More proof that birds are descendants of dinosaurs

Two years ago, everyone was talking about the work of paleontologist Mary Schweitzer: she noticed that thin slices of a 68-million-year-old fossil femur from a Tyrannosaurus rex looked like they still contained soft tissue. (See photos of the bone.) Using antibodies to the collagen protein, she showed that the bone still contained intact collagen molecules—the main component of cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

Hello, dinos?: A new study shows that preserved collagen from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex is similar to that of chickens. (Photo courtesy Danelle Sheree)
Hello, dinos?: A new study shows that preserved collagen from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex is similar to that of chickens. (Photo courtesy Danelle Sheree)

She used antibodies to a type of collagen extracted from chickens. The fact that the antibodies stuck suggested that T. rex collagen is similar to that of birds. And when she compared the preserved soft tissue to that of modern animals, the closest match was an emu—a flightless bird.

To learn more about the collagen in the T. rex bones, Schweitzer worked with John Asara, a chemist at Harvard University, to analyze it using mass spectrometry.

The Economist describes the technique this way:

This technique identifies molecules (or fragments of molecules) from a combination of their weight and their electric charges. Knowing the weights of different sorts of atoms (and of groups of atoms that show up regularly in larger molecules, such as the 20 different amino acids from which proteins are assembled) it is usually possible to piece together fragments to form the profile of an entire protein.

When Asara compared the profile he'd created to proteins from living animals, the closest matches were to chickens and ostriches. (Schweitzer and Asara's study was published in the April 13, 2007, issue of the journal Science.)

Many paleontologists already believed, based on fossil bones, that birds are dinosaurs or their descendants. But this new paper provides even more evidence of the fact.

Buzz stories on the subject from last year:

Recent news articles:

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

SnowQueen's picture
SnowQueen says:

So, are scientists saying that dinosaurs were more like over-grown ostrichs with teeth? The term "like" chicken collagen seems to indicate that it's not too exact. Personally I think half of these people are half-crazy.

posted on Fri, 04/13/2007 - 8:04pm
Sara I's picture
Sara I says:

Here's an article about a dinosaur fossil found in China that had feathers. It seems to be a "missing link" between dinos and birds.

posted on Mon, 04/16/2007 - 1:21pm
Kristi Curry Rogers's picture
Kristi Curry Rogers says:

I think that the more interesting part of this story isn't that birds and dinosaurs are related - that is an idea with a lot of scientific currency. From anatomical, to reproductive, to behavioral evidence, it is really clear to paleontologists that birds are very specialized meat-eating dinosaurs. The interesting part of this story from a paleontologist's perspective is what the find means for how we understand fossilization. Just as Mary Schweitzer's earlier work on preserved blood vessels and medullary bone in the same specimen of T. rex highlighted a level of detailed fossil preservation that no one ever expected, the preservation of identifiable fossil proteins is incredibly exciting! The next suite of questions from geologists interested in how fossilization happens will almost certainly focus on the environment and conditions that can lead to such amazing preservation.

Kristi Curry Rogers, Ph. D.
Curator of Paleontology
Science Museum of Minnesota

posted on Wed, 04/18/2007 - 12:24pm
Dr. Loomis's picture
Dr. Loomis says:

Who cares? Why are valuable govt. monies from the taxpayer funding science that goes nowhere and does not impact anyone's life. PhD scientists use taxpayer monies to subsidize their existences and do not have to justify their work to the taxpayer/layperson. Dinosaurs???! For science PhDs and other science technicians to use taxpayer funds (and still no universal healthcare in USA) to "study" dinosaurs and mass spectrometry tests is very concerning. Again, how is this germane to real life? Who exactly paid for these studies? Also, although not pertinent to this "study" is the sickening link between industry and scientists is equally troubling.

posted on Wed, 05/16/2007 - 12:53pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I, for one, care a lot about these studies. I think they're extremely interesting, and money well-spent. It impacts me because I've had a great fascination with dinosaurs since age 7, and it certainly impacts humanity's insatiable curiosity.

People often complain about space exploration in the same way but the impact on life today from just the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo programs in the 60s and 70s is immeasurable. For example, all the satellite technology developed back then has had a tremendous impact us today. Weather forecasting, cell-phone and internet technology (which you used to post your comment), television transmission, navigation, reconnaissance and national security, have all benefited. Our current space exploration also greatly enriches such fields as medicine, botany, biology, to name a few, not to mention just the knowledge gleaned from successfully managing such huge endeavors as sending space crafts into space. Maybe some of this knowledge will be useful if and when the idea of universal health care ever becomes a reality in this country.

