Closed-system behaviour of the intra-crystalline fraction of amino acids in mollusc shells

K. E.H. Penkman, D. S. Kaufman, D. Maddy, M. J. Collins

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167 Scopus citations


When mollusc shells are analysed conventionally for amino acid geochronology, the entire population of amino acids is included, both inter- and intra-crystalline. This study investigates the utility of removing the amino acids that are most susceptible to environmental effects by isolating the fraction of amino acids encapsulated within mineral crystals of mollusc shells (intra-crystalline fraction). Bleaching, heating and leaching (diffusive loss) experiments were undertaken on modern and fossil Corbicula fluminalis, Margaritifera falcata, Bithynia tentaculata and Valvata piscinalis shells. Exposure of powdered mollusc shells to concentrated NaOCl for 48 h effectively reduced the amino acid content of the four taxa to a residual level, assumed to represent the intra-crystalline fraction. When heated in water at 140 °C for 24 h, only 1% of amino acids were leached from the intra-crystalline fraction of modern shells compared with 40% from whole shell. Free amino acids were more effectively retained in the intra-crystalline fraction, comprising 55% (compared with 18%) of the whole shell after 24 h at 140 °C. For fossil gastropods, the inter-shell variability in D/L values for the intra-crystalline fraction of a single-age population was reduced by 50% compared with conventionally analysed shells. In contrast, analysis of the intra-crystalline fraction of C. fluminalis does not appear to improve the results for this taxon, possibly due to variability in shell ultrastructure. Nonetheless, the intra-crystalline fraction in gastropods approximates a closed system of amino acids and appears to provide a superior subset of amino acids for geochronological applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-25
Number of pages24
JournalQuaternary Geochronology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Dating
  • Intra-crystalline protein degradation
  • Quaternary
  • Racemization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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