Friday, March 25, 2005

Important Discovery

Possible soft tissue remnants found in a T. rex femur are giving scientists hopes of learning more about dinosaurs. Cautiously, Dr. Mary Schweitzer of the University of North Carolina says that the material found "gives the appearance" of being soft tissue, not that it is soft tissue:

She discovered transparent, flexible filaments that resemble blood vessels. There were also traces of what look like red blood cells; and others that look like osteocytes, cells that build and maintain bone.

"This is fossilised bone in the sense that it's from an extinct animal but it doesn't have a lot of the characteristics of what people would call a fossil," she told the BBC's Science In Action programme.

"It still has places where there are no secondary minerals, and it's not any more dense than modern bone; it's bone more than anything."

Dr Schweitzer is not making any grand claims that these soft traces are the degraded remnants of the original material - only that they give that appearance.

She and other scientists will want to establish if some hitherto unexplained fine-scale process has been at work in MOR 1125, which was pulled from the famous dinosaur rocks of eastern Montana known as the Hell Creek Formation.

"This may not be fossilisation as we know it, of large macrostructures, but fossilisation at a molecular level," commented Dr Matthew Collins, who studies ancient bio-molecules at York University, UK.

Previously imprints of dinosaur soft tissue have been found associated with bones, but this discovery, if it holds up, appears to be of the highest importance for scientists and those of us interested in paleontology.

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