MIT chemists have devised a way to identify which proteins are present in different compartments of the mitochondria. Credit: Jeff Martell, Hyun-Woo Rhee and Peng Zou

Mapping the living cell: New technique pinpoints protein locations, helping scientists figure out their functions

February 1, 2013 by Anne Trafton

To get a clear picture of what’s happening inside a cell, scientists need to know the locations of thousands of proteins and other molecules. MIT chemists have now developed a technique that can tag all of the proteins in a particular region of a cell, allowing them to more accurately map those proteins.

“That’s a holy grail for biology—to be able to get spatially and temporally resolved molecular maps of living cells,” says Alice Ting, the Ellen Swallow Richards Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT. “We’re still really far from that goal, but the overarching motivation is to get closer to that goal.”

Ting’s new method, developed with researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School, combines the strengths of two existing techniques—microscopic imaging and mass spectrometry—to tag proteins in a specific cell location and generate a comprehensive list of all the proteins in that area.

In a paper appearing in the Jan. 31 online edition of Science, Ting and colleagues used the new technique to identify nearly 500 proteins located in the mitochondrial matrix—the innermost compartment of the cellular organelle where energy is generated.

Read more: Mapping the living cell: New technique pinpoints protein locations, helping scientists figure out their functions — phys.org.

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