Molecular Palaeontology

Abstract

The traces that organisms of the past have left are not restricted to their bones, shells, imprints, and tracks; biogenic macromolecules may also survive in the fossil record. As techniques for studying fossil macromolecules have expanded, information from molecules has complemented and expanded our knowledge of the history of life as derived from other types of fossils.

Keywords: amino acids; fossil DNA; amber; biomarkers; kerogen

Figure 1.

The sedimentary diagenesis of two molecular fossils, a typical bacterial hopane and a typical eukaryotic sterane.

Figure 2.

Formulae of oleanane, a biomarker associated with flowering plants, and a labdane (communic acid) found in gymnosperm resins.

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Further Reading

Eglinton G and Logan GA (1991) Molecular preservation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B 333: 315–328.

Herrmann B and Hummel S (eds) (1994) Ancient DNA: Recovery and Analysis of Genetic Material from Paleontological, Archaeological, Museum, Medical, and Forensic Specimens. New York: Springer‐Verlag.

Logan GA, Collins MJ and Eglinton G (1991) Preservation of organic biomolecules. In: Allison PA and Briggs DEG (eds) Taphonomy: Releasing the Data Locked in the Fossil Record, pp. 1–24. New York: Plenum Press.

Lowenstein JM and Scheuenstuhl G (1991) Immunological methods in molecular paleontology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: 333: 375–380.

Poinar GO Jr (1999) Ancient DNA. American Scientist 87: 446–457.

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Waggoner, Ben(Apr 2001) Molecular Palaeontology. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001627]