Cell Talk


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Top (l-r): Prof. Gideon Schreiber, Dana Reichmann, Noga Kozer, Ofer Rahat, Dr. Kay Gottschalk, Diego Jaitin. Middle: Renne Abramovich and Dr. Tal Peleg-Shulman. Bottom: Yossie Shaul and Yossie Kutner



Efforts to eavesdrop on the communication lines between proteins in our bodies used to consist of long, often cumbersome experiments - each supplying an answer to only a single question. They were similar, in a sense, to randomly reading the Encyclopedia Britannica, a sentence here and there.


An organization’s level of development is measured by, among other things, the complexity of communication among its components. In a living organism, the complexity of these internal communication lines is highly indicative of its position on the evolutionary ladder: The more advanced the organism, the more its components “talk” to one another on an ever more sophisticated network.

A human cell, for instance, resembles a large multinational company, with about one hundred thousand different proteins in constant communication. Indeed this is the most basic life process and “cell-talk” breakdowns are a major cause of disease.

Such communication takes place when a certain protein molecule attaches to another in a process known as biological recognition. Though resembling the match between a key and a lock, this process is far from simple: a protein molecule is about one-billionth the size of a living cell, so that a molecule roving within the expanse of the cell looking for its target is much like a person looking for a man called Joe in New York City. Still, at any given moment, billions of protein molecules in our bodies find and identify one another, passing on the messages of life.

How they pull off this feat is what fascinates Prof. Gideon Schreiber of the Weizmann Institute’s Biological Chemistry Department. His research demands the expertise of a team of mathematicians, chemists and biologists. On the theoretical level, advanced mathematical equations are put to work to better understand the physical interactions between protein molecules. These efforts are complemented by laboratory experiments in which specific changes are introduced to a protein to evaluate the effect on its performance. These multidisciplinary studies have advanced our understanding of how proteins bind to each other, including the means by which interferons (proteins serving as the body’s first line of defense) convey their messages to the cell’s command headquarters, the nucleus.


The pioneering research by Schreiber and others will advance the development of algorithms targeting a better understanding of protein communication - insights into which hold much promise for medicine and pharmaceuticals.


Prof. Schreiber's research is supported by the Robert Rees Fund for Applied Research and the Divadol Foundation.