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"To live and let die"

Research project Programmed cell death (PCD) is the ordered suicide of specific cells. Caspases are key players of PCD in animals, but are absent in all other phyla. Instead, structural homologues have been detected in higher plants ermed metacaspases. We want to research on PCD and on the newly identified metacaspase-homologues in photosynthetic microorganisms (microalgae and cyanobacteria). The aim is to perform detailed functional, structural and evolutionary studies of the metacaspase homologues.

VR finances the project with 3.3 million SEK.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2020-01-01 2023-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Chemistry

Research subject

Chemical sciences, Molecular biology and genetics

Project description

Programmed cell death (PCD) is the ordered suicide of specific cells or tissues, mediated by an intracellular program. Caspases have been identified as key players of PCD in animals, however, these proteases are absent in all other phyla. Instead structural homologues have been detected in higher plants that were termed metacaspases. They are involved not only in processes of cell death, but have also been shown to be important for survival and housekeeping functions of the cell. Even in single-cell organism structural homologues exist, however, their function remains enigmatic. In single-cell organisms the necessity for a genetically encoded process leading to cell suicide is less obvious, but by now it is widely recognized that even bacteria and other microorganism exhibit PCD in response to environmental stimuli.

Here I propose to open a new research field on PCD and on the newly identified metacaspase-homologues in photosynthetic microorganisms (microalgae and cyanobacteria), organisms of high economic, ecologic and evolutionary importance. In my group we have the unique possibility not only to study a single protease in one model organism, but instead are able to characterize members of the whole family of metacaspase homologues and compare them with each other allowing a holistic picture of their functions and evolution.

The aim of this research project is to investigate the broad network of PCD in photosynthetic single-cell organisms and at the same time to perform detailed functional, structural and evolutionary studies of the metacaspase homologues. Our data will provide an important contribution to understanding these processes even in multicellular organisms. Unravelling the activation mechanisms of these proteases might allow us to control them. The proposed studies will enable us in the future to induce or prevent programmed cell death.