Forum für Wissenschaft, Industrie und Wirtschaft

Hauptsponsoren:     3M 
Datenbankrecherche:

 

Ancient Fossilized Sea Creatures Yield Oldest Biomolecules Isolated Directly From a Fossil

20.02.2013
Though scientists have long believed that complex organic molecules couldn’t survive fossilization, some 350-million-year-old remains of aquatic sea creatures uncovered in Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa have challenged that assumption.

The spindly animals with feathery arms—called crinoids, but better known today by the plant-like name “sea lily”—appear to have been buried alive in storms during the Carboniferous Period, when North America was covered with vast inland seas. Buried quickly and isolated from the water above by layers of fine-grained sediment, their porous skeletons gradually filled with minerals, but some of the pores containing organic molecules were sealed intact.

That’s the conclusion of Ohio State University geologists, who extracted the molecules directly from individual crinoid fossils in the laboratory, and determined that different species of crinoid contained different molecules. The results will appear in the March issue of the journal Geology.

William Ausich, professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State and co-author of the paper, explained why the organic molecules are special.

“There are lots of fragmented biological molecules—we call them biomarkers—scattered in the rock everywhere. They’re the remains of ancient plant and animal life, all broken up and mixed together,” he said. “But this is the oldest example where anyone has found biomarkers inside a particular complete fossil. We can say with confidence that these organic molecules came from the individual animals whose remains we tested.”

The molecules appear to be aromatic compounds called quinones, which are found in modern crinoids and other animals. Quinones sometimes function as pigments or as toxins to discourage predators.

Lead author Christina O’Malley, who completed this work to earn her doctoral degree, first began the study when she noticed something strange about some crinoids that had perished side by side and become preserved in the same piece of rock: the different species were preserved in different colors.

In one rock sample used in the study, one crinoid species appears a light bluish-gray, while another appears dark gray and yet another more of a creamy white. All stand out from the color of the rock they were buried in. The researchers have since found similar fossil deposits from around the Midwest.

“People noticed the color differences 100 years ago, but no one ever investigated it,” O’Malley said. “The analytical tools were not available to do this kind of work as they are today.”

O’Malley isolated the molecules by grinding up small bits of fossil and dissolving them into a solution. Then she injected a tiny sample of the solution into a machine called a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer. The machine vaporized the solution so that a magnet could separate individual molecules based on electric charge and mass. Computer software identified the molecules as similar to quinones.

Then, with study co-author and Ohio State geochemist Yu-Ping Chin, she compared the organic molecules from the fossils with the molecules that are common in living crinoids today. Just as the researchers suspected, quinone-like molecules occur in both living crinoids and their fossilized ancestors.

Though different colored fossils contained different quinones, the researchers cautioned that there’s no way to tell whether the quinones functioned as pigments, or that the preserved colors as they appear today were similar to the colors that the crinoids had in life.

Part of why the crinoids were so well preserved has to do with the structure of their skeletons, the researchers said. Like sand dollars, crinoids have skin on top of a hard calcite shell. In the case of crinoids, their long bodies are made up of thousands of stacked calcite rings, and each ring is a single large calcite crystal that contains pores filled with living tissue. When a crinoid dies, the tissue will start to decay, but calcite will precipitate into the pores, and calcite is stable over geologic time. Thus, organic matter may become sealed whole within the rock.

“We think that rock fills in the skeleton according to how the crystals are oriented. So it’s possible to find large crystals filled in such a way that they have organic matter still trapped inside,” Ausich said.

The location of the fossils was also key to their preservation. In the flat American Midwest, the rocks weren’t pushed up into mountain chains or heated by volcanism, so from the Ohio State geologists’ perspective, they are pristine.

Their next challenge is to identify the exact type of quinone molecules they found, and determine how much information about individual species can be gleaned from them.

“These molecules are not DNA, and they’ll never be as good as DNA as a means to define evolutionary relationships, but they could still be useful,” Ausich said. “We suspect that there’s some kind of biological signal there—we just need to figure out how specific it is before we can use it as a means to track different species.”

This research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Geological Society of America.

Contacts: Christina O'Malley, Omalley.47@osu.edu
William Ausich, (614) 292-3353; Ausich.1@osu.edu
Written by Pam Frost Gorder, (614) 292-9475; Gorder.1@osu.edu

Pam Frost Gorder | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.osu.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA sees heavy rain in Tropical Cyclone Chan-Hom
02.07.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Creating a stopwatch for volcanic eruptions
02.07.2015 | Arizona State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Solardächer produzieren Strom für Fahrzeuge

Studentische Industriekooperation zwischen HAW Hamburg und Webasto erarbeitet Ergebnisse für EU-Zertifizierungsprozess von Solardächern zur Verbesserung der Öko-Bilanz von Fahrzeugen.

Unter der Leitung von Dr.-Ing. Volker Skwarek, Professor für technische Informatik an der HAW Hamburg, erarbeiteten sechs Studierende des...

Im Focus: Viaducts with wind turbines, the new renewable energy source

Wind turbines could be installed under some of the biggest bridges on the road network to produce electricity. So it is confirmed by calculations carried out by a European researchers team, that have taken a viaduct in the Canary Islands as a reference. This concept could be applied in heavily built-up territories or natural areas with new constructions limitations.

The Juncal Viaduct, in Gran Canaria, has served as a reference for Spanish and British researchers to verify that the wind blowing between the pillars on this...

Im Focus: Aus alt mach neu - Rohstoffquelle Elektroschrott

Der Markt für Unterhaltungselektronik boomt: Rund 60 Millionen Fernsehgeräte wurden im letzten Jahr in Europa verkauft. Früher oder später werden sie zurückkehren – als Elektroschrott.

Die Recycling-Industrie hat darauf reagiert: Kupfer, Aluminium, Eisen- und Edelmetalle sowie ausgewählte Kunststoffe werden bereits wiederverwertet. Allerdings...

Im Focus: Radar schützt vor Weltraummüll

Die Bedrohung im All durch Weltraummüll ist groß. Aktive Satelliten und Raumfahrzeuge können beschädigt oder zerstört werden. Ein neues, nationales Weltraumüberwachungssystem soll ab 2018 vor Gefahren im Orbit schützen. Fraunhofer-Forscher entwickeln das Radar im Auftrag des DLR Raumfahrtmanagement.

Die »Verkehrssituation« im All ist angespannt: Neben unzähligen Satelliten umkreisen Weltraumtrümmer wie beispielsweise ausgebrannte Raketenstufen und...

Im Focus: X-rays and electrons join forces to map catalytic reactions in real-time

New technique combines electron microscopy and synchrotron X-rays to track chemical reactions under real operating conditions

A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real...

Alle Focus-News des Innovations-reports >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

IHR
JOB & KARRIERE
SERVICE
im innovations-report
in Kooperation mit academics
Veranstaltungen

Aktuelles aus Forschung und Betrieb: 27. Deutscher Flammentag

02.07.2015 | Veranstaltungen

Call for ideas: Gute Ideen für bessere Städte

02.07.2015 | Veranstaltungen

Von Produktpiraterie bis Ideen-Schutz: Mit Experten über Patent- und Innovationsschutz diskutieren

02.07.2015 | Veranstaltungen

 
B2B-VideoLinks
Weitere VideoLinks >>>
Aktuelle Beiträge

CORIO - Neue Laborthermostate Generation

02.07.2015 | Unternehmensmeldung

Aktuelles aus Forschung und Betrieb: 27. Deutscher Flammentag

02.07.2015 | Veranstaltungsnachrichten

Solardächer produzieren Strom für Fahrzeuge

02.07.2015 | Energie und Elektrotechnik