Keratin Durability Has Implications for the Fossil Record: Results from a 10 Year Feather Degradation Experiment
Alison E. Moyer , Wenxia Zheng, Mary H. Schweitzer
Published: July 6, 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0157699
Keratinous ‘soft tissue’ structures (i.e. epidermally derived and originally non-biomineralized), include feathers, skin, claws, beaks, and hair. Despite their relatively common occurrence in the fossil record (second only to bone and teeth), few studies have addressed natural degradation processes that must occur in all organic material, including those keratinous structures that are incorporated into the rock record as fossils. Because feathers have high preservation potential and strong phylogenetic signal, in the current study we examine feathers subjected to different burial environments for a duration of ~10 years, using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and in situ immunofluorescence (IF). We use morphology and persistence of specific immunoreactivity as indicators of preservation at the molecular and microstructural levels. We show that feather keratin is durable, demonstrates structural and microstructural integrity, and retains epitopes suitable for specific antibody recognition in even the harshest conditions. These data support the hypothesis that keratin antibody reactivity can be used to identify the nature and composition of epidermal structures in the rock record, and to address evolutionary questions by distinguishing between alpha- (widely distributed) and beta- (limited to sauropsids) keratin.
Citation: Moyer AE, Zheng W, Schweitzer MH (2016) Keratin Durability Has Implications for the Fossil Record: Results from a 10 Year Feather Degradation Experiment. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0157699. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0157699
Editor: Brian Lee Beatty, New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, UNITED STATES
Received: November 18, 2015; Accepted: May 3, 2016; Published: July 6, 2016
Copyright: © 2016 Moyer et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Data Availability: All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.
Funding: This research was funded by grants to MHS from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the NSF INSPIRE program (EAR-1344198), and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (DGE-1252376) To AEM. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
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