Gut microbes are the main driver of tissue decay when animals die, and were probably important for preserving soft-tissue anatomy in fossil animals.
Philip Donoghue at the University of Bristol, UK, and his colleagues studied the brine shrimp and monitored its decay (pictured, middle and right) under various conditions. They found that soon after death, the shrimp’s gut wall breaks open and bacteria spill out into the body cavity. The bacteria form sticky aggregates, or biofilms, that gradually replace shrimp tissue and contain mineral deposits, as revealed by microscopy. This mineralization is a key step in tissue preservation in fossils. Evolution of the gut led to an explosion in both animal diversity and the abundance of fossils, the authors say. Royal Society Publishing Proceedings B. 13 May 2015. Open access.
There have been so many interesting research news over the last six months that I decide to give them all in one installment. It may make a good holiday reading. The first in this series is about proteins in general.
1. Exploring the limits of protein sequence space
Exploring the variability of individual functional proteins is complicated by the vast number of combinations of possible amino acid sequences. Podgornaia and Laub take on this challenge by analyzing four amino acids critical for the interaction between two signaling proteins in Escherichia coli. They build all the possible 160,000 variants of one of the two proteins and find that over 1650 are functional. Even though there can be very high variability in the composition of the interface between the two proteins, there are nonetheless strong context-dependent constraints for some amino acids, which suggests why many functional variants are not seen in nature. Science STKE 10 Feburary 2015.