Isoleucine epimerization in the high-molecular-weight fraction of pleistocene Arctica

Darrell S. Kaufman, Hans Petter Sejrup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The extent of amino acid racemization, as traditionally determined in the entire (total acid hydrolysate) pool of amino acids comprising the organic remains of fossils, is a function of the integrated effects of a complex diagenetic reaction network. We investigated the possibility that some of the complications involved in protein diagenesis might be circumvented by isolating one component of the reaction network and studying the extent of racemization in that fraction alone. We used gel-filtration to extract the high-molecular-weight (HMW) fraction of proteinaceous matter from fossil and modem molluscan shells. This fraction contains the largest (ca. > 15,000 MW), most-pristine macromolecules and has been less affected by diagenesis than the more-degraded, lower molecular-weight fractions. Variations in the extent of racemization (isoleucine epimerization; alle/Ile) measured in the HMW fraction of subsamples taken along cross sections of Arctica shells from two interglacial sites, Bø and Fjøsanger, southwestern Norway, are within the range of analytical uncertainty [coefficient of variation (cv) = 5-8%], despite the strong gradient (cv = 20-24%) in alle/Ile of the total amino acid population. Because there is no age difference across a shell, this finding supports the idea that the HMW fraction contains more geochronologically reliable proteinaceous matter than the total amino acid pool. Weighted mean alle/Ile ratios in the HMW fraction of aliquots of powdered sample from the two shells overlap at ± 1σ, despite significantly different alle/Ile ratios in the total amino acid population of some shells from the two sites. The difference in alle/Ile ratios in the total population is attributed to a greater proportion of low-molecular-weight (ca. 300 MW), and hence, extensively epimerized molecules measured in gel-filtered samples from the Fjøsanger shell. Because the rate of epimerization in the HMW fraction is much lower than in the total population, the temporal resolution of the HMW technique is limited, particularly at these high-latitude sites. Therefore, we cannot use the aIle/Ile HMW data to exclude the possibility that the two sites are significantly different ages. Analyses of shells ranging in age from late Pliocene to Holocene indicate that reaction rate in the HMW fraction is about one-fifth the rate in the total amino acid population, although the difference is expected to decrease with increasing aIle/Ile.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-350
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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