Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I prefer "cyclosome" to "anaphase-promoting complex"

I have spent much of the recent weeks updating and preparing for publication my texts about the cell division cycle.
The original version was written in January and early February 1997, so I had the gloomy feeling of having done too little for too long time that is natural for anyone resuming a 12 year old project. It was made only stronger by another similarity: early 1997 was also marked by anti-government protests. Every afternoon I was leaving work to join the rally beginning at 4 PM in front of the Palace of Culture, conveniently close to my workplace. After the end of the demonstration, by about 6 PM, I was returning to resume work. I was single, so my evenings were free from other duties. The current protests against the government led by the Socialists (like the one 12 years ago) make me feel like trapped in a circle, though this time I have left the struggle to others.
Nevertheless, the work is now finished and uploaded. The original text is now divided in two chapters devoted, respectively, to the cell cycle in purely descriptive terms and to its control. And here I want to touch a question regarding the terminology used to describe the cell cycle, though I am no expert in this field.
One of the key components of cell cycle engine is a multisubunit enzyme called anaphase-promoting complex or cyclosome. The former name is used far more often and is usually abbreviated to APC. However, I prefer the name "cyclosome" and would appeal to colleagues to use it more often, if possible.
As Orwell noted, modern language is plagued by abbreviations. They are especially popular in science, possibly because preoccupation of scientists with their objects often leads to neglecting the language used to describe these objects. Still, some linguistic sense can be traced because most of the abbreviations are composed of three letters. It is clear that we shall never get rid of the basic ones such as DNA, RNA, ATP and so on. But why not make an effort towards their non-proliferation? I was glad to see such good new-coined terms as "condensin", "cohesin", "securin", "separase", "geminin". All of them came across as I was refreshing my cell cycle knowledge, and the first two (to my delight) will partially replace the abbreviation SMC (structural maintenance of chromosomes) which I admit I always confuse with MCM (mini-chromosome maintenance), another group of proteins needed for cell cycle progression. Isn't it enough that in this subject we already are forever stuck with CDC (cell division cycle) and CDK (cyclin-dependent kinase), both abbreviations relating to multiple proteins? Not to mention that an important Cdk is, for historical reasons, known as MPF (maturation-, mitosis- or M-phase-promoting factor).
Besides, there is a finite number of three-letter abbreviations, so the problem of disambiguation soon appears. Years ago, searching PubMed for the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (abbr. NOS), I obtained also many entries about Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) carcinomas. And, coming back to the cyclosome/anaphase-promoting complex, there already is one important abbreviation APC in life sciences - Antigen-Presenting Cell, a term too fundamental for any freshman to go without.

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