To their amazement, researchers at Imperial College London were able to extract samples of red blood cells and collagen in 75-million-year-old dinosaur remains that were in a very poor condition.
Scientists are optimistic that fossils exposed in other places around the world could contain higher-quality soft tissue and even intact dinosaur DNA.
The traces of red blood cells and collagen were detected accidentally while British researchers were analyzing eight damaged fossils that were unearthed about 100 years ago at the Dinosaur Park Formation in Alberta, Canada, but were later moved to the Natural History Museum in London.
They now hope that other dinosaur fossils from around the world could also retain intact traces of soft tissue that could provide researchers with exclusive information on the animals’ physiology and whereabouts.
The fossils that British researchers had studied were in a very poor shape and extremely fragmented. The remains included a claw from what seems to be a gorgosaurus, ankle bones and a limb from a hadrosaurid, or the duck-billed dinosaur, and a toe bone from an unidentified animal.
Mary Schweitzer from the North Carolina State University, had detected flexible and transparent collagen in the limb of a Tyrannosaurus rex about a decade ago. But the latest find is different because the samples of soft tissues were extracted from dinosaur remains that were deemed “crap” by the researchers themselves.
“It’s really difficult to get curators to allow you to snap bits off their fossils. The ones we tested are crap, very fragmentary, and they are not the sorts of fossils you’d expect to have soft tissue,”
explained Susannah Maidment, a dinosaur expert from Imperial College.
And indeed, researchers had to break the dinosaur remains off to find the intact soft tissues inside. The discovery of red blood cells was made by Sergio Bertazzo who was working on a project about build up of calcium within human circulatory system. He asked permission to study dinosaur fossils as well with an electron microscope.
He recalls that one morning he switched on the microscope and was started to learn that before his eyes there was an intact sample of dinosaur blood.
His first reaction was to think that blood belonged to a curator or other museum staffer that had cut when moving around the specimen. Yet, Maidment thought otherwise. She knew that human blood cells lack nuclei, so if the red blood cell samples did contain nuclei, they undoubtedly belonged to a dinosaur.
So, the two researchers double checked the samples and found nuclei. They were absolutely sure that it wasn’t the case of somebody bleeding on the sample, but it was genuine dinosaur blood.
Image Source: Telegraph.uk
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