Protein sequenced from ancient mammoth

March 30, 2011 at 8:43 PM

YORK, England, March 30 (UPI) -- British scientists say they extracted protein from bones of a 600,000-year-old mammoth, a result that may improve identification of ancient fossils.

Researchers from the University of York and Manchester, using an ultra-high resolution mass spectrometer, were able to produce a near complete collagen sequence for the West Runton Elephant, a mammoth skeleton discovered in cliffs in Norfolk in 1990, a York release reported Wednesday.

The 85 percent complete skeleton is the most complete example of its species ever found in the world.

"The time depth is absolutely remarkable," York bio-archaeologist Matthew Collins said. "Until several years ago we did not believe we would find any collagen in a skeleton of this age, even if it was as well-preserved as the West Runton Elephant.

"We believe protein lasts in a useful form 10 times as long as DNA which is normally only useful in discoveries of up to 100,000 years old in Northern Europe," he said. "The implications are that we can use collagen sequencing to look at very old extinct animals."

The collagen sequencing carried out at York is said to be the oldest protein ever sequenced, although short peptides (chains of amino acids) have controversially been reported from dinosaur fossils.

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