EU-LIFE Science Newsletter 3/2017
Editorial by Thomas Sommer, Deputy Scientific Director of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine
If you think about it, very little is static in biological systems, even though they are often described as homeostatic – a term derived from the Greek word homoios, “same”, and stasis, “standing still.” Biological systems do at times seem to be standing still, but in fact they only thrive through a balancing act that relies on a rather dynamic turnover of components at many different scales. So one essential question behind homeostasis involves how systems usually manage to maintain their integrity – despite incessant perturbations from the environment.
This question is relevant at all levels of life: from ecosystems, organisms, tissues, and cells, down to very basic molecular structures. All of these levels are interdependent and rely on similar feedback mechanisms to maintain coherence. Homeostasis is thus a cornerstone of life itself.
For the same reason a loss of homeostasis of some kind is a hallmark of many diseases. The failure of regulatory circuits often has disastrous consequences. A classic example is ubiquitin, a polypeptide which plays a central role in proteolysis and the finely-tuned equilibrium of cellular proteins – while also contributing to a number of nonproteolytic signaling functions. Countless homeostatic processes depend on ubiquitination, including the control of the cell cycle, transcriptional regulation, and protein localization. A loss of equilibrium in one of these processes can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer's or Huntington's, and several enzymes that metabolize ubiquitin are also known as oncogenes or tumor suppressors.
Our third EU-LIFE newsletter provided a glimpse into cutting-edge research on homeostasis from all over Europe. During the Berlin meeting, we discussed research projects and technologies available within the EU-LIFE network that can be applied to clarifying the principles that underlie homeostasis – we enjoyed exciting discussions on a very dynamic topic!
Image credits: David Ausserhofer / MDC