This kind of beneficial fallout takes place in all sciences, paleontology included. How do you know that this discovery of dinosaur-bird DNA link won't lead us to new directions in medicine or genetics? Or maybe a cure for the bird flu. I think it's well worth the effort and funds expended.

posted on Wed, 05/16/2007 - 3:02pm
Dr. Loomis's picture
Dr. Loomis says:

Please do the science "research" with your own monies--not with tax payer funds/allotments to quench the publics overwhelming insatiable appetite for dinosaur "research." Again, how is this research germane to anyone but the people who worked on the study and a few laypeople who enjoy dinosaurs/museums and the pseudo-world of tax payer subsidized academia. We have public schools in deplorable condition, roads in direpair, a lawsuit friendly environment with no tort reform, no universal health care--yet this stuff gets attention?! Time for a John Stossel tax payer rip off report regarding science PhDs. Another joke is space exploration, going nowhere fast.

posted on Sat, 05/26/2007 - 7:16pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Understanding how life worked in the past is essential to understanding how life works in the present and future.

posted on Thu, 06/28/2007 - 12:52pm
Corrie's picture
Corrie says:

Without science research, regardless of where the research money comes from, we wouldn't have the technology we have today.

posted on Sun, 05/27/2007 - 3:31pm
Dr. Loomis's picture
Dr. Loomis says:

Most of that technology keeps us as slaves to our mundane jobs, away from our loving families, selling our soul to a faceless corporation, cell phoning Ms/Mr. Bossman while are kids are being raised by minimum wage immigrants, keeping us away from waht really matters---living life and being with those we love. If taking tax money and studying dinosaurs and collagen fibres floats your boat-right a personal check and you pay for it. However, I have to work a 2nd job to make ends meet, pay my rent, feed my kids, most of us do not have the luxury to sit in a tax payer subsidized lab and squirt liquid into tubes and write papers in esoteric magazines; we are too busy living and engaging in the real world.

posted on Wed, 06/27/2007 - 6:46pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Technology is just a tool. Any problems arise not from the tool itself, but from improper or short-sighted use.

posted on Thu, 06/28/2007 - 12:53pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I tend to agree with Torri, even if i'm not that interested in the study of dinosaurs, or science. If we did not have science, where would we be? We'd still be cavemen, and there would be no jobs (Dr.Loomis.) But wer're all entitled to our own oppinion. I know that science is really hard for me, and so, therefore, i don't like it much

posted on Thu, 06/28/2007 - 10:18am
edvardas's picture
edvardas says:

With double digit unemployment, the huge mortgage/housing mess, fraud/corruption in the financial markets, and USA on the brink of a depression--are dinosaurs and dinosaur research really that important? Are these bailouts/white collar welfare programs for those scientists during horrible economic times-when they should be helping american people. Heck, Cally is giving out IRS refund IOUs because of lack of money--if you cannot make it in science without welfare (tax money) then do something else please--especially in these horrible economic times. Thank you. Dinosaurs??!!

posted on Fri, 01/09/2009 - 3:57pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Perhaps we could use that money to pay for math classes. The US unemployment rate for December 2008 was 7.2% That is not "double-digit" -- unless you are redefining the term to include digits to the right of the decimal point.

We live in an information age. Scientific literacy and basic research are economic engines.

posted on Fri, 01/09/2009 - 4:21pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Also, if you can't make it in the auto industry without welfare (tax money) then do something else. If you can't make it in banking without government bailouts (tax money) - then do something else. If you can't make it in the financial industry without welfare (tax dollars)- then, by golly, do something else.

posted on Fri, 01/09/2009 - 10:28pm
edvardas's picture
edvardas says:

In California and other states, the unemployment figure is more than 10%-ask those in Stockton, Bakersfield etc... ; the nationwide average is a very high 7.2%. science research is for the most part white collar welfare. Dinosaurs?! Foreclosures, massive unemployment, bailouts (welfare) to crooks/cheats, dinosaurs, private jets from junky USA auto makers.

we agree with mdr as the person states-- if you cannot make it in science without grants (tax payer funds/welfare) do something else. The NIH and other govt. welfare programs need to help the average person get through these horrible times, not funding science studies that go nowhere (NASA anyone) or help the massive lay off situation in the USA. those scientists need a taste of reality and get out of the mouse fume hood and see the average person for change. Thank you.

posted on Fri, 01/09/2009 - 4:55pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I was being facetious. My point was with all the corporations and industries getting massive bailouts from the government why pick on paleontology? The amount of money spent on the science is microscopic. And you'd probably be hard pressed to find any industry or even individual who isn't aided or subsidized by the government in some way.

The very fact you can post your opinion on this blog site is due to government money spent on scientific research, so you should be grateful for it.

posted on Fri, 01/09/2009 - 5:44pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Nope. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest unemployment rate is here in my home state of Michigan, at 9.6%. Still not double-digit. California is 8.4%. (Figures for November 2008, the most current available.)

posted on Mon, 01/12/2009 - 9:42pm
DO's picture
DO says:

If you add those out of work but who have given up looking the true u employment rate is probably 13%. Probably becasue all the numbers reported are estimates.

posted on Fri, 01/09/2009 - 5:01pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Yes, if the truth does not supply the answer we want, all we have to do is keep redefining our terms until it does.

posted on Mon, 01/12/2009 - 9:43pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

As noted in the infamous soccer thread, these arguments commit the syllogistic fallacy of the illicit major. The criticism of paleontology basically boils down to:

  • The economy is the most important challenge facing our country today.
  • Dinosaur research does not address the economy.
  • Therefore, we should spend no time or money on dinosaur research.

