Resurrecting ancient DNA that was around when dinosaurs walked the Earth could help scientists find a cure for gout.
Researchers in Atlanta believe a 90 million-year-old version of an enzyme known as uricase could better treat the disease, which causes painful, swollen joints. Gout is caused by the build-up of a chemical in the blood called uric acid, which is harmless to the body in small quantities. But when levels become too high, tiny grit-like crystals of uric acid form in the joints causing inflammation, swelling and pain.
The main reason humans are susceptible to gout is the evolutionary changes that took place in the body over 20 million years ago, reports Ed Yong writing in National Geographic.
Apes and their relatives lack a functional gene for uricase, which is a protein that gets rid of uric acid. The gene has undergone several mutations over the years, rendering it useless. By looking at the differences between DNA for uricase in modern mammals, scientists have been able to piece together what the uricase of their most recent common ancestor looked like. Eric Gaucher at the Georgia Institute of Technology the resurrected the prehistoric protein by putting the DNA sequence into E. coli that translated ancient DNA into protein. They tested how well each protein worked on removing uric acid. The most effective was one which was 90 million-years-old and existed at a time when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. Given the time the uricase gene started degrading, scientists believe the mutation was caused by the rise of fruit in our ancestor’s diets. Existing gout treatments uses the enzyme derived from pigs and baboons, but the ancient version seems to have worked better so far in experiments on rats. The research team has now filed a patent on the ancient uricases. Their study is reported in the Journal PNAS.
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