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Research Focus

Research Focus - Isotope analysis: diet, migration and climate


Protein recovery and sequencing (Proteomics)

Protein recovery and sequencing Pleistocene Hyaena (Crocutu crocuta) from England. We sample bone and teeth such as these to extract proteins for sequencing.


This area of research concerns the extraction and analysis of proteins from archaeological and palaeontological bone and teeth.

Our research focuses on:

  1. Optimising the extraction methods to retrieve selected proteins from fossil samples.
  2. Identification and sequencing of extracted proteins using a proteomics based approach.
  3. Isotopic analysis of protein extracts to determine past diets, faunal/hominid migrations and climate.

Typically, organic material from fossils only survives in very small quantities and often in degraded and contaminated forms. With these limitations to consider, recent technical advances in biochemistry are particularly appropriate for exploitation by molecular palaeontology for the analysis of ancient organic material.

Sequencing and characterisation of extracted proteins and/or resulting diagenetic peptides is performed using an Applied Biosystems 4700 Proteomics Analyzer. Using this MALDI -TOF/TOF™ tandem mass spectrometer it is possible to obtain sequences from very small quantities of protein (down to femtomoles). However, In particularly rare and valuable fossil samples, an LC-MALDI configuration is being employed. This interface of HPLC with MALDI permits peptides eluting from the nanoLC to be spotted directly onto a MALDI target plate, further minimising any possible loss of protein through purification and isolation.

This research is undertaken in collaboration with Prof Ralf Hoffmann at the University of Leipzig.