Endogenous Proteins Found in a 70-Million-Year-Old Giant Marine Lizard

Fossil – just stone? No, a research team in Lund, Sweden, has discovered primary biological matter in a fossil of an extinct varanoid lizard (a mosasaur) that inhabited marine environments during Late Cretaceous times. Using state-of-the-art technology, the scientists have been able to link proteinaceous molecules to bone matrix fibres isolated from a 70-million-year-old fossil; i.e., they have found genuine remains of an extinct animal entombed in stone.

With their discovery, the scientists Johan Lindgren, Per Uvdal, Anders Engdahl, and colleagues have demonstrated that remains of type I collagen, a structural protein, are retained in a mosasaur fossil. The scientists have employed e.g., synchrotron radiation-based infrared microspectroscopy at MAX-lab in Lund (Sweden) to show that amino acid containing matter remains in fibrous tissues obtained from a mosasaur bone. Previously, other research teams have identified collagen-derived peptides in dinosaur fossils based on e.g., mass spectrometric analyses of whole bone extracts.  

The present study provides compelling evidence to suggest that the biomolecules recovered are primary and not contaminants from recent bacterial biofilms or collagen-like proteins. Moreover, the discovery demonstrates that the preservation of primary soft tissues and endogenous biomolecules is not limited to large-sized bones buried in fluvial sandstone environments, but also occurs in relatively small-sized skeletal elements deposited in marine sediments. 

A paper reporting the discovery is now available in the scientific journal PLoS ONE. Link to paper.


  • Mosasaurs are a group of extinct varanoid lizards that inhabited marine environments during the Late Cretaceous (approx. 100-65 million year ago).
  • Collagen is the dominating protein in bone.
  • The scientists have applied a broad spectrum of sophisticated techniques to achieve their results. In addition to synchrotron radiation-based infrared microspectroscopy, mass spectrometry and amino acid analysis have been performed. Virtually all experiments have been made in Lund. At MAX-lab, the experiments have been conducted at the MAX I ring, beamline 73.  

For more information, please contact:

Dr Johan Lindgren
Phone. +46-(0)768-54 14 91, e-mail johan.lindgren@geol.lu.se. Department of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Lund University

Professor Per Uvdal
Phone. +46-(0)733-00 49 48, e-mail per.uvdal@chemphys.lu.se. Chemical Physics at Lund University, and MAX-lab

Dr Anders Engdahl
Phone. +46-(0)768-93 77 08, e-mail anders.engdahl@maxlab.lu.se. MAX-lab


Here are pictures and more material:

About MAX-lab

MAX-lab is a synchrotron light facility and a part of the MAX IV Laboratory. The MAX IV Laboratory is a national research laboratory comprised of the present MAX-lab and the MAX IV project. It is run by Lund University and the Swedish Research Council, and is situated in Lund, Sweden.      



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