Dinosaur fossils dating back to 75 million years ago were found to feature blood cells as well as collagen fibres.
Susannah Maidment, paleontologist and Sergio Bertazzo, materials scientist, both at the Imperial College, London were behind the discovery. They described their fascinating findings as purely accidental.
The 75 million years old dinosaur fossils were unearthed more than a century ago in Alberta, Canada, at the Dinosaur Park Formation. At the time, they were taken to the Natural History Museum in London and remained there for long years to come.
Maybe due to their condition, rather fragmented and unesthetic for a museum collection, the fossil bits found their way to the laboratory at Imperial College.
“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”,
Both Maidment and her partner in crime, Bertazzo looked at the fragments in awe as they unravelled soft tissue and blood cells. Carefully analyzed, these clues from a different world could shed light on the evolutionary process of dinosaurs, as well as their physiology.
The ‘crap’ array of fossil fragments that the team had access to were one claw possibly pertaining to a carnivore gorgosaurus, one limb complete with ankle bones that came from a duck-billed dinosaur, as well as a toe from what is thought to be a triceraptor.
To thoroughly analyze the remains, there was a need to uncover the uncontaminated surfaces inside the bony fragments.
A focused ion beam microscope was brought in for the job. The atom beam and its tiny robotic arm made it easy to both smoothly cut through surfaces and collect samples while preserving the environment.
The claw was the fossil fragment on which blood cells were found. Initially, Bertazzo thought the blood could be coming from a person who might have pierced the skin while carrying the fossils at any point in time. But, the nucleus of the blood cell ruled out that possibility.
Considering their results and the importance they play in shedding ever more light on the evolution and physiology of these creatures that were roaming the earth millions of years ago, more work is to follow in the field of fossil examination.
What if fossils carried DNA? What if genetic material could be used to genetically recreate dinosaurs? These are all stretches of the imagination until evidence proves different.
Nonetheless, collagen, soft tissue and blood on dinosaur fossils are an incredible field of study.
Image Source: VOX