Scientist Claim to have Isolated Preserved Dinosaur Blood and Proteins

The fossilised femur of a duck-billed dinosaur dating from the late Cretaceous has been the subject of a controversial study by a team of American scientists who claim that they have isolated soft tissue including blood vessels and dinosaur blood.

The 80 million-year-old Brachylophosaurus (Brachylophosaurus canadenis), a flat crested duck-billed dinosaur (Hadrosaurine, Hadrosaur) has yielded the oldest known proteins preserved in soft tissue.  This research was led by the same team from the Harvard Medical School that published a paper in 2007 announcing the recovery of proteins from the fossilised limb of a 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaur.

The Hadrosaur femur (thigh bone) had been encased in sandstone and protected to some extent from complete tissue degradation.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur stated that the specimen was probably part of a superbly preserved, almost complete Brachylophosaurus skeleton nick-named “Leonardo”, that had been found recently. This fossil preserved parts of the skin, neck muscle and even elements of the gastric tract which revealed the remains of this dinosaur’s last meal.

An initial microscopic scan revealed structures resembling blood vessels, cells and collagen (type of protein).  These initial findings were confirmed by applying antibodies to the tissue that are known to react with proteins.  The tests suggested the presence of collagen and other proteins, including haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells.

The hints of haemoglobin remain speculative and are not covered in the new, peer-reviewed study, which appears in today’s issue of the scientific journal “Science”.   As a result and until the peer review is carried out the presence of haemoglobin remains unproven.  Some scientists have commented that the haemoglobin alledged to have been found is the result of contamination.

Computational biologist Pavel Pevzner of the University of California stated:

“If it’s not a contaminant, it is much bigger than the confirmed discoveries of blood vessels and other connective tissues”. 

A confirmed dinosaur-hemoglobin discovery would open the door to the recovery of many dinosaur proteins, including DNA, this could be the first step on a very long journey that could lead to a real-life “Jurassic Park”.

Harvard scientists are comfortable with their analytical work and remain convinced that they have found evidence of haemoglobin.

Team members studied the tissue samples with a mass spectrometer.  It revealed the chemical makeup by telling scientists the masses of different elements in the samples tested.

The Harvard team uncovered eight collagen proteins, colleagues compared them with samples from living animals as well as Mastodon and Tyrannosaurus rex fossils.

The results placed the Ornithopod Hadrosaur Brachylophosaurus on the same family tree segment as the Theropod Tyrannosaur, as expected the findings indicate that these animals were more closely related to birds than to reptiles.

This new study may add credence to the work of the team on the Tyrannosaur fossils in 2007.  A number of scientists discredited this work claiming the findings were mistaken and the soft tissue data had been introduced into the study as a result of mishandling of the fossil specimen.

A Magnified Image of the Fossilised Dinosaur Blood Cells

Picture Credit:  Mary H. Schweitzer via Science

The image shows a highly magnified portion of the fossilised soft tissue taken from the Hadrosaur femur.  The red blood cells can be clearly made out, surrounded by white connective tissue (scale bar = 50 microns).

To read a related article on Dinosaur genetic research: Real life “Jurassic Park” not too Far Away

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