How mammoths tolerated cold

TRPV3 gene

woolly mammoth

Columbia University biomedical researchers have captured close-up views of TRPV3, a skin-cell ion channel. In humans, defects in the protein can lead to skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis, vitiligo, skin cancer and rosacea. All vertebrate DNA, including the woolly mammoth genome, contains the TRPV3 gene.  Researchers think that changes in the TRPV3 genes of mammoths may have helped them withstand lower temperatures.

Alexander Sobolevsky’s lab at Columbia University Irving Medical Center used a powerful imaging technique called cryo-electron microscopy to take initial 2D pictures of TRPV3 molecules. The researchers then used computational tools to convert the 2D images into detailed molecular 3D models.

This is the first time scientists have gotten a glimpse of TRPV3 in atomic detail. The researchers were able to get images of the protein in two states, revealing how the channel opens and closes to let ions flow into skin cells.

This exchange of ions prompts the body to react to sensations such as pain, itchiness, and changes in temperature. The group also discovered how a small molecule with anti-cancer properties called 2-APB interacts with and controls the function of this channel.

  • Research