Organelle Network and ONRC
Organelle Network and ONRC
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  • 승인 2019.09.05 19:25
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▲Professor Yoo Joo-yeon/Department of Life Sciences
▲Professor Yoo Joo-yeon/Department of Life Sciences


The Organelle Network Research Center (ONRC), which is attached to POSTECH, was selected and newly established in 2017 as a leading science research center development project (SRC) supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Korea Research Foundation. In the ONRC, researchers from the life sciences department of POSTECH are working together with researchers from Seoul National University’s chemistry department, KAIST’s life sciences department, and the College of Medicine, The Catholic University of Korea to present a new principle to control life phenomena by the dynamic and complex functional network study of interaction and communication between mitochondria and the organ of the cell. ONRC explores the principle of biomaterial exchange through physical contact between organelles and the fundamental principle of the dynamics of organelle networks, produced by these structural associations, control various life phenomena, such as immunity, neural activation, aging, tissue regeneration, etc. Through the adjustment of this cellular network, ONRC proposes new technologies that can ultimately cure various human diseases such as infection of viruses or bacteria, immune disorders, neurological disorders, cancer, etc.

Then what is the organelle network? All living things on Earth are made up of “cells”. From bacteria and yeast made up of single cells to humans, a multicellular organism made up of dozens of trillions of cells, all the operations of life consist of cells as a basic unit. As shown in the General Life Sciences textbook, cells are living creatures themselves and perform all the actions necessary to sustain life, such as generating energy, creating, processing, packaging and delivering important materials like proteins, exchanging the information with and receiving information from neighboring cells, and also creating offspring cells, in great harmony and efficiency. We, life scientists, want to understand how this harmony works. The most obvious direction of evolution when comparing primitive life such as bacteria to human cells is putting materials that perform the same function in the same space - which is extremely efficient. Cells achieve this goal by using a “biomembrane”, composed mainly of phospholipids. DNA, an important genetic material, is protected by an independent membrane within the cell called the nucleus. Proteins involved in energy synthesis are collected inside the mitochondrial membrane. The intracellular structure in which proteolysis occurs selectively is called lysosomes, where protease is collected. In the case of eukaryotic cells, there is usually one nucleus per cell. But there are hundreds and thousands of mitochondria per cell, and there are also a huge number of intracellular organs such as lysosome and peroxisome that are responsible for special functions. Let’s read this and imagine together. Inside a big soccer ball, there is a small baseball, and thousands of different kinds of small balls floating between the vast space running across the two balls. Now, let us put a long, thin tube between these little balls. The tube can be branched in various directions, so it looks like a large 3D-net. Through this tube structure known as endoplasmic reticulum, proteins made in the cell are packaged and processed and transported to various destinations in or out of the cell. All intracellular structures made of the membranes described above are called organelles.

Now, add an image to the soccer ball imagined above. Most of the structure composed of membranes can continually repeat fusion and fission and can also move. This is what living cells look like. When the cell moves, of course, the structures made up of these membranes have to collide each other. This is a natural phenomenon easily explained without introducing complex biological or physics theories. Recent cell biology studies, however, suggest that the “collision” or “contact” between these membrane structures can be precisely controlled. Two different membrane structures, for example, endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondrial membranes, have been found to contain proteins carrying out the “Tethering” function, which can recognize and trap each other. The function is to be selectively controlled in the contact area.

Dozens of tethering proteins which regulate the contact have been found between not only the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondrial membranes, but also between the endoplasmic reticulum and peroxisomal membranes, between the endoplasmic reticulum membrane and the cell membrane, and between the mitochondrial membrane and the Golgi membrane. Researches are currently underway around the world, such as how tethering proteins contribute to cell activity and respond to external signals and what problems can lead to disease if they malfunction.
All the information that governs life phenomena is stored in DNA and modern life science wants to interpret this genetic information. DNA records only one-dimensional sequencing, but life is a multidimensional phenomenon. What a surprising phenomenon that the spatial collisions and encounters of the various cellular organs can be made according to the information recorded in DNA.

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