Molecular technology in paleontology and paleobiology: Applications and limitations

Ahmed Awad Abdelhady, Barbara Seuss, Sreepat Jain, Douaa Fathy, Mabrouk Sami, Ahmed Ali, Ahmed Elsheikh, Mohamed S. Ahmed, Ashraf M.T. Elewa, Ali M. Hussain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In the last 5 decades, paleontological research has exploded where fossils have enabled robust dating of rocks, improved understanding of origination/extinction rates or mass extinction events, biogeography, adaptive strategies, and many more. New molecular technologies have enabled intensive analyses of vertebrates and invertebrates, plant fossils, fossilized microbes, trace fossils, and fossil molecules, alike. Paleontological research has become interdisciplinary with inputs from geology, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and archaeology. Herein, we review the principles of promising molecular technologies and explore their applications and limitations vis-à-vis paleontological research. This review will attempt to provide a roadmap that can be used for future research directions. Advanced chemical imaging provides the ability to identify and quantify chemical characteristics to evaluate taphonomic damage, original biological structures, or fossils microbes. Molecular methods (e.g., molecular clock, DNA barcode, racemization dating, and biomarkers) offer a unique source of information and provide robust clues into the co-evolution of life in modern and past environments. Two main limitations are noted and include an exceptional preservation of the organic material, which is not always the case, and the complexity and cost of the instruments involved in the analyses. These difficulties are limiting the factual applications in paleontological analysis. Although very little research has been carried out on the aforementioned methods, they however, provide improved answers to highly debated and unsolved biological and climatic issues and a window to better understanding the origin of life. Biomarker proxies will be further developed and refined to answer emerging questions in the Quaternary Period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-38
Number of pages15
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusPublished - Mar 10 2024


  • Amino acid racemization dating
  • Biomarker
  • DNA barcode
  • Molecular paleontology
  • Molecular taxonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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