Protein sequences bound to mineral surfaces persist into deep time

Beatrice Demarchi, Shaun Hall, Teresa Roncal-Herrero, Colin L. Freeman, Jos Woolley, Molly K. Crisp, Julie Wilson, Anna Fotakis, Roman Fischer, Benedikt M. Kessler, Rosa Rakownikow Jersie-Christensen, Jesper V. Olsen, James Haile, Jessica Thomas, Curtis Marean, John Parkington, Samantha Presslee, Julia Lee-Thorp, Peter Ditchfield, Jacqueline F. HamiltonMartyn W. Ward, Chunting Michelle Wang, Marvin D. Shaw, Terry Harrison, Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, Ross D E Macphee, Amandus Kwekason, Michaela Ecker, Liora Kolska Horwitz, Michael Chazan, Roland Kroger, Jane Thomas-Oates, John H. Harding, Enrico Cappellini, Kirsty Penkman, Matthew J. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Proteins persist longer in the fossil record than DNA, but the longevity, survival mechanisms and substrates remain contested. Here, we demonstrate the role of mineral binding in preserving the protein sequence in ostrich (Struthionidae) eggshell, including from the palaeontological sites of Laetoli (3.8 Ma) and Olduvai Gorge (1.3 Ma) in Tanzania. By trackingprotein diagenesis back in time we find consistent patterns of preservation, demonstratingauthenticity of the surviving sequences. Molecular dynamics simulations of struthiocalcin-1 and -2, the dominant proteins within the eggshell, reveal that distinct domains bind to the mineral surface. It is the domain with the strongest calculated binding energy to the calcite surface that is selectively preserved. Thermal age calculations demonstrate that the Laetoli and Olduvai peptides are 50 times older than any previously authenticated sequence (equivalent to ~16 Ma at a constant 10°C).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere17092
Issue numberSeptember
StatePublished - Sep 27 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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