From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published October 2, 2012 09:40 AM

Changing Elasticity of Collagen: What echinoderms can tell us about looking young

Some people will do just about anything to stay and look young. From Botox to facial creams, exercising and meditation, society is always looking for the next new anti-aging fad. Well now according to scientists at Queen Mary, University of London, sea cucumbers and sea urchins may actually hold the key to maintaining a youthful appearance.

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Published online in the journals PLOS One and General and Comparative Endocrinology, the study investigated the genes of various echinoderms like sea urchins and sea cucumbers. They found the genes for "messenger molecules" known as peptides, which are released by cells and tell other cells in their bodies what to do.

Sea cucumbers and sea urchins are able to change the elasticity of collagen within their bodies. These organisms have the ability to loosen and tighten the collagen in their body walls, allowing the animal to squeeze through tight spaces. The organisms also are able to hook up their collagen fibers to make their body firm again.

Project leader 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."

The scientists analyzed the DNA sequences of thousands of genes in the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and the edible sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus and specifically searched for genes encoding peptide messenger molecules.

"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."

This discovery is important because they underpin the medical breakthroughs that lead to improvement in the quality of people's lives. The more we learn about other species' genomes, the more we can learn about our own. In the case of these collagen-controlling echinoderms, more research needs to be conducted so we can better understand the link between their peptides and how we can keep our bones strong and our skin wrinkle-free.

Read more at the Queen Mary University of London

To read the full study see PLOS ONE.

Sea cucumber and sea urchin image via Shutterstock.

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