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Scientists discover ancient protein and DNA sequences in the same fossil

For the first time in the world, researchers at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, along with collaborators at the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and Michigan State University have uncovered two genetically informative molecules from a single fossil bone. In addition to the recovery of mitochondrial DNA, the complete sequencing of a bone protein, osteocalcin, makes this a major scientific breakthrough. Extending this work to additional fossils could change perceptions of evolutionary theory. Results of the study are published in the December issue of GEOLOGY, published by the Geological Society of America.

Christina Nielsen-Marsh of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, along with colleagues at the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and Michigan State University, examined the molecular structure of two fossilized Bison priscus bones, one from Siberia and the other from Alaska. The bones are more than 55,000 years old, although their age is somewhat imprecise because they are beyond the limits of radiocarbon dating. The Siberian fossil ultimately revealed both mitochondrial DNA and a complete sequence of osteocalcin, a protein found in all bones that is involved in bone formation.

The researchers demonstrate, using immunological data, that osteocalcin remains in bones heated to high temperatures (165oC) for several hours and is measurable in bones that are around 120,000 years old, emphasising the survivability of the protein. According to Nielsen-Marsh, "The research has the potential to be applied to much older fossils and extend our knowledge about the genetic make-up of ancient species further back into geological time." The team is hoping that in the future their approach may be able to find the answers to long-standing evolutionary puzzles.

Protein sequencing was carried out at Michigan State University, using matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS). Important steps in the
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Contact: Ann Cairns
acairns@geosociety.org
303-357-1056
Geological Society of America
14-Nov-2002


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