The Proteins of Prehistory
Skepticism surrounding paleoproteomics is understandable, but unfounded – here’s why
Troy Wood, Connor Gould, Emily Sekera | | Opinion
The hit movie Jurassic Park sparked broad interest in paleontology by raising the tantalizing possibility of bringing dinosaurs back from extinction. In the film, this was accomplished by extracting dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes preserved in ancient amber. That, however, remains a critical plot element and nothing more; the general scientific consensus is that DNA has a half-life of hundreds to thousands of years at most.
Proteins, on the other hand, have much longer half-lives – hundreds of thousands to over a million years under optimal storage conditions. Plus, we have long known that amino acids can be extracted from fossilized hard tissues. This knowledge, and a desire to look deeper, gave rise to paleoproteomics, an interdisciplinary field that examines ancient proteins to study the molecular-level adaptations of species – and evolution itself.
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