SAN DIEGO (June 6, 2014) Humans and corals are about as different from one another as living creatures get, but a new finding reveals that in one important way, they are more similar than anyone ever realized.
A biologist at San Diego State University has discovered they share the same biomechanical pathway responsible for triggering cellular self-destruction. That might sound scary, but killing off defective cells is essential to keeping an organism healthy.
The finding will help biologists advance their understanding of the early evolution of multicellular life, conservationists better understand the plight of modern corals, and medical researchers develop new drugs to fight diseases like cancer.
Steven Quistad, a graduate student working in the laboratory of SDSU virologist Forest Rohwer, made the discovery earlier this year somewhat by accident. Like Rohwer, Quistad has spent most of his research career so far studying viruses. Rohwer leads SDSU's Viral Information Institute, one of the university's Areas of Excellence. The cross-disciplinary institute explores interactions between viruses and the biosphere in order to improve human and environmental health.
While analyzing the proteins of the coral Acropora digitifera and matching them against human proteins, he found a peculiar similarity: Both had receptor proteins that receive signals from another protein called tumor necrosis factor, or TNF.
When TNF proteins attach themselves to a cell's TNF receptors, the cell launches into an orderly self-destruct mode. The protein strands inside the cell break down and the cellular components are cordoned off and carried away to be recycled. The process, known as apoptosis, plays a crucial role in cellular health, allowing defective cells to destroy themselves before they can cause damage to the organism.
When Quistad looked more closely at the coral's genome, he noticed that it had
|Contact: Beth Chee|
San Diego State University