Researchers Isolate Peptides from Dinosaur Collagen, Proving That Proteins Can Persist for 80 Million Years

A team of researchers has managed to isolate biomolecules from a sample of dinosaur collagen that was first discovered in 2009. After the initial discovery, scientists recovered proteins from the sample but the study remained controversial—many researchers didn’t believe proteins could persist for 80 million years. This new follow-up study shows that peptide sequences can be reliably extracted from dinosaur collagen. The details were just published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

In 2009, archaeologists uncovered a well-preserved Brachylophosaurus canadensis specimen in Montana. Brachylophosaurus was a duck-billed dinosaur with a bony crest. The dinosaur could reach a length of up to 36 feet and lived about 80 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous period. Scientists extracted collagen, a structural protein found in body tissues, from the specimen’s femur. The team was able to isolate peptides, building blocks of proteins, from the sample. Their results were controversial, however, because researchers were divided on whether or not proteins could persist in the environment for so long.

Researchers from North Carolina State University used modern technology to reevaluate the idea of extracting protein samples from dinosaur collagen. The team made sure there was zero chance of contamination and used high-resolution mass spectrometry to analyze a sample from the Brachylophosaurus femur.

The research team was able to isolate a total of eight peptide sequences from the dinosaur collagen. Two of these sequences were completely identical to the ones isolated by scientists in 2009. The other six were new and provided information on the evolution of Brachylophosaurus. Specifically, the team found that the dinosaur’s collagen shared characteristics with both crocodylians and birds—a finding that is backed up by current skeletal studies.

The findings show that collagen can persist in the environment for at least 80 million years, much longer than previously believed. In addition, complete peptide sequences can be extracted from dinosaur collagen samples. This technique would give archaeologists another tool for studying dinosaurs.

REFERENCE

Schroeter et al. Expansion for the Brachylophosaurus canadensis Collagen I Sequence and Additional Evidence of the Preservation of Cretaceous Protein. Journal of Proteome Research (2017).

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