T.Rex Fossils Yield Soft Tissue

Elastic, soft tissue from a 68-million-year old T.rex may still hold genetic information.

A new way of looking at dinosaur fossils has uncovered elastic, soft tissues, blood vessels and cells in a Tyrannosaurus rex, scientists said on Thursday.

Mary Schweitzer, assistant professor of paleontology at North Carolina State University, with a joint appointment at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, isolated soft tissue from the femur of the 68-million-year-old T.rex and published her results in the current journal Science.

Not only is the tissue intact, it's still transparent and pliable. Tiny interior structures resembling blood vessels, and even cells, are still present in the tissue, according to a university press release.

While examining the T.rex, Schweitzer and her team noticed tissue fragments that lined the marrow cavity of the animal's femur. When they dissolved mineral deposits in the tissues, the flexible, stretchy material was left behind.

Schweitzer then duplicated those finding, using at least three other well-preserved dinosaur specimens: one 80-million-year-old hadrosaur and two 65-million-year-old tyrannosaurs. Every specimen displayed preserved vessels, cell-like structures, or flexible material that resembled bone collagen from modern specimens, according to the press release.

With a nod toward the theory that dinosaurs were the ancestors of modern birds, Schweitzer compared the findings to modern ostrich bone. The vessels from the T.rex closely resembled those vessels, the report in Science said. The dinosaur and the ostrich vessels also held what could be nuclei of so-called endothelial cells, which line blood vessels.

The fact that the soft tissues were preserved for tens of millions of years turns on its head what paleontologists used to think about fossils; that any soft tissue should not last beyond 100,000 years.

Schweitzer intends to direct her research to what the soft structures isolated from these bones are made of, specifically, whether they still hold genetic information about the dinosaur.

Early indications are that fragments of original molecular material may still be present, according to the university press release.

"We may not really know as much about how fossils are preserved as we think," Schweitzer said. "Our preliminary research shows that antibodies that recognize collagen react to chemical extracts of this fossil bone. If further studies confirm this, we may have the potential to learn more not only about the dinosaurs themselves, but also about how and why they were preserved in the first place."

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