Protein power

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Science  24 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6246, pp. 372-373
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6246.372

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Ancient DNA may be entering its golden age, but some researchers have their eyes on another molecule that may offer new view of the past: protein, which has some advantages over its more famous cousin. Tissues are full of protein, making analysis easier. Proteins also resist the ravages of time far better than fragile DNA and so have the potential to look further back in time—researchers have identified 300 million year old proteins in fish fossils. Ancient proteins have already illuminated a few far-flung corners of past life, including identifying the family tree of strange, extinct South American mammals that flummoxed even Charles Darwin. The method appears particularly promising in archaeology, where it can reveal the diets and lifestyles of past cultures. Still, the technique has a long way to go before it reaches the maturity of paleogenetics, chiefly because methods to sequence amino acids lag behind DNA sequencing.