Vital Cell Machinery Behind the Human Body’s Incorporation of Selenium Seen for First Time; Research by Rutgers Scientist and International Team Reveals Structures Unique in Biology

A Rutgers scientist is part of an international team that has determined the process for incorporating selenium – an essential trace mineral found in soil, water and some foods that increases antioxidant effects in the body – into 25 specialized proteins, a discovery that could help develop new therapies to treat a multitude of diseases from cancer to diabetes. The research, detailed in a June 16, 2022 Science article, includes the most in-depth description yet of the process by which selenium gets to where it needs to be in cells, which is crucial for many aspects of cell and organismal biology. First, selenium is encapsulated within selenocysteine (Sec), an essential amino acid. Then, Sec is incorporated into 25 so-called selenoproteins, all of them key to a host of cellular and metabolic processes. Understanding the workings of these vital mechanisms in such a detailed manner is critical to the development of new medical therapies, according to researchers including Paul Copeland, PhD, a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “This work revealed structures that had never before been seen, some of which are unique in all of biology,” said Dr. Copeland, an author of the study. The Science article is titled “Structure of the Mammalian Ribosome As It Decodes the Selenocysteine UGA Codon.”
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