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Ancient amino acids from 100 million year old dinosaur feathers in amber

Then fossil record some times is one of those things which just stops you dead in your tracks, with ‘wow’ written all over your face. Today, one of those moments just happened. Researchers have now discovered fossilised amino acids, entombed for more than 100 million years in amber.

Now, this is not the first time such things have been discovered. Typically, when proteins have been found fossilised it has been within bones from large, terrestrial vertebrates. This is the first time they have been discovered within amber, within a smaller organism.

Figure 1
Specimens of amber from the Baltic sea, Spain, and Burma. McCoy et al. (2019).

Critically, amber allows the exceptional preservation of the organic soft tissues, right down to the microscopic scale. This includes amino acids.

What is an amino acid? Well, they form a key part of all life, being the building blocks of proteins. A large proportion of our cells, muscles and tissue are made up of amino acids, meaning they carry out many important bodily functions, such as giving cells their structure.

As the authors state: “…identification of protein sequences from fossil feathers, combined with their morphological investigation, would allow important functional and evolutionary information to be determined over long timescales.”

So this is a really cool step closer to understanding the physiology and evolution of dinosaurs and birds, that just a few years ago would have been virtually unthinkable!

Reference: Ancient amino acids from fossil feathers in amber,

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