Through a collaboration with the Chief Curator of the George C. Page Museum in LA, we have access to fossils from the extinct saber-toothed cats.
Similodon fatalis, also known as the saber-toothed cat, was extinct roughly 10,000 years ago. It was living in the Americas from the Early Pleistocene (1.6 million years ago) through Lujanian stage of the Pleistocene (10,000 years ago).
The body size of Smilodon fatalis (Mammalia: Felidae) was estimated by Per Christiansen and John M Harris to be in the range of 160-280 kg and thus comparable to the Siberian tiger.
In a multidisciplinary research project involving paleontologists, geochemists and mass spectrometrists, collagens from fossil bones have been carefully purified and will be investigated by high accuracy mass spectrometry to gain further insight on a molecular level into the evolutionary relationship of these extinct species to current species.
High Accuracy Mass Spectrometry
"Unraveling Collagen" from Julian Voss-Andreae. Collagen sculpture at the Orange Memorial Park Sculpture Garden in San Francisco (2006).
Collagens are structural proteins predominantly found in the connective tissue and flesh of mammalians. Collagens have an unusual amino acid composition with Gly at almost every third residue and up to 17% proline. Common post-translational modifications are hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine.
Collagen is also known to be responsible for skin strength and elasticity. When skin ages and collagen starts to get degraded on a molecular level, this can be seen as wrinkles on a macroscopic level. Therefore, the degradation of collagen can be considered a sign of ageing.
When Science meets the Arts
This fact is well known in the general public and the German born artist Julian Voss-Andreae created a sculpture "Unraveling collagen", where he "departed from the actual molecular structure and opened up the intertwining helices towards the top which connects the piece metaphorically with ageing".