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We humans are top of the evolutionary tree, the most complex organisms that have ever lived on Earth in five billion years. Right? One way we might actually prove our biological complexity is to look at the number of different proteins that our bodies can produce for building all our different types of cells and the other things they need.
This number is approximately 20,418 in humans. We are clearly more complex than chickens (18,346), flies (13,931) and bacteria, some of which can produce only a few hundred different proteins. But here is the humbling news: some crustaceans can make up to 30,000 proteins and a red cabbage has nearly 60,000 different proteins.
Scientists - Explanation - Conundrum - Dignity - Species
Scientists have managed to come up with an explanation for this apparent conundrum and save our dignity as a species. One of the features that make us more complex than a cabbage is what's called post-translational modifications of proteins, the way proteins can change after they are copied from our DNA. If we take these into account, then the total number of different proteins in human cells is an estimated one million.
What's perhaps more important than showing off to cabbages, however, is the fact that these protein changes, which we here call protein "clothing", could help us tackle diseases such as cancer. We have developed tiny devices that can analyse the protein clothing in a human tissue sample in a way that could help spot tumours earlier or understand what's driving them and how best to treat them.
Humans - Proteins - Bodies - Clothing - Proteins
Just like humans, the proteins in our bodies are born without any clothing. But before getting to work and socialising with other proteins, most of them undergo the equivalent of getting dressed. These items of protein clothing can change the "naked" protein's structure, function and how it interacts with other proteins. So...
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