What we still don’t know about biology

Posted by Biome on 16th April 2013 - 2 Comments

…Surprisingly, rather a lot about chromatin, according to two of the Editorial Board members who have responded to an invitation from BMC Biology to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of its publication by writing briefly on open questions in their fields. Frank Uhlmann points to the unsolved problem of chromosome packaging – or in his words, “Why does a chromosome look like a chromosome?”, and Susan Gasser asks just what is the point of heterochromatin, covering nuclear localisation and a neat description of the chicken-and-egg nature of changes in transcription factor activity and DNA methylation.

Other responses to this call-for-puzzles are from Gillian Griffiths, who points to open membrane transport questions in the priming of immune killer cells, and how they avoid self-destruction while spitting out toxic proteins on their virus-infected neighbours; and from Sean Munro, who suggests it is time to look at fundamental processes in cells that don’t grow (most of ours), and how these can be robust to large temperature variations in which their remote ancestors must have evolved – among other issues likely, as he comments, to affect  those [cells] found in tax payers.”

There will be more open questions from BMC Biology Editorial Board members in the course of the year, and possibly beyond, and which the editorial team rather hopes may stimulate the submission of one or two audacious papers aspiring to answer them.

The full series is available from BMC Biology, here.


“Bacteria have many sophisticated force-generating machines, but so far nobody has found a homolog or analog of the cytoskeletal linear stepper motors myosin, kinesin, or dynein… If we gave some of these proteins to bacteria, what would they do with them?”

- Julie Theriot