Taphonomic and diagenetic pathways to protein preservation, part i: The case of tyrannosaurus rex specimen mor 1125

Paul V. Ullmann, Kyle Macauley, Richard D. Ash, Ben Shoup, John B. Scannella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Many recent reports have demonstrated remarkable preservation of proteins in fossil bones dating back to the Permian. However, preservation mechanisms that foster the long-term stability of biomolecules and the taphonomic circumstances facilitating them remain largely unexplored. To address this, we examined the taphonomic and geochemical history of Tyrannosaurus rex specimen Museum of the Rockies (MOR) 1125, whose right femur and tibiae were previously shown to retain still-soft tissues and endogenous proteins. By combining taphonomic insights with trace element compositional data, we reconstruct the postmortem history of this famous specimen. Our data show that following prolonged, subaqueous decay in an estuarine channel, MOR 1125 was buried in a coarse sandstone wherein its bones fossilized while interacting with oxic and potentially brackish early-diagenetic groundwaters. Once its bones became stable fossils, they experienced minimal further chemical alteration. Comparisons with other recent studies reveal that oxidizing early-diagenetic microenvironments and diagenetic circumstances which restrict exposure to percolating pore fluids elevate biomolecular preservation potential by promoting molecular condensation reactions and hindering chemical alteration, respectively. Avoiding protracted interactions with late-diagenetic pore fluids is also likely crucial. Similar studies must be conducted on fossil bones preserved under diverse paleoenvironmental and diagenetic contexts to fully elucidate molecular preservation pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1193
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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