The study group at Queen Mary, University of London have found that sea urchins and sea cucumbers can change elasticity in collagen, and that further understanding of this could lead to an anti-ageing breakthrough.
"Although sea urchins and sea cucumbers may not look much like us, we are actually quite closely related to them,” says project leader professor Maurice Elphick.
Change elasticity of collagen
“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."
Sea cucumbers and sea urchins are able to change the elasticity of collagen within their bodies, and could hold the key to maintaining a youthful appearance.
Elphick’s team from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, investigated the genes of marine creatures such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers and found the genes for "messenger molecules" known as peptides, which are released by cells and tell other cells in their bodies what to do.
"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,” continues Elphick.
DNA sequence analysis
The scientists analysed the DNA sequences of thousands of genes in the purple sea urchin and the edible sea cucumber and specifically searched for genes encoding peptide messenger molecules.
"When the human genome was sequenced over a decade ago it cost millions of pounds – now all of the genes in an animal can be sequenced for just a few thousand pounds," explains Elphick.
"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.”
"These types of advances in basic science are fascinating in their own right but they are also important because they underpin the medical breakthroughs that lead to improvement in the quality of people's lives," adds Elphick.
The study was published online in the journals PLOS One and General and Comparative Endocrinology.