EGU24-21192, updated on 02 May 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

29 million years of diverse mammalian enamel proteomes from Turkana in the East African Rift System

Daniel Green1, Kevin Uno1, Ellen Miller2, Craig Feibel3, Eipa Aoron4, Catherine Beck5, Aryeh Grossman6, Francis Kirera7, Martin Kirinya8, Louise Leakey9, Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce10, Fredrick Manthi11, Emmanuel Ndiema11, Cyprian Nyete8, John Rowan12, Gabrielle Russo9, William Sanders13, Tara Smiley14, Patricia Princehouse15, Natasha Vitek14, and Timothy Cleland16
Daniel Green et al.
  • 1Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 2Department of Anthropology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA
  • 3Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA
  • 4Department of Biological and Physical Sciences, Turkana University College, Lodwar, Kenya
  • 5Geosciences Department, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, USA
  • 6Department of Anatomy, College of Graduate Studies, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ, USA
  • 7Mercer School of Medicine, Mercer University, Macon, GA, USA
  • 8Turkana Basin Institute, Nairobi, Kenya
  • 9Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA
  • 10Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA
  • 11Department of Earth Sciences, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya
  • 12Department of Anthropology, University at Albany, Albany, NY, USA
  • 13Museum of Paleontology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
  • 14Department of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA
  • 15Institute for the Science of Origins, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA
  • 16Museum Conservation Institute, Smithsonian Institute, Suitland, MD, USA

Exploration of the paleobiology of extinct taxa through ancient DNA and proteomics has been largely limited to Plio-Pleistocene fossils due to molecular breakdown over time, a problem exacerbated in tropical settings. Here, we report small proteomes from the interior enamel of fossils deposited at paleontological sites dating between 29–1.5 Ma in the Turkana Basin, Kenya, which has produced the richest record of Cenozoic mammal evolution in eastern Africa. We recovered enamel protein fragments in all sampled fossils, including a ~ 29 Ma Arsinoitherium specimen belonging to an extinct mammalian order, Embrithopoda. Identified proteins include the classical structural enamel proteins amelogenin, enamelin, and ameloblastin, but also less abundant enamel proteins including collagens and proteases. Protein fragment counts decline in progressively older fossils, but we observe significant variability in Early Miocene preservation across sites, with ~17 Ma deinothere and elephantimorph proboscidean fossils from Buluk preserving substantially more proteins than rhinocerotid and anthracotheriid fossils from ~18 Ma Locherangan and hippopotamids from younger localities at Napudet (< 11 Ma). Most specimens yield known clade-specific diagenetiforms that support morphology-based taxonomic identifications. Matches to clade-specific proteins suggest the future potential of paleoproteomics to contribute to the systematic placement of extinct taxa, but should be approached with caution due to sometimes sparse fragment identification and the possibility of sequence diagenesis. We identify likely modifications that support the ancient age of these proteins, and the oldest examples of advanced glycation end-products and carbamylation yet known. The discovery of protein sequences within dense enamel tissues in one of the persistently warmest regions on Earth promises the discovery of far older proteomes that will aid in the study of the biology and evolutionary relationships of extinct taxa.

How to cite: Green, D., Uno, K., Miller, E., Feibel, C., Aoron, E., Beck, C., Grossman, A., Kirera, F., Kirinya, M., Leakey, L., Liutkus-Pierce, C., Manthi, F., Ndiema, E., Nyete, C., Rowan, J., Russo, G., Sanders, W., Smiley, T., Princehouse, P., Vitek, N., and Cleland, T.: 29 million years of diverse mammalian enamel proteomes from Turkana in the East African Rift System, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-21192,, 2024.