Utilizing the most rigorous testing methods to date, researchers from North Carolina State University have isolated additional collagen peptides from an 80-million-year-old Brachylophosaurus. The work lends further support to the idea that organic molecules can persist in specimens tens of millions of years longer than originally believed and has implications for our ability to study the fossil record on the molecular level.
Elena Schroeter, NC State postdoctoral researcher, and Mary Schweitzer, professor of biological sciences with a joint appointment at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, wanted to confirm earlier findings of original dinosaur collagen first reported in 2009 from Brachylophosaurus canadensis, a type of hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, that roamed what is now Montana around 80 million years ago.
“Mass spectrometry technology and protein databases have improved since the first findings were published, and we wanted to not only address questions concerning the original findings, but also demonstrate that it is possible to repeatedly obtain informative peptide sequences from ancient fossils,” Schroeter says.
Collagen is a protein and peptides are the building blocks of proteins. Recovering peptides allows researchers to determine evolutionary relationships between dinosaurs and modern animals, as well as investigate other questions, such as which characteristics of collagen protein allow it to preserve over geological time (or millions of years).