Paleontologists announced an outstanding discovery in a dinosaur’s bone. They published a study in the journal Nature Communications where they revealed the finding of collagen preserved inside the rib of a 195-million-year old long-necked Lufengosaurus.
The proteins previously regarded as the oldest are actually 100 million years younger than these ones. This dethrones the claim that these soft tissues have a short life and cannot be preserved. Moreover, these samples can help paleontologists obtain new perspectives in the study of dinosaurs.
Scientists believed for quite a long time that the molecules of protein that produce soft tissues cannot be preserved for more than 4 million years. They thought that only hard tissue, like bones and teeth, could last over geologic eras.
However, a 2015 study found fibers of collagen and red blood cells in a claw from a 75-million-year old dinosaur. Therefore, soft tissues can be preserved over quite long timescales, but the paleontologists have not discovered yet where this timescale ends.
Now, the new samples come from a Lufengosaurus. This dinosaur is a genus from the early saupodomorph family. These specimens were most probably walking on four legs and not two. When analyzing the collagen sample from the bone, they did not extract it so as not to damage or contaminate it. Instead, they used a type of infrared spectroscopy to study the bones on the inside.
In a rib, they found the fragments of protein from the collagen in the vascular canals. This collagen also contained hematite, an iron oxide from hemoglobin, and other red blood cell proteins. The researchers suspect that this iron might have prevented the decay of the proteins.
Also, if researchers would compare collagen samples from different species, they would probably notice a possible change in the genealogical tree of the dinosaurs. This is because these collagen samples are very specific to certain animal groups. Also, these samples would work better than hard tissue to establish the exact DNA relations between dinosaurs.
Now, the challenges left for the paleontologists to overcome are to find out how these collagen samples were preserved over such long geological eras. Then, they should discover how to extract collagen from the bones without breaking the bone and damaging the samples.
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