However, it was still unclear which species the bone came from. So the researchers enlisted the help of Mike Buckley from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology. He used the pioneering new technique called “collagen fingerprinting” to identify the animal from the bone fragments.
He did this by extracting minute amounts of collagen, the dominant protein found in bone, from the fossils. Using chemical markers for the peptides that make up the collagen, a collagen profile for the fossil bones was developed. Buckley then compared the profile to 37 modern mammal species, as well as that of a fossil camel found in the Yukon.
He found that the collagen profile for the High Arctic camel was almost an identical match to the modern day Dromedary as well as the Ice-Age Yukon giant camel. The collagen information, combined with the anatomical data, demonstrated that the bone fragments belonged to a giant camel as the bone is roughly 30% larger than the same bone in a living camel species.
Rybczynski says it’s an important discovery: “These bones represent the first evidence of camels living in the High Arctic region. It extends the previous range of camels in North America northward by about 1,200 km, and suggests that the lineage that gave rise to modern camels may have been originally adapted to living in an Arctic forest environment.”
Buckley adds: “This is the first time that collagen has been extracted and used to identify a species from such ancient bone fragments. The fact the protein was able to survive for three and a half million years is due to the frozen nature of the Arctic. This has been an exciting project to work on and unlocks the huge potential collagen fingerprinting has to better identify extinct species from our preciously finite supply of fossil material.”