Scientists have discovered organic material within 75-million year old dinosaur fossils, including cartilage cells, proteins, chromosomes, and DNA.
Paleontologist researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and North Carolina University published a paper on National Science Review detailing the discovery, which was found within skull fragments from a Hypacrosaurus. This duck-billed herbivore lived during the Cretaceous period and was a ‘nestling’, meaning it was still very young when it died.
The fragments contain some preserved cartilage cells, which are host to structures that appear to be chromosomes. After detailed tests and comparing the results against samples from modern emu skulls, it appears that antibodies from a protein commonly found in animal cartilage can be detected in the fossils.
Tests were also run for DNA. A staining substance that binds to DNA was applied to the Hypacrosaurus cells, and the result was similar to what would be expected of modern cells. This is surprising as modern day thinking suggests that DNA will only survive for about a million years, but the fossils date back 75 million years.
“These new exciting results add to growing evidence that cells and some of their biomolecules can persist in deep-time,” says Alida Bailleul, who is one of the lead authors of the paper. “They suggest DNA can preserve for tens of millions of years, and we hope that this study will encourage scientists working on ancient DNA to push current limits and to use new methodology in order to reveal all the unknown molecular secrets that ancient tissues have.”
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