8 December 2021 – Dotted throughout the human genome are small regions encoding for peptides of 20-100 amino acids that, until recently, were overlooked. New EMBO Young Investigator Lena Ho, however, is excited about what these Small Open Reading Frame (sORF)-encoded peptides (SEPs) are now revealing about human biology. Based at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, Ho is studying SEPs associated with the cell’s powerhouses, the mitochondria, to understand how they influence metabolism. “These peptides put the nuance in biology,” she says. Their nuance also makes them hard to study. “Knocking a key gene out will reveal its function, but small things make small changes,” explains Ho who is developing novel ways to interrogate these peptides functionally.
Eventually Ho hopes to exploit SEPs for therapies for mitochondrial diseases by correcting energy deficiency. “I think these peptides have a lot of potential as therapy agents,” she says. Being small will make them easier to target and deliver into the cell, she believes. Ho, who trained in the US, is excited about extending her network in Europe. “It’s been ten years working in an area that is only just coming together as a field, so I’m looking forward to taking part in workshops with other young scientists and accessing great core facilities in Europe.”