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Journal Article

Enzymatic phosphatization of fish scales—a pathway for fish fossilization


Gäb,  Fabian
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Bierbaum,  Gabriele
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Wirth,  R.
3.5 Interface Geochemistry, 3.0 Geochemistry, Departments, GFZ Publication Database, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum;

Bultmann,  Christoph
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Palmer,  Brianne
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Janssen,  Kathrin
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Karačić,  Sabina
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Gäb, F., Bierbaum, G., Wirth, R., Bultmann, C., Palmer, B., Janssen, K., Karačić, S. (2024): Enzymatic phosphatization of fish scales—a pathway for fish fossilization. - Scientific Reports, 14, 8347.

Cite as: https://gfzpublic.gfz-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_5025539
Phosphatized fish fossils occur in various locations worldwide. Although these fossils have been intensively studied over the past decades they remain a matter of ongoing research. The mechanism of the permineralization reaction itself remains still debated in the community. The mineralization in apatite of a whole fish requires a substantial amount of phosphate which is scarce in seawater, so the origin of the excess is unknown. Previous research has shown that alkaline phosphatase, a ubiquitous enzyme, can increase the phosphate content in vitro in a medium to the degree of saturation concerning apatite. We applied this principle to an experimental setup where fish scales were exposed to commercial bovine alkaline phosphatase. We analyzed the samples with SEM and TEM and found that apatite crystals had formed on the remaining soft tissue. A comparison of these newly formed apatite crystals with fish fossils from the Solnhofen and Santana fossil deposits showed striking similarities. Both are made up of almost identically sized and shaped nano-apatites. This suggests a common formation process: the spontaneous precipitation from an oversaturated solution. The excess activity of alkaline phosphatase could explain that effect. Therefore, our findings could provide insight into the formation of well-preserved fossils.