Background: Exceptional preservation of endogenous organics such as collagens and blood vessels has been frequently reported in Mesozoic dinosaur fossils. The persistence of these soft tissues in Mesozoic fossil bones has been challenged because of the susceptibility of proteins to degradation and because bone porosity allows microorganisms to colonize the inner microenvironments through geological time. Although protein lability has been studied extensively, the genomic diversity of microbiomes in dinosaur fossil bones and their potential roles in bone taphonomy remain underexplored. Genome-resolved metagenomics was performed, therefore, on the microbiomes recovered from a Late Cretaceous Centrosaurus bone and its encompassing mudstone in order to provide insight into the genomic potential for microbial alteration of fossil bone. Results: Co-assembly and binning of metagenomic reads resulted in a total of 46 high-quality metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) affiliated to six bacterial phyla (Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Nitrospira, Acidobacteria, Gemmatimonadetes and Chloroflexi) and 1 archaeal phylum (Thaumarchaeota). The majority of the MAGs represented uncultivated, novel microbial lineages from class to species levels based on phylogenetics, phylogenomics and average amino acid identity. Several MAGs from the classes Nitriliruptoria, Deltaproteobacteria and Betaproteobacteria were highly enriched in the bone relative to the adjacent mudstone. Annotation of the MAGs revealed that the distinct putative metabolic functions of different taxonomic groups were linked to carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and iron metabolism. Metaproteomics revealed gene expression from many of the MAGs, but no endogenous collagen peptides were identified in the bone that could have been derived from the dinosaur. Estimated in situ replication rates among the bacterial MAGs suggested that most of the microbial populations in the bone might have been actively growing but at a slow rate. Conclusions: Our results indicate that excavated dinosaur bones are habitats for microorganisms including novel microbial lineages. The distinctive microhabitats and geochemistry of fossil bone interiors compared to that of the external sediment enrich a microbial biomass comprised of various novel taxa that harbor multiple gene sets related to interconnected biogeochemical processes. Therefore, the presence of these microbiomes in Mesozoic dinosaur fossils urges extra caution to be taken in the science of paleontology when hunting for endogenous biomolecules preserved from deep time.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Centrosaurus fossil bone
- Halotolerant bacteria
- Late Cretaceous
- Rare Actinobacteria
- Uncultured microbial lineages