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Archive - May 2011

Date

May 1st

Protein Found in 70-Million-Year-Old Fossil

Fossil – just stone? No, a research team in Lund, Sweden, has discovered primary biological matter in a fossil of an extinct varanoid lizard (a mosasaur) that inhabited marine environments during Late Cretaceous times. Using state-of-the-art technology, the scientists have been able to link proteinaceous molecules to bone matrix fibers isolated from a 70-million-year-old fossil; i.e., they have found genuine remains of an extinct animal entombed in stone. With their discovery, the scientists Johan Lindgren, Per Uvdal, Anders Engdahl, and colleagues have demonstrated that remains of type I collagen, a structural protein, are retained in a mosasaur fossil. The scientists have used synchrotron radiation-based infrared microspectroscopy at the MAX-lab in Lund, southern Sweden, to show that amino-acid-containing matter remains in fibrous tissues obtained from a mosasaur bone. Previously, other research teams have identified collagen-derived peptides in dinosaur fossils based on, for example, mass spectrometric analyses of whole bone extracts. The present study provides compelling evidence to suggest that the biomolecules recovered are primary and not contaminants from recent bacterial biofilms or collagen-like proteins. Moreover, the discovery demonstrates that the preservation of primary soft tissues and endogenous biomolecules is not limited to large-sized bones buried in fluvial sandstone environments, but also occurs in relatively small-sized skeletal elements deposited in marine sediments. A paper reporting the discovery was published April 29, 2011, in PLoS ONE. [Press release] [PLoS ONE article]

April 30th

Possible Mechanism That Could Convert Cells to Pancreatic Beta Cells

Simply put, people develop diabetes because they don't have enough pancreatic beta cells to produce the insulin necessary to regulate their blood sugar levels. But what if other cells in the body could be coaxed into becoming pancreatic beta cells? Could we potentially cure diabetes? Researchers from UCLA's Larry L. Hillblom Islet Research Center have taken an important step in that direction. They report in the April 19, 2011 issue of the journal Developmental Cell that they may have discovered the underlying mechanism that could convert other cell types into pancreatic beta cells. While the current standard of treatment for diabetes — insulin therapy — helps patients maintain sugar levels, it isn't perfect, and many patients remain at high risk of developing a variety of medical complications. Replenishing lost beta cells could serve as a more permanent solution, both for those who have lost such cells due to an immune assault (Type 1 diabetes) and those who acquire diabetes later in life due to insulin resistance (Type 2). "Our work shows that beta cells and related endocrine cells can easily be converted into each other," said study co-author Dr. Anil Bhushan, an associate professor of medicine in the endocrinology division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and in the UCLA Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology. It had long been assumed that the identity of cells was "locked" into place and that they could not be switched into other cell types. But recent studies have shown that some types of cells can be coaxed into changing into others — findings that have intensified interest in understanding the mechanisms that maintain beta cell identity.