October 2, 2012
Researchers Look To Sea Urchins For The Fountain Of Youth
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A research team at Queen Mary, University of London reports that sea cucumbers and sea urchins could hold the secret to looking young.
Published online in both PLoS One and General and Comparative Endocrinology, the study looked at the genes of echinoderms, such as sea cucumbers and sea urchins, because they are able to change the elasticity of collagen within their bodies. The scientists found the genes for peptides, known as "messenger molecules," which are released by cells and then tell other cells in the body what to do.
Professor Maurice Elphick, from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "Probably the most exciting discovery from our research was finding genes encoding peptides that cause rapid stiffening or softening of collagen in the body wall of sea cucumbers."
"Although sea urchins and sea cucumbers may not look much like us, we are actually quite closely related to them. As we get older, changes in collagen cause wrinkling of our skin, so if we can find out how peptides cause the body wall of a sea cucumber to quickly become stiff or soft then our research might lead to new ways to keeping skin looking young and healthy."
To understand this function of the echinoderms, the team studied the DNA sequences of thousands of genes in the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and the edible sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus. They were searching specifically for the genes that encode the peptide molecules.
New and rapid advances in DNA technology have made such research possible. Ten years ago, when the human genome was sequenced, it cost just under $3 billion dollars. Today, all of the genes in an animal can be sequenced for just a few thousand.
"We also found that sea urchins have a peptide that is very similar to calcitonin, a hormone that regulates our bones to make sure that they remain strong," Professor Elphick said.
"So it will be fascinating to find out if calcitonin-type peptides have a similar sort of role in spiny-skinned creatures like sea urchins."
The team believes these kinds of advances in basic science are truly important because they underpin medical breakthroughs, which in turn lead to improvement in the quality of people's lives.