Human and animal bodies owe their strength to a structural protein that is better known as collagen. Collagen is found in abundance in the skin, the tendons, the bones and the ligaments. Vine Vera came across a new collagen study that was conducted by scientists working for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and the researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam-Golm. According to this study, water is intrinsic to body strength and the maintenance of collagen in the body. The study was also published in the Nature Communications Journal in the month of January 2015.
This study has shown that removing water from the collagen fibers in the body can have dramatic effects on the nanoscopic and molecular features. The findings of this study should help researchers in developing innovative materials because they suggest that collagen plays a more active role in living organisms than what was previously believed. In fact, collagen not only acts as a stabilizing framework, but also helps to generate tension during bone synthesis.
Collagen is known to have a hierarchical structure that consists of an extremely complex arrangement of molecules. These molecules act as the building blocks for collagen and are shaped like a rope, with three proteins twisted around each other. A majority of these ropes further combine to form a thick coil known as the Collagen fibrils. Numerous fibrils combine with each other to form the actual collagen fiber.
The researchers of this study investigated the characteristics of collagen and determined how the function of collagen is influenced by water. What makes this study so unique is that it combined a number of methods to investigate collagen at different levels of its hierarchy while controlling the water content of the natural material.
The results that were obtained were analyzed and compared with computer models of collagen fibrils that were developed as a part of the study. This approach actually helped the researchers to investigate the effects of water on the collagen structure in great details. According to Admir Masic, one of the authors of the study, water proved to be an integral component of collagen and it accounted for approximately 60% of collagen in terms of weight. The researchers used a process known as X-ray diffraction and revealed that the water molecules bind themselves to collagen. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the removal of water from collagen had dramatic effects. Reducing the water content practically forced the collagen to dry out, shortened the collagen molecules by 1.3% and the collagen fibrils by 2.5%.
Armed with this knowledge, researchers should actually be able to develop materials that behave in the opposite way when water is removed from them. As such, these findings could also be extremely useful when it comes to the fabrication of parchments and leather and enhancing their preservation. Moreover, Vine Vera discovered that the results are not just important from the engineering point of view. Although such levels of dehydration don’t occur in living organisms, the team found that removing water can be large enough, even under normal biological conditions, for the collagen to generate the same amount of tensile force as human muscles. The researchers now plan to investigate the physiological role that collagen contraction plays in various tissues.