Feb 6, 2017

Bringing back the dinosaurs

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

The concept behind Jurassic Park may not be so far-fetched after all. Researchers recently said that they had found preserved organic protein (which might still have soft tissue inside) in a fossilized dinosaur bone unearthed in China, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

This is a big deal: Paleontologists found collagen (a protein found in all animal bodies that serves as a building block for organisms) preserved in the fossilized bones of a species of dinosaur known as a Lufengosaurus. This particular dinosaur is nearly 200 million years old. Still, if what they believe is inside this particular dinosaur bone is real, it is organic material — which means that there is something for other science teams to study and model. From there, they might be able to replicate the dinosaur DNA inside computer models.

Fossils are formed when an animal's remains turn into minerals. As they decay, they turn into inorganic material. But now, these results show, it's possible that organic material — perhaps even soft tissue — might actually reside inside these fossilized bones. The fact that any organic material, of any sort, was found at all is remarkable.

This doesn't mean we can bring dinosaurs back, the research team cautioned. DNA has a half-life of 500 years or so, and any organism's DNA is completely destroyed within 7 million years after its death. The DNA from the Lufengosaurusm is long gone.

Still, if what they believe is inside this particular dinosaur bone is real, it is organic material — which means that there is something for other science teams to study and model. From there, they might be able to replicate the dinosaur DNA inside computer models.

Meanwhile, a second study, led by famed paleontologist Mary Schweitzer, recently found collagen in a dinosaur bone that's 80 million years old. In previous studies, which some of her colleagues have fiercely debated, Schweitzer has discovered blood cells and soft tissue preserved in dinosaur fossils.

Why this matters: Both studies have led experts to finally acknowledge that soft tissues may, in fact, be preserved for very long periods of times, perhaps hundreds of millions of years.

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