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Ancient amino acids from fossil feathers in amber

Published on Dec 1, 2019in Scientific Reports4.011
· DOI :10.1038/s41598-019-42938-9
Victoria E. McCoy8
Estimated H-index: 8
(University of Bonn),
Sarah E. Gabbott22
Estimated H-index: 22
(University of Leicester)
+ 8 AuthorsEnrique Peñalver18
Estimated H-index: 18
(Instituto Geológico y Minero de España)
Sources
Abstract
Ancient protein analysis is a rapidly developing field of research. Proteins ranging in age from the Quaternary to Jurassic are being used to answer questions about phylogeny, evolution, and extinction. However, these analyses are sometimes contentious, and focus primarily on large vertebrates in sedimentary fossilisation environments; there are few studies of protein preservation in fossils in amber. Here we show exceptionally slow racemisation rates during thermal degradation experiments of resin enclosed feathers, relative to previous thermal degradation experiments of ostrich eggshell, coral skeleton, and limpet shell. We also recover amino acids from two specimens of fossil feathers in amber. The amino acid compositions are broadly similar to those of degraded feathers, but concentrations are very low, suggesting that much of the original protein has been degraded and lost. High levels of racemisation in more apolar, slowly racemising amino acids suggest that some of the amino acids were ancient and therefore original. Our findings indicate that the unique fossilisation environment inside amber shows potential for the recovery of ancient amino acids and proteins.
  • References (49)
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References49
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#1Yanhong Pan (CAS: Chinese Academy of Sciences)H-Index: 13
#2Wenxia Zheng (NCSU: North Carolina State University)H-Index: 11
Last. Mary H. Schweitzer (NCSU: North Carolina State University)H-Index: 25
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#1Mary H. Schweitzer (NCSU: North Carolina State University)H-Index: 25
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#1Victoria E. McCoy (University of Bonn)H-Index: 8
#2Carmen Soriano (Argonne National Laboratory)H-Index: 14
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Fossils entombed in amber are a unique resource for reconstructing forest ecosystems, and resolving relationships of modern taxa. Such fossils are famous for their perfect, life-like appearance. However, preservation quality is vast with many sites showing only cuticular preservation, or no fossils. The taphonomic processes that control this range are largely unknown; as such, we know little about potential bias in this important record. Here we employ actualistic experiments, using, fruit flies...
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Abstract: The evolution of integumentary structures, particularly in relation to feathers in dinosaurs, has become an area of intense research. Our understanding of the molecular evolution of keratin protein is greatly restricted by the fact that such information is lost during diagenesis and cannot be derived from fossils. In this study, decay and maturation experiments are used to determine if different keratin types or integumentary structures show different patterns of degradation early in t...
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Recent studies have suggested the presence of keratin in fossils dating back to the Mesozoic. However, ultrastructural studies revealing exposed melanosomes in many fossil keratinous tissues suggest that keratin should rarely, if ever, be preserved. In this study, keratin's stability through diagenesis was tested using microbial decay and maturation experiments on various keratinous structures. The residues were analysed using pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and compared to unpubl...
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Abstract Microbodies associated with feathers of both nonavian dinosaurs and early birds were first identified as bacteria but have been reinterpreted as melanosomes. Whereas melanosomes in modern feathers are always surrounded by and embedded in keratin, melanosomes embedded in keratin in fossils has not been demonstrated. Here we provide multiple independent molecular analyses of both microbodies and the associated matrix recovered from feathers of a new specimen of the basal bird Eoconfuciuso...
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The pattern of chemical reactions that break down the molecules that make our bodies is still fairly mysterious. Archaeologists and geologists hope that dead organisms (or artefacts made from them) might not decay entirely, leaving behind clues to their lives. We know that some molecules are more resistant than others; for example, fats are tough and survive for a long time while DNA is degraded very rapidly. Proteins, which are made of chains of smaller molecules called amino acids, are usually...
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Abstract All of the bird specimens previously recovered from Burmese amber have belonged to either immature specimens, or small-bodied taxa belonging to Enantiornithes. This has led to questions about whether the size bias inherent to preservation in amber has limited inclusions to smaller individuals or species, or if the avifauna of the amber-producing forest had a stronger representation of small-bodied taxa than other Cretaceous assemblages. A newly discovered inclusion of a fragmentary bird...
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