University of Leicester
s41598-019-42938-9.pdf (1.51 MB)

Ancient amino acids from fossil feathers in amber

Download (1.51 MB)
journal contribution
posted on 2019-04-26, 10:57 authored by S Gabbott, V McCoy, K Penkman, M Collins, S Presslee, J Holt, H Grossman, B Wang, M Solórzano Kraemer, X Delclòs, E Peñalver
Ancient protein analysis is a rapidly developing field of research. Proteins ranging in age from the Quaternary to Jurassic are being used to answer questions about phylogeny, evolution, and extinction. However, these analyses are sometimes contentious, and focus primarily on large vertebrates in sedimentary fossilisation environments; there are few studies of protein preservation in fossils in amber. Here we show exceptionally slow racemisation rates during thermal degradation experiments of resin enclosed feathers, relative to previous thermal degradation experiments of ostrich eggshell, coral skeleton, and limpet shell. We also recover amino acids from two specimens of fossil feathers in amber. The amino acid compositions are broadly similar to those of degraded feathers, but concentrations are very low, suggesting that much of the original protein has been degraded and lost. High levels of racemisation in more apolar, slowly racemising amino acids suggest that some of the amino acids were ancient and therefore original. Our findings support that the unique fossilisation environment inside amber shows potential for the recovery of ancient amino acids and proteins.


This work is part of the aims of the projects CGL2014-52163 and CGL2017-84419 (Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness, Spain), and was supported by a Royal Society Newton International Fellowship (NF150479) to VEM and VolkswagenStiftung [grant number 90 946] to MSK. VEM is currently supported by a DFG grant (RU 665/13-1, project number 396637283). Amino acid analyses were undertaken thanks to support from the Leverhulme Trust and Sheila Taylor. SP was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant [NSF DEB 1547414]. MJC and BW were supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41572010, 41622201, 41688103) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDPB05).



Scientific Reports, 2019, volume 9, Article number: 6420

Author affiliation

/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING/School of Geography, Geology and the Environment


  • VoR (Version of Record)

Published in

Scientific Reports


Nature Research (part of Springer Nature)



Acceptance date


Copyright date


Available date


Publisher version



Usage metrics

    University of Leicester Publications