Preservation of Chitin in 25-Million-Year-Old Fossils

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Science  06 Jun 1997:
Vol. 276, Issue 5318, pp. 1541-1543
DOI: 10.1126/science.276.5318.1541

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Chitin is present in fossil insects from the Oligocene (24.7 million years ago) lacustrine shales of Enspel, Germany. This result, which was obtained by analytical pyrolysis, extends by nearly 25 million years the length of time that chemically detectable remains of this biomolecule are known to survive. The embedding sediment is dominated by diatoms, which reflect high productivity in the paleolake. The primary control on the preservation of chitin is thus not time; it may persist in older sediments where suitable paleoenvironmental conditions prevailed.

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