Fossil – just stone? No, a research team in Lund, Sweden, has discovered primary biological matter in a fossil of an extinct varanoid lizard (a mosasaur) that inhabited marine environments during Late Cretaceous times. Using state-of-the-art technology, the scientists have been able to link proteinaceous molecules to bone matrix fibres isolated from a 70-million-year-old fossil; i.e., they have found genuine remains of an extinct animal entombed in stone.
With their discovery, the scientists Johan Lindgren, Per Uvdal, Anders Engdahl, and colleagues have demonstrated that remains of type I collagen, a structural protein, are retained in a mosasaur fossil.
The scientists have used synchrotron radiation-based infrared microspectroscopy at MAX-lab in Lund, southern Sweden, to show that amino acid containing matter remains in fibrous tissues obtained from a mosasaur bone.
Previously, other research teams have identified collagen-derived peptides in dinosaur fossils based on, for example, mass spectrometric analyses of whole bone extracts.
The present study provides compelling evidence to suggest that the biomolecules recovered are primary and not contaminants from recent bacterial biofilms or collagen-like proteins.
Moreover, the discovery demonstrates that the preservation of primary soft tissues and endogenous biomolecules is not limited to large-sized bones buried in fluvial sandstone environments, but also occurs in relatively small-sized skeletal elements deposited in marine sediments.
A paper reporting the discovery, Microspectroscopic Evidence of Cretaceous Bone Proteins is now available in the scientific journal PLoS ONE