Preservation potential of keratin in deep time

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Multiple fossil discoveries and taphonomic experiments have established the durability of keratin. The utility and specificity of antibodies to identify keratin peptides has also been established, both in extant feathers under varying treatment conditions, and in feathers from extinct organisms. Here, we show localization of feather-keratin antibodies to control and heat-treated feathers, testifying to the repeatability of initial data supporting the preservation potential of keratin. We then show new data at higher resolution that demonstrates the specific response of these antibodies to the feather matrix, we support the presence of protein in heat-treated feathers using ToF-SIMS, and we apply these methods to a fossil feather preserved in the unusual environment of sinter hot springs. We stress the importance of employing realistic conditions such as sediment burial when designing experiments intended as proxies for taphonomic processes occurring in the fossil record. Our data support the hypothesis that keratin, particularly the β-keratin that comprises feathers, has potential to preserve in fossil remains.


External organisations
  • North Carolina State University
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Drexel University
  • Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE)
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Geology
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Nov 28
Publication categoryResearch