A team of scientists claims to have detected soft tissue, more exactly collagen, inside mineralized, dried out bones. It would be the first discovery of the very elusive tissues.
For quite some time, fossils have been revealing precious information about our ancestors. Research gathered a wide variety of data. This was based on both common and unique discoveries. Recent studies also revealed the nervous system of a 515 million years old animal.
But soft tissue has been raising its share of controversies. Until now, researchers were unable to find any such traces. Some have offered various suggestions. They believe that some fossils could still hold the proteins. But the only potential candidate was a 70 million years old dinosaur.
Now, a recent research way be offering new data in both areas. And also introducing a new approach to paleontology. A new and molecular-targeting one.
Robert Reisz went to offer details. He is a University of Toronto Mississauga paleontologist and study author. Research results were released earlier this week. They were published in the Nature Communications journal.
Available online since January 31, the paper was titled as follows. “Evidence of preserved collagen in an Early Jurassic sauropodomorph dinosaur revealed by synchrotron FTIR microspectroscopy”.
The research targeted the fossilized remains of a Lufengosaurus. This a sauropodomorph dinosaur. The fossilized bone was estimated to be some 195 million years old.
As Dr. Reisz explained, soft tissue is an elusive find. Usually, animal remains start to mineralize as they decay. As such, most fossils only present inorganic material. Especially one as old as the Lufengosaurus.
The current discovery could be a breakthrough. Whilst studying the dinosaur’s rib, the scientists claim to have found collagen traces. When studying the bone, the team used SR-FTIR.
This is the synchrotron radiation Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy. They also used Raman spectroscopy. Both methods should help analyze the sample’s chemical makeup. But without having to first purify it. As such, the techniques should lower the contamination risks.
According to the reports, the rib absorbed the infrared wavelengths. The wavelengths were consistent with those registered in the collagen of modern animals.
Reisz also offered a potential explanation. He believes that the soft tissue was preserved by the mineral apatite. The current bone matrix is composed of this latter. It could have also helped protect the proteins from degradation.
If proven correct, the technique could become a game changer. Some researchers also argued that the preservation type may be more common than believed. As it is, it may offer a new research method.
Still, Reisz did point out some other facts. The preserved organic material holds no DNA traces. Studies show that the DNA’s half-life comes to around 521 years.
Other studies also showed the following. Any such traces would be completely gone sooner than 7 million years after the death. So we probably won’t be seeing any DNA-resurrected dinosaurs roaming about.
Nonetheless, collagen usually contains quite a lot of information. This could be used to fill out an animal’s profile. It could offer precious new data on it. As such, paleontologists could gain a closer look. They may better establish the animal’s life and characteristics.
As it is, the current amount of soft tissue is quite insufficient. There is not enough collagen so as to gather new data. Still, further research may reveal new facts. Or perhaps a more advanced technology.
Some researchers are still skeptical. They find it hard to believe that collagen may have survived this long. Even scientists involved in similar studies maintained a neutral reaction. They did point out the following, though. The bones will have to be put through more tests.
New, varied analysis techniques will probably be used. Most probably, the collagen discovery will only then be actually confirmed.
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