A role for iron and oxygen chemistry in preserving soft tissues, cells and molecules from deep time

Published on Jan 22, 2014
· DOI :10.1098/rspb.2013.2741
Mary H. Schweitzer25
Estimated H-index: 25
(NCSU: North Carolina State University),
Wenxia Zheng11
Estimated H-index: 11
(NCSU: North Carolina State University)
+ 5 AuthorsSirine C. Fakra36
Estimated H-index: 36
(LBNL: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
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The persistence of original soft tissues in Mesozoic fossil bone is not explained by current chemical degradation models. We identified iron particles (goethite-αFeO(OH)) associated with soft tissues recovered from two Mesozoic dinosaurs, using transmission electron microscopy, electron energy loss spectroscopy, micro-X-ray diffraction and Fe micro-X-ray absorption near-edge structure. Iron chelators increased fossil tissue immunoreactivity to multiple antibodies dramatically, suggesting a role for iron in both preserving and masking proteins in fossil tissues. Haemoglobin (HB) increased tissue stability more than 200-fold, from approximately 3 days to more than two years at room temperature (25°C) in an ostrich blood vessel model developed to test post-mortem ‘tissue fixation’ by cross-linking or peroxidation. HB-induced solution hypoxia coupled with iron chelation enhances preservation as follows: HB + O2 > HB − O2 > −O2 ≫ +O2. The well-known O2/haeme interactions in the chemistry of life, such as respiration and bioenergetics, are complemented by O2/haeme interactions in the preservation of fossil soft tissues.
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