Scientists from 10 universities and institutions have verified that the collagen protein in dinosaur bone is primordial – i.e., from the dinosaur, not from later contamination. By first studying the molecular packing of collagen in living animals, and using X-ray diffraction modeling, they matched the surviving collagen molecules to those that would most likely survive degradation. They feel this establishes the authenticity of the protein fragments against claims of contamination and simultaneously offers a mechanism for its resistance to degradation.
The claim of original dinosaur protein was met with skepticism, an article on PhysOrg began: “Although the team had previously presented multiple lines of evidence supporting the veracity of the find, the fact that the age of the peptides far exceeds any previous predictions of how long a protein could resist degradation has generated controversy.” The team set out to test for contamination but also to try to understand how any protein could last for 65 million years or more.
Like every protein, collagen is made up of amino acid sequences (polypeptides). For collagen, these arrange into a triple-helix structure like a rope, that is further wrapped in higher-level fibrils that give it its high tensile strength. About 20% of the human body is collagen; it “literally holds the body together,” the article said. The innermost amino acids in the bundle are the most protected from attack by degrading agents. Among those, the hydrophilic would be the least likely to degrade in water or other solutions. In addition, these sequences appeared to be located in stable regions away from the damaging effects of breakdown enzymes. These are the peptide sequences the team found in the dinosaur samples.
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