Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Heidelberg Researchers Find Unusually Elastic Protein

23.01.2015

Molecular elasticity may have originated in cnidarian elastomer

Scientists at Heidelberg University have discovered an unusually elastic protein in one of the most ancient groups of animals, the over 600-million-year-old cnidarians. The protein is a part of the “weapons system” that the cnidarians use: a kind of harpoon launched from their body at extremely high speed.

The discovery of the hitherto unknown protein in the freshwater polyp Hydra suggests that the molecular mechanism of elasticity could have originated in the cnidarians and evolved to discharge a deadly weapon. Due to the similarity of the protein’s amino acid sequence to spidroin of spider silk, the researchers from the Centre for Organismal Studies dubbed the elastic protein cnidoin. The results of the research were published in the journal “BMC Biology”.

Elastomeric proteins evolved in a diverse range of animals and often fulfil highly specialised biological functions as the elastin in the pulmonary alveoli of higher vertebrates, the resilin in the wing joints of insects or the spidroin in the threads of spider silk. They give tissues mechanical properties that exceed those of artificial materials.

These proteins, known as elastomers, share a common property – structurally disordered, repetitive protein sequences that store energy when a molecule is stretched which then can be used in the form of a movement after release. These movements can be rhythmical, as in the blood vessels leaving the heart. Or they can be single, explosive movements, as in the jump of a grasshopper.

In their experiments on the freshwater polyp Hydra, the research team of Assistant Professor Dr. Suat Özbek and Prof. Dr. Thomas Holstein at the Centre for Organismal Studies (COS) demonstrated that cnidoin is part of the cnidarian weaponry – the stinging capsules. These organelles help jellyfish, corals and sea anemones capture prey and ward off enemies.

When touched, a tubule is ejected within nanoseconds in a harpoon-like fashion from the interior of the highly pressurised capsule. The discharge of the stinging thread is one of the fastest processes known in the animal kingdom. Its barbed tip injects poisons through the stinging thread that paralyse or kill the attacker or prey within seconds. “Cnidoin is a structural component of the capsule wall, which is elastically stretched prior to discharge and firing of the harpoon,” explains Dr. Özbek.

Together with other researchers in Heidelberg and Munich, the scientists at COS investigated the biomechanical properties of cnidoin. Force measurements were performed on single molecules and computer simulations conducted.

The special properties of the elastic protein are principally responsible for the enormous acceleration of the “harpoon tip” that occurs during the discharge process and, according to Dr. Özbek, exceeds five million g. “The biomechanical properties of cnidoin are comparable to those of other elastomers. However, cnidoin evidences extraordinarily fast recoil, probably due to the extensive cross-linking to the dense capsule wall.”

The researcher points out that the molecular mechanism of elasticity emerged several times in the animal kingdom, independently of each other. “From an evolutionary standpoint, however, cnidoin is oldest elastic protein reported so far,” states Suat Özbek. “We therefore assume that this elasticity originated in the cnidaria and evolved as part of their ‘weapons system’.”

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Petrich of Heidelberg University's Kirchhoff Institute for Physics and Prof. Dr. Frauke Gräter of the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) also participated in the research, along with physicist Dr. Martin Benoit from LMU Munich.

Original publication:
A. Beckmann, S. Xiao, J.P. Müller, D. Mercadante, T. Nüchter, N. Kröger, F. Langhojer, W. Petrich, T.W. Holstein, M. Benoit, F. Gräter and S. Özbek: A Fast Recoiling Silk-like Elastomer Facilitates Nanosecond Nematocyst Discharge, BMC Biology.2015, 13:3 (16 January 2015), doi: 10.1186/s12915-014-0113-1

Contact:
Assistant Professor Dr. Suat Özbek
Centre for Organismal Studies
Phone: +49 6221 54-5638
suat.oezbek@cos.uni-heidelberg.de

Communications and Marketing
Press Office, phone: +49 6221 54-2311
presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.cos.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/s.Oezbek?l=_e

Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells
12.12.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Smelling the forest – not the trees
12.12.2018 | Universität Konstanz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

New discoveries predict ability to forecast dementia from single molecule

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

CCNY-Yale researchers make shape shifting cell breakthrough

12.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Pain: Perception and motor impulses arise in the brain independently of one another

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>