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Bada, JL, Wang XYS, Hamilton H.  1999.  Preservation of key biomolecules in the fossil record: current knowledge and future challenges. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences. 354:77-86.   10.1098/rstb.1999.0361   AbstractWebsite

We have developed a model based on the analyses of modern and Pleistocene eggshells and mammalian bones which can be used to understand the preservation of amino acids and other important biomolecules such as DNA in fossil specimens. The model is based on the following series of diagenetic reactions and processes involving amino acids: the hydrolysis of proteins and the subsequent loss of hydrolysis products from the fossil matrix with increasing geologic age; the racemization of amino acids which produces totally racemized amino acids in 10(5)-10(6) years in most environments on the Earth; the introduction of contaminants into the fossil that lowers the enantiomeric (D:L) ratios produced via racemization; and the condensation reactions between amino acids, as well as other compounds with primary amino groups, and sugars which yield humic acid-like polymers. This model was used to evaluate whether useful amino acid and DNA sequence information is preserved in a variety of human, amber-entombed insect and dinosaur specimens. Most skeletal remains of evolutionary interest with respect to the origin of modern humans are unlikely to preserve useful biomolecular information although those from high latitude sites may be an exception. Amber-entombed insects contain well-preserved unracemized amino acids, apparently because of the anhydrous nature of the amber matrix, and thus may contain DNA fragments which have retained meaningful genetic information. Dinosaur specimens contain mainly exogenous amino acids, although traces of endogenous amino acids may be present in some cases. Future ancient biomolecule research which takes advantage of new methologies involving, for example, humic acid cleaving reagents and microchip-based DNA-protein detection and sequencing, along with investigations of very slow biomolecule diagenetic reactions such as the racemization of isoleucine at the beta-carbon, will lead to further enhancements of our understanding of biomolecule preservation in the fossil record.

Bada, JL.  1998.  Biogeochemistry of organic nitrogen compounds. Nitrogen-Containing Macromolecules in the Bio- and Geosphere. 707( Stankiewicz BA, VanBergen PF, Eds.).:64-73., Washington: Amer Chemical Soc Abstract

Nitrogen containing organic compounds represent the second most abundant reservoir of nitrogen on the surface of the Earth. However, the organic compounds that make up this global nitrogen pool are not well characterized. Although amino acids and the nitrogenous bases of nucleic acids make up only a few percent of the total organic nitrogen reservoir, the geochemical reactions of these compounds have been extensively studied. Because hydrolysis reactions are rapid on the geologic time scale, both proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) are not preserved for more than 10(3) to 10(5) years in most environments. The racemization reaction of amino acids converts the L-amino acids present in the biosphere into a racemic mixture (D/L amino acid ratio = 1.0) in the geosphere in less than 10(6) years. Anhydrous conditions, such as those that may be associated with amber entombed insects, may retard both biopolymer hydrolysis and racemization. Condensation reactions between amino acids and sugars, including sugars at apurinic sites in nucleic acid fragments, likely result in the incorporation of these compounds into geopolymers such as humic acids. Although rearrangement reactions in geopolymers may scramble the original molecular structures, part of the global organic nitrogen inventory was originally derived from amino acids and nucleic acid bases.