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Techniques & Tools Spectroscopy, Chemical, Polymers

Hard Luck

The browning of the otherwise translucent sample eggshell matrix represents the formation of N-heterocyclic polymers. Credit: Jasmina Wiemann/ Yale University

The longevity of proteinacous matter in vertebrate hard tissue is estimated at around 3.8 million years. So why are soft tissue remnants still found in 100 million-year-old dinosaur bones? A team that included researchers from Yale University and the American Museum of Natural History analyzed 35 samples of decalcified fossil bones, eggshells and teeth using Raman microspectroscopy (1), discovering that in more oxidative environments, soft tissue had converted into advanced glycoxidation endproducts (AGEs) and advanced lipoxidation endproducts (ALEs). These N-heterocyclic polymers – structurally comparable to burnt toast – are resistant to decay.

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  1. J Wiemann et al., “Fossilization transforms vertebrate hard tissue proteins into N-heterocyclic polymers”, Nat Commun, 9, 4741 (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07013-3
About the Author
Joanna Cummings

A former library manager and storyteller, I have wanted to write for magazines since I was six years old, when I used to make my own out of foolscap paper and sellotape and distribute them to my family. Since getting my MSc in Publishing, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and content creator for both digital and print, writing on subjects such as fashion, food, tourism, photography – and the history of Roman toilets. Now I can be found working on The Analytical Scientist, finding the ‘human angle’ to cutting-edge science stories.

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