Bringing Copper to Light

Bringing Copper to Light

So for 15 or so years we’ve recognized
that there was copper in mitochondria, but we didn’t know how it got there and
how particularly, how it crossed the inner membrane. If you want to get across the
inner membrane of the mitochondria you need a transporter and so the main focus
of my graduate students, here at Auburn working in the last five years, has been
looking to discover the transporters that are responsible for moving copper.
Once we identified a transporter in yeast, then we started looking into
animals and humans to say what is the transporter that humans have that’s
equivalent to the one yeast has. The biggest thing that we have here is is
that we can modulate the nutrition of cells or what we feed the cells and we
can look at the phenotype that or what they do in response to changing them, so
it’s a combination of like molecular analysis and nutrition. If you can
understand how nutrition works, you can understand therapies that are pretty
easy because you can be different molecules to different sorts of cell
types and then you can improve the outcome for those people. Chick-fil-a is
very popular here on campus. If I went and sat outside the Student Center and I
watched students walk out, I would say that Chick-fil-a is the only restaurant that
we have that serves chicken and that’s like a genetic experiment because I’m
just observing what happens. If I if I give a student some money and I say can
you go in and buy me Chick-fil-a, they’ll they’ll go in and they’ll buy
Chick-fil-a and bring it back to me and that’s a biochemical experiment that
confirms that Chick-fil-a’s there, but if I ask it, I ask a student to just
buy me something with chicken, then maybe they go somewhere else, maybe they
buy me a chicken salad from au bon pain, or they go to the Mediterranean cafe and
buy me something with chicken there, so we just have to make sure we ask the
right biochemical questions, because that last one I would have said oh there’s no
Chick-fil-a and so I just need to, we need to ask those same sort of questions
here. We expect that understanding this pathway at its base will have impact on
heart health, it will have impact on diabetes, it will have impact on
Alzheimer’s disease, it will have impact on Parkinson’s disease, because all of
these diseases are related to mitochondrial function and recruiting
copper, and building the copper enzymes that we need in cells are related to
having good mitochondrial functions, so as we build the full picture of what we
need to make copper be balanced themselves and we can start to
understand how to treat people with different disorders.

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