Understanding Cold Cataracts Through Toothfish Proteins

December 18, 2014

Rachel-Martin_155Professor Rachel W. Martin, Departments of Chemistry and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and co-workers including Biological Sciences School undergraduate student Jan Bierma, are hoping to gain understanding of cold cataract by studying eye lens proteins from organisms that live in very cold water. During the formation of a cold cataract, the crystallin proteins making up the eye lens separate into protein-rich and protein-poor phases. Mammalian eye lenses undergo this phase separation at temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius and although this transition is reversible, it causes the lenses to become opaque at low temperature.

Professor Martin examined eye lens proteins from the Antarctic toothfish, native to the Southern Ocean and year-round temperatures averaging negative two degrees Celsius.  Their structural eye lens proteins are closely related to the mammalian ones, yet they do not get cold cataract. Thus far, research has indicated that the toothfish’s proteins have unusual biophysical properties because their resistance to chemical and thermal change is not correlated. The study published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry. Read more 


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