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Scientists find new 'microprotein' hiding in human genome

"Despite how much we know about the human genome, there are still blind spots in the genome discovery algorithms," said researcher Alan Saghatelian.

By Brooks Hays
Scientists find new 'microprotein' hiding in human genome
Scientists used bioluminescence markers to study newly identified microproteins, including NoBody, which is marked by green. Photo by Yale University

NEW HAVEN, Conn., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Researchers at Yale University have discovered a new "microprotein" hiding inside the human genome. Microproteins are proteins too small to be observed using traditional biochemical analysis techniques.

Scientists named the novel microprotein "NoBody," short for "non-annotated P-body dissociating polypeptide." NoBody is responsible for clearing out unneeded genetic material from the inside of cells.

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Researchers described the discovery of NoBody in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

"The broadest significance of this work is that even in a well-studied biological process, a microprotein has been right there under our noses, undetected, all this time," Sarah Slavoff, co-senior author of the new paper, said in a news release.

NoBody was discovered inside myeloid leukemia cells. Scientists identified NoBoyd by first removing larger proteins and then using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry -- a highly sensitive chemical analysis technique -- to identify the remaining proteins.

Slavoff and her colleagues have discovered a total of 400 microproteins using the technique.

"Despite how much we know about the human genome, there are still blind spots in the genome discovery algorithms," said co-senior author Alan Saghatelian, a researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "You can sequence the whole human genome and never know a protein, like this one, was there because it's too short and falls below the usual length requirement for gene assignment algorithms."

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Scientists believe microproteins may play an important -- but rarely studied -- role in a variety of biological processes. They may also explain a number of human diseases.

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