The goal of paleoproteomics is to characterize proteins from specimens that have been subjected to degrading and obscuring effects of time, thus obtaining biological information about tissues or organisms both unobservable in the present and unobtainable through morphological study. Although the description of sequences from Tyrannosaurus rex and Brachylophosaurus canadensis suggested that proteins may persist over tens of millions of years, the majority of paleoproteomic analyses have focused on historical, archeological, or relatively young paleontological samples that rarely exceed 1 million years in age. However, recent advances in methodology and analyses of diverse tissues types (e.g., fossil eggshell and dental enamel) have begun closing the large, unexplored window of time that remains in the fossil history of the Cenozoic. In this perspective, we discuss the history and current state of deep time paleoproteomics (DTPp), here defined as paleoproteomic study of samples ~1 million years (1 Ma) or more in age. We then discuss the future of DTPp research, including what we see as critical ways the field can expand, advancements in technology that can be utilized, and the types of questions DTPp can address if such a future is realized.


Geologic time scale showing taxa ∼1 Ma and older from paleoproteomic studies.