To understand biological processes, it’s necessary to understand the chemistry underpinning them. This is why when biologists discover a new biological phenomenon, chemists are right behind, seeking to explain that phenomenon through chemical principles. “As a chemist who works at the interface of chemistry and biology, I have always been fascinated by and admire the discoveries biologists make,” says Hening Lin, Chemistry and Chemical Biology. “Our work follows on their discoveries. But the research I’ve been doing recently has turned that around in a sense. Our findings are now helping biologists understand biology. And it’s helped me to understand that at the molecular level, biology is chemistry.”
Lin’s research that focuses on a family of seven proteins called sirtuin enzymes has broken new ground in a number of ways. His work follows on that of other researchers studying aging who linked some of these enzymes to longevity. Sirtuins act on various proteins, including histones, which are important for organizing the DNA in cells. Three sirtuins—SIRT1, SIRT2, and SIRT3—remove a two-carbon modification called acetylation from histone. When calories are restricted, the sirtuins become more active, changing gene expression and metabolic pathways, thus increasing the health and lifespan of the organism.
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