All living cells must coordinate their metabolism, growth, division, and differentiation with their gene expression. Gene expression is regulated at multiple layers, from histone modifications (histone code) through RNA processing to protein degradation. While most layers are extensively studied, the regulatory role of specialized ribosomes (ribosome code) is largely unexplored. Such specialization has been suggested by the differential transcription of ribosomal proteins (RPs)and by the observation that mutations of RPs have highly specific phenotypes; particular RP mutations can cause diseases, such as cancer and Diamond Blackfan anemia, and affect selectively the synthesis of some proteins but not of others. This selectivity and the differential RP transcription raise the hypothesis that cells may build specialized ribosomes with different stoichiometries among RPs as a means of regulating protein synthesis.
While the existence of specialized ribosomes has been hypothesized for decades, experimental and analytical roadblocks (such as the need for accurate quantification of homologous proteins and their modifications) have limited the evidence to only a few examples, e.g., the phosphorylation of RP S6. We developed methods to clear these roadblocks and obtained direct evidence for differential stoichiometry among core RPs in unperturbed yeast and mammalian stem cells and its fitness phenotypes. We aim to characterize ribosome specialization and its coordination with gene regulation, metabolism, and cell growth and differentiation. We want to understand quantitatively, conceptually, and mechanistically this coordination with emphasis on direct precision measurements of metabolic fluxes, protein synthesis and degradation rates in absolute units, molecules per cell per hour.
We aim to understand how cells coordinate their growth, gene expression, and metabolism. We discovered (i) a simple mechanism that can account for the growth-rate dependent transcriptional responses across a wide range of growth conditions and growth rates, (ii) trade-offs of aerobic metabolism contributing to the Warburg effect (fermentation of glucose in the presence of enough oxygen to support respiration). Data from this work can be explored interactively and downloaded at Data Webs.