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The Organelle Network

Modern biology is advancing rapidly. Cutting-edge experimental techniques allow us to comprehensively analyze the macromolecules that compose each living cell:

  • the genome: the DNA blueprint of the organism, containing all genes and regulatory sequences
  • the transcriptome: the temporally and developmentally controlled set of RNA messages that define and control gene expression
  • the proteome: the protein products of all expressed genes, which determine and implement cellular functions
  • the glycome: the entire complement of carbohydrates within the cell, including modifications of lipids and proteins; possibly the most

Meanwhile, working within the paradigm of systems biology, theoretical and experimental biologists are working to understand the cell as an integrated system.

Until now, however, most effort within systems biology has focused on networks of molecules: Gene X expresses RNA Y, which makes protein Z, which synthesizes carbohydrate W...

But that’s not how cells really work. If we consider only molecular networks, we miss a critical level of organization: the organelles.

Organelles are functional organizations of macromolecules. Organellar proteins, lipids, nucleic acids, and carbohydrates are synthesized, regulated, and localized in a coordinated manner in order to accomplish essential cellular functions. The major organelles include:

  • the nucleus, where the DNA is replicated and transcribed
  • the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus, where secreted and membrane proteins are assembled, folded and sorted
  • the lysosome, where cellular components are recycled
  • the mitochondria, in which oxidative phosphorylation generates cellular energy supplies
  • the peroxisome, where various oxidation processes occur

Just as genes and proteins interact, organelles themselves communicate with one another, in a system we think of as the organelle network.

In order to understand this communication, our COE has combined three major fields into an interdisciplinary research program:

  • Cell biology: the study of organelles
  • Glycobiology: the study of glycan cycles
  • Microbiology: the study of pathogen-host interactions

Together, our interdisciplinary program will lead to the development of a new field of medicine: Organelle Network Medicine.