June 16, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Paleoproteomics Misses the Implications

The ability to examine original proteins in off-the-shelf fossils should tell you something about evolutionary timescales.

Scientists found original collagen in the fossil of a giant beaver sitting on a shelf in the New York State Museum. PhysOrg hints they were surprised:

“Paleoproteomics is a young field. We don’t yet know the full potential of the information it may offer us, and one barrier to that is the supply of fossils we can call upon for research,” said Deepak Vashishth, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. “In developing these techniques, we’re creating new value in fossils that are already on exhibit, or sitting in storage waiting for a purpose.”

No date is given for the evolutionary age of the fossil that was discovered and given to the museum 170 years ago.* It’s been collecting dust all this time, and was coated with varnish, so they took samples from inside the nostril. Lo and behold, collagen from the long-dead beaver was found. But instead of asking how the protein could survive in a fossil, they scientists are only focused on how the study of paleoproteins could shed light on evolution:

“Now imagine if we were able to build up a database of post-translational modification to ancient organisms, we could begin to make inferences about evolutionary changes, or use them in protein engineering to look at how function in the ancient protein compares to that same protein in living animals.”

It wasn’t long ago that scientists thought proteins and other original biological material could not last long in fossils.

*The paper lists the radiocarbon dates as 10,500 years BP. However, unlike mammoth specimens in permafrost, this specimen in New York was readily exposed to the elements:

Three layers occur above the skull, which were originally described as follows from the surface: (i) ‘vegetable soil’ (0.5–0.75 m thick) with heavy tree growth; (ii) a plant-rich (i.e. twigs, leaves, plant fragments) layer of fine sand with some clay (up to 1 m thick); and (iii) peat (over 1 m thick) including wood, bark, leaves and tree trunks.

Secularist hearts are harder than the bones they handle, and more fossilized.

 

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