On the News | What can we learn from dinosaur proteins? @ EurekAlert!


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Title: 

What can we learn from dinosaur proteins?


Excerpt:

A clump of vessel-like structures Mary Schweitzer’s team extracted from a Tyrannosaurus rex bone that was almost completely demineralized (broken down). Image Credit: Mary Schweitzer, North Carolina State University

“DNA might get all the attention, but proteins do the work. The recent confirmation that it is possible to extract proteins–which are encoded by DNA and perform all of the functions that keep living cells alive–from 80-million-year-old dinosaur bones has provided fodder for big questions about everything from evolution to biomaterials to extraterrestrial life.

Mary Schweitzer, PhD, professor of biology at North Carolina State University, will present her work on refining methods to extract and responsibly use dinosaur proteins at the American Association of Anatomists annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, to be held April 22-26 in Chicago.

“When you think about it, it is the message of DNA–the proteins–that are actually the stuff on which natural selection works,” said Schweitzer. “The sequences of proteins can be used to generate ‘family trees’ of organisms, just like DNA. But modifications to proteins, which are not found in DNA and can’t be reliably predicted from DNA sequence alone, can tell us how a protein functioned, because the function of a protein is determined by its 3-D structure.”

For example, if you find a proline amino acid with an extra OH (oxygen + hydrogen) group attached, you can be almost certain you have collagen, the stuff that holds together skin and other connective tissues throughout the body. From the standpoint of function and evolutionary fitness, changes in DNA over time don’t really matter unless the protein changes; as a result, studying changes in proteins over time can yield richer information about evolution than studying DNA alone, Schweitzer explained.” (…) READ MORE

Lurdes Fonseca

Assistant Professor and Researcher at University of Lisbon
Sociologist (PhD), Paleontologist (Researcher in Micropaleontology), Majors in Sociology and Biology, Minor in Geology. Main interests in Paleontology: Microfossils, Molecular fossils, Paleobiology and Paleoecology. (read more about me)