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Langmuir. 2005 Apr 12;21(8):3584-90.

Preservation of bone collagen from the late Cretaceous period studied by immunological techniques and atomic force microscopy.

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  • 1Montana State University, Department of Physics, EPS 264, Bozeman, Montana 59717, USA.


Late Cretaceous avian bone tissues from Argentina demonstrate exceptional preservation. Skeletal elements are preserved in partial articulation and suspended in three dimensions in a medium-grained sandstone matrix, indicating unusual perimortem taphonomic conditions. Preservation extends to the microstructural and molecular levels. Bone tissues respond to collagenase digestion and histochemical stains. In situ immunohistochemistry localizes binding sites for avian collagen antibodies in fossil tissues. Immunohistochemical studies do not, however, guarantee the preservation of molecular integrity. A protein may retain sufficient antigenicity for antibody binding even though degradation may render it incapable of original function. Therefore, we have applied atomic force microscopy to address the integrity and functionality of retained organic structures. Collagen pull-off measurements not only support immunochemical evidence for collagen preservation for antibody recognition but also imply preservation of the whole molecular integrity. No appreciable differences in collagen pull-off properties were measured between fossil and extant bone samples under physiological conditions.

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