The problem with this line of argument is that it extrapolates a sweeping conclusion from a very limited premise. Few would doubt that the economy is the most important issue facing our country today. However, it is not the only important issue. Just because something (like paleontology) isn't at the top of the list, it does not follow that it does not belong on the list at all. Society can -- and indeed must -- do many things simultaneously.

If dinosaur research has any value -- as many here think it does -- then it should receive some funding, even when times are tough. If dinosaur research has no value -- which some people seem to imply, but which has not been conclusively demonstrated -- then it should never be funded, even when times are good. The absolute value (fund-worthiness) of any research exists independent of its relative value (competing interests).

If you wish to argue that paleontology should never be funded at all, go ahead. But such a position must be established without reference to current economic conditions.

posted on Mon, 01/12/2009 - 10:23pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I respect dinosaurs and those that chose to study them, bones, forensic studies, archeologics, what have you.
The funding must be procured either privately or through institutions that do not involve tax payer funds to directly fund your career choice. No one is funding my auto repair store, nor is the tax payer funding my sister's floral shop.We must either make do, or change careers, close up shop--we cannot rely on the govt. for their welfare. Why should science research be any different? Where is this "funding" coming from? Seems like white collar welfare-especially when so many of us are trying to scrap by.

posted on Tue, 01/27/2009 - 7:00pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

As Science Buzz's ranking small-government libertarian (redundant, I know), I must disagree with you.

Your auto repair shop, and your sister's flower store, are both fine establishments, I am sure. But they are privately-owned, for-profit enterprises. They exist solely to benefit you. I salute that and wish you well. But I also agree -- taxpayers should not be funding you.

Basic scientific research is a different matter. It is a non-profit enterprise. There is no profit in discovering new species, charting galaxies, or any of a thousand other scientific endeavors.

However, this basic research is absolutely critical to later researchers who can then apply it in ways that benefit us all. (See Liza's post in the "Obama science advisor" thread on the difference between science and engineering.) Computers, the Internet, plastic, GPS systems, nuclear power -- lots of things we rely on every day wouldn't exist without a lot of expensive, profitless research upfront, often funded by the government.

Science research is not an "employment scam" for out-of-work Ph.D.s. Everything the scientists discover becomes public property. Their work increases the sum total of knowledge in the world, available to us all, for whatever purpose we may wish to put it toward.

Our society, through its elected officials, has decided that fundamental science research is of benefit to everybody, and so is worth financial support. You may of course disagree. If so, your best course of action is to contact your congressional representatives. Just don't send them an e-mail, though -- it would probably implode due to all the irony.

posted on Fri, 01/30/2009 - 8:46pm
LoveHate's picture
LoveHate says:

Oh, Gene...
Some times I don't see how we could ever be together, and then you go and say something like this, and I fall in love with you all over again.

posted on Sat, 01/31/2009 - 3:24pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Just part of my enduring charm...

posted on Fri, 02/06/2009 - 7:42pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:


posted on Tue, 03/03/2009 - 8:43pm
Candace's picture
Candace says:

omg. that is so cool...so does that include every kind of bird?

posted on Wed, 03/11/2009 - 10:57pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Yep. All birds descend from an original proto-bird, which was a variety of dinosaur.

posted on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 7:26pm
Louis Cantley's picture
Louis Cantley says:

Why don't those "politicians" respond via email and other communication as written by Gene. Maybe we should not respond to our taxes/IRS-since they steal over 50% of our paychecks each month and give to deadbeats, cop killers, and other leeches of USA society. They (politicians/govt. lackies, etc...) have a fiduiciary duty to respond to their law- obiding, tax paying, hard working constituents. Otherwise, perhaps a new govt./"politicians" are in order.

posted on Wed, 04/01/2009 - 3:53pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

Man....what tax bracket are you in? The government doesn't come close to taking that much of my paycheck and I live in high-tax Minnesota.

posted on Wed, 04/01/2009 - 4:02pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Looks like this dinosaur "study" has been called into question by many prominent structural biologists, computer experts, and protein experts. Many want the studies to be withdrawn from the journal/magazine Science. They feel the data is flawed and was seriously misinterpreted by the authors and that publicity/self grandisement was the primary motive and not reproducible, ethical science (one lead author refused to submit raw data as he was afraid that others may find a "publishable gem"--this is disgusting, especially with publically funded research---research is to advance research--not someone's career or honorariums.

Pavel Pezsner at UCSD and Buckley and others, have written many technical notes in Science requesting full accountability regarding these "studies" as the lead author in the past has not provided his raw data for scrutiny. The author, has after the fact provided raw data for further investigation. ostritch blood appears to be a potential contaminant in the mass spec machine that the lead author used in the past. It may appear the authors did not properly evaluate the spectra and led to improper conclusions (akin to monkey typing and saying monkey can spell). Interestingly, the authors do not include this possible contaminant in their recent paper; hence the wall of silence, and omitting germane facts.

Hence, the paper/s may be retracted and/or withdrawn--not surprising in science "research." We all remember the cadaver dog handler in OH for planting metatarsals for the dog to "find" which led to wrongful convictions. This dinosaur fiasco