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Paleontology Gets a Shot of Dinosaur Protein

In all but the best-preserved fossils, researchers have assumed that intact soft tissues did not survive longer than about 4 million years. A few protein fragments might persist; however, full proteinaceous structures that could tell us about soft tissues and animal physiology would not.

This assumption has now been called into question, thanks to a group of researchers who employed a synergistic materials analysis approach to eight different dinosaur bones dating to the Cretaceous period (about 75 million years ago). The researchers deliberately chose specimens that weren’t exceptionally preserved, seeking to find information on soft tissue that might have previously been overlooked. Their methods for investigating these fossils included scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and mass spectrometry. With these techniques, they were able to observe collagen-like fibers as well as mass spectra consistent with amino acids found in collagens. On other samples, they also observed structures similar to avian erythrocytes ie bird blood. In particular, the spectra they observed in these structures were very similar to Emu blood.

Welcome to Jurassic World? Well, not quite. However, in elucidating these soft tissue structures in 75 million year-old samples, the researchers have opened the door to a new and fruitful way to investigate long-extinct animals.

Source: Nature Communications

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