October 25th, 2012 by James Ayre
Preserved soft tissue discovered inside of a T-Rex bone has now been shown to almost definitely contain actual dinosaur cells, and possibly DNA. The evidence is provided thanks to work done by a group of researchers from North Carolina State University and the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
There has been some controversy about the discovery in the past, with rival researchers declaring that there was no way that biological cells could survive 67 million years. The new evidence is very convincing though, excluding the possibility of microbial contamination.
ScienceHeathen has more:
The primary evidence is the soft tissue’s reactivity to antibodies that only target specific proteins found in the bone cells of vertebrates. This rules out microbial contamination. And strongly suggests that there are actual T-Rex cells preserved in the soft tissue, and possibly DNA.
In 2007 after finding soft tissue in the T-Rex bone researchers then found an even older 80-million-year-old Brachylophosaurus canadensis that appeared to also contain soft tissue. As with the T-Rex sample this fibrous material also turned out to be collagen.
After determining that it was collagen, the researchers next step was to find out “if the star-shaped cellular structures within the fibrous matrix were osteocytes, or bone cells.”
By utilizing techniques such as microscopy, mass spectrometry, and histochemistry; the researchers were able to show that “these cellular structures react to specific antibodies, including one — a protein known as PHEX — that is found in the osteocytes of living birds.”
“The PHEX finding is important because it helps to rule out sample contamination,” says lead researcher Dr. Mary Schweitzer. “Some of the antibodies that we used will react to proteins found in other vertebrate cells, but none of the antibodies react to microbes, which supports our theory that these structures are surviving osteocytes.”
This finding means that it may be possible to extract DNA from these cells. You can read more on that here.
The survival of soft tissue inside of dinosaur bones until the present may be much more common than we currently realize. In addition to the T-Rex and Brachylophosaurus canadensis examples, in 2007, what is called the most complete dinosaur ever found was discovered in North Dakota.
The chance of finding more soft tissue preserved inside of ancient bones is an entertaining possibility.
Image Credits: T-Rex via Wikimedia Commons
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