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Cells Defend Themselves from Viruses, Bacteria With Armor of Protein Errors

When cells are confronted with an invading virus or bacteria or exposed to an irritating chemical, they protect themselves by going off their DNA recipe and inserting the wrong amino acid into new proteins to defend them against damage, scientists have discovered.

These "regulated errors" comprise a novel non-genetic mechanism by which cells can rapidly make important proteins more resistant to attack when stressed, said Tao Pan, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago. A team of 18 scientists from the University of Chicago and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease led by Pan and Jonathan Yewdell published the findings November 25 in the journal Nature.

"This mechanism allows every protein to get some protection," Pan said. "The genetic code is considered untouchable, but this is a non-genetic strategy used in cells to create a bodyguard for proteins."

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