientists from around the world to discover a key component in the human immune system. This has important implications for the scientific community in uncovering the roots of autoimmune conditions. The study will appear in a later print edition of the journal. Crandall”s article, which appears in “Science” on-line edition, “Science Express,” will later appear in a print edition of the journal.
The research conducted aimed to find the missing antigen that activates natural killer T cells, cells which determine whether to unleash responses in the body, such as inflammation. Savage and his graduate students, Ning Yin and Ying Gao, created artificial antigens for the research team.
“Our key part was being able to synthesize the antigen so we can put the smaller pieces in a laboratory,” Savage said. “It”s been exciting. This all comes about because it is a team effort between immunologists and chemists. The diverse skills allow us to move forward pretty fast.”
This is the first time scientists have done more than observe the effects of the missing antigen – they identified and described it.
“The major discovery in the paper is we discovered I-Gb3, the natural antigen that will stimulate the anti-T cell proliferation,” Yin said.
The importance of this discovery is scientists can now start asking where the missing antigen is made, how it”s regulated and that will further the understanding of the response of the natural killer T cells, he said.
“We can start to manipulate the natural killer T cells into doing what we want-treat disease,” Savage said. “There is much more to the story that is coming out now that will add a lot to this.”
Keith Crandall, an associate professor with a joint appointment in integrative biology, microbiology and molecular biology, wrote a review article with a graduate student on new methods for building the “Tree of Life.”
Crandall”s review endorses tapping the large amount of computing power available to fill in missing branches in the “Tree of Life,” which is a goal of many biologists to catalog and organize all species on Earth. The project helps scientists understand the relationship different species have with each other.
Crandall supports the methods of the California researches, who have poured through many databases for genetic information of around 100,000 species and compare the DNA sequence to determine relationships. The goal of the review is to get scientists to start looking at the leaves (the species) on the tree instead of the thick branches (relationships between species).
“If we can get at the trunk relationships with existing databases and through computational approaches than the money that is spent, is better spent on more species representation,” Crandall said. “We aren”t going to be able to study these leaves if we don”t get out there and figure out what they are right now.”
The trunk and thick branches can be filled in later after a computer analysis of all the leaves.
“We need to turn our attention [to the leaves] before we lose the information,” said Jennifer Buhay, a graduate student who helped Crandall review the article. “Thousands of species that we don”t know exist are disappearing each year.”