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Biomolecular innovation and the evolution of animals: insights from taphonomy and the fossil record

Project description

Evolution of key animal biomolecules

Ancient biomolecules provide information on phylogenetic relationships and processes of evolutionary changes. However, research is still strongly biased towards bone and frequently fails to examine the impact of fossilisation processes. The EU-funded Palaeochem project will characterise thin carbon films preserving the soft tissues of fossil animals to study ancient biomolecules. The project will target chemical analysis of different fossils under a rigorous programme of fossilisation experiments simulating decay and burial. The aim is to generate the first comprehensive models for preservation of the biomolecules' keratin, melanin and collagen in fossil soft tissues through deep time. Palaeochem will analyse the fossil record of these biomolecules, the chemical mechanisms responsible for their preservation and accommodate taphonomic biases in evolutionary models.

Objective

What are the limits of the fossil record? Ancient biomolecules are critically important given their potential to inform on phylogenetic relationships and the processes driving evolutionary change. Research to date, however, lacks cohesion and breadth, is strongly biased towards bone, and often fails to consider the impact of analytical bias and fossilization processes. This proposal sets a new, focussed agenda for the study of ancient biomolecules based on the characterization of thin carbon films preserving the soft tissues of fossil animals. Targeted chemical analysis of diverse fossils including frontier high-resolution mapping will be informed by a rigorous programme of fossilisation experiments simulating decay and burial, thus generating the first holistic models for the preservation of the evolutionarily important biomolecules keratin, melanin, and collagen in fossil soft tissues through deep time. The research will resolve the fossil record of these key biomolecules, the chemical mechanisms responsible for their preservation, and will accommodate taphonomic biases in evolutionary models. This enhanced picture of animal molecular evolution will test hypotheses linking biomolecular innovation with fundamental phenotypic, phylogenetic and ecological transitions, especially relating to the evolution of the tetrapod integument and the origins of animals. The research will launch twin experimental facilities for simulating burial that will allow extraction, and in-situ analysis, of reaction products in real time. These facilities will be unique in Europe, consolidating the PI’s team as a keystone global hub for research into ancient biomolecules. The research team comprises the PI, three postdoctoral researchers, and two PhD students, and will dovetail with a global collaborative network. The project will have significance for diverse scientists and will inspire the next generation to explore the wonders of science.

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Coordinator

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK - NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND, CORK
Net EU contribution
€ 2 460 114,00
Address
Western road
T12 YN60 Cork
Ireland

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Region
Ireland Southern South-East
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Links
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)