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From palmed paws to hands

Have a look at your hands and fingers. When you were an embryo, your hands were palmed. Then, little by little, as the cells which bound your fingers disappeared, your hands became those you use now. Programmed cell death is a phenomenon which continues during our whole lifetime. The smooth running of our organs and, more globally our health, depends on cells committing suicide.

An orchestrated death

Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is not a random process but is rigorously controlled by proteins. Certain proteins lead cells to their death while others protect them.

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Protein tango

Things are never so simple though. Not only do these life and death proteins communicate and interact with each other but they are also under each other’s influence. In this entanglement of engaging and disengaging interactions, certain proteins have a pivotal role in life and death. For instance, when Bcl2 acts on its own, it protects cell. However, when it is part of protein networks, Bcl2 promotes cell death…

 

 

Virtual tango

How can one get a full account of these multiple interactions that are sometimes as intricate as those which make up an internet network? Bioinformatics can be of great help in this regard by storing data which arise from laboratory experiments but also by providing the means to visualize all the interactions which exist between the proteins within one cell or one type of tissue. Such representations help researchers understand biological processes and how various proteins take part in them.