What’s in a name?

What a great way to begin a blog–scooped before I’ve even started!

I started with this great–and not so original idea, apparently–of having a little contest: everyone is invited to send in their all time favorite names of proteins.

In my own career, I once had the opportunity to name a protein. It was back in 2001, and I was racing to do “RACE-PCR” and clone the human homolog of the gene that coded for protein involved in lysosome fusion. I was not only racing against potential competitors, but also against the Human Genome Project.

In any case, one day I will perhaps be able to tell my grandchildren that I cloned one of the last genes before the human genome was published, and that I ended up giving it a very uninspiring name–based on its homology to the yeast protein Vam6p/Vps39 (Vam=Vacuole Morphology; Vps=Vacuole Protein Sorting), we called it: hVam6p/Vps39. The distinguishing part here, is the “h” for human.

In my view, this was a missed opportunity for giving the protein a really “cool” name, like “superglue”, or “family reunion”, or “sardine maker” based on the function of this protein in inducing fusion of lysosomes with one another.

So now I turn to you all and give you the opportunity to send in your favorite protein names. Please limit to no more than three names per person. I have already assembled an expert panel of local judges from Nebraska (nothing rigged here!)–my own 2 kids–who will announce the winning name and submitter by July 1, 2011.

Although I myself am disqualified, here are a few of my favorites:

JNKKK (Jun N-terminal kinase kinase kinase—how ridiculous can you get?!)
nuclear fallout (NuF)
spaghetti squash


About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B006CSULBW? All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
This entry was posted in humor, research, science and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. rpg says:

    There’s a story behind ‘talin’ (you never forget your first protein)–in the paper the etymology was stated as being from the Latin for ankle, but the truth it was after a local basketball team.

    Anyway, staying in the same Band 4.1 family, other talin-like proteins were moesin, ezrin and radixin. All of them have stories to tell. But my favourite is the fifth protein in the family (after band 4.1, natch) to be characterized. This one was like moesin, ezrin and radixin (and the head bit of talin. Talin is *special), and so it was called the moesin, ezrin and radixin-like protein.

    Or Merlin.

  2. Steve Caplan says:

    Cute! I knew of Merlin’s acronym, but not that of talin (despite spending some time tracking it live through cells).

    Ezrin, by the way, has a Hebrew root, with Ezra meaning “help”.

    On the same track, an interesting protein name is Vav–which means “hook” in Hebrew, and is also the sixth Hebrew letter. Vav was discovered by an Israeli in a big lab, and this was the sixth oncogene or proto-oncogene the lab had discovered. It is noteworthy that the 7th Hebrew letter, zayin, is also Hebrew slang for the male genitals (probably based on the rough appearance of the way the letter is drawn).

    The discoverer of Vav was often said to remark in seminars where Israeli’s were present that she was extremely lucky to have discovered the sixth–and not seventh–oncogene in that lab…

    • Which reminds me – I dare say there are plenty of people called Gene Putz, but is there a Putz gene?

      • Steve Caplan says:

        In doing a quick search for “Gene Putz” in the PubMed, I found this paper by these authors:

        Evidence for associations between MDGA2 polymorphisms and harm avoidance – replication and extension of a genome-wide association finding.

        Heck A, Pfister H, Czamara D, Müller-Myhsok B, Pütz B, Lucae S, Hennings J, Ising M.

        My translation: “What the Heck? Who is the Putz who did this study? He really put the Ising on the Czamara…

  3. MGG says:

    Would RING (Really Interesting New Gene??) finger domain containing proteins count?

  4. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I like Cheapdate (involved in ethanol metabolism) and INDY (I’m Not Dead Yet – a regulator of lifespan). Both are, of course, Drosophila proteins.

    My favourite pathway is the Salvador-Warts-Hippo pathway.

    I used to work on SPAM1 (sperm adhesion molecule 1), and managed to get some Monty Python references into most of my talks.

  5. Steve Caplan says:

    Cheapdate is great! Especially if involved in ethanol metab!

    I think the judges are going to like INDY and SPAM1, as they are avid Python fans!

  6. Pingback: Best Protein Names–the winners! | No Comment

Comments are closed.