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Cretaceous dinosaur bone contains recent organic material and provides an environment conducive to microbial communities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournaleLife
Volume8
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 12 May 2019
DatePublished (current) - 18 Jun 2019

Abstract

Fossils were thought to lack original organic molecules, but chemical analyses show that some can survive. Dinosaur bone has been proposed to preserve collagen, osteocytes, and blood vessels. However, proteins and labile lipids are diagenetically unstable, and bone is a porous open system, allowing microbial/molecular flux. These ‘soft tissues’ have been reinterpreted as biofilms. Organic preservation versus contamination of dinosaur bone was examined by freshly excavating, with aseptic protocols, fossils and sedimentary matrix, and chemically/biologically analyzing them. Fossil ‘soft tissues’ differed from collagen chemically and structurally; while degradation would be expected, the patterns observed did not support this. 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing revealed that dinosaur bone hosted an abundant microbial community different from lesser abundant communities of surrounding sediment. Subsurface dinosaur bone is a relatively fertile habitat, attracting microbes that likely utilize inorganic nutrients and complicate identification of original organic material. There exists potential post-burial taphonomic roles for subsurface microorganisms.

    Research areas

  • biochemistry, chemical biology, fossils, infectious disease, microbiology, microbiome, proteins

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    Rights statement: This is the final published version of the article (version of record). It first appeared online via eLife at https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.46205 . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Final published version, 7 MB, PDF document

    Licence: CC BY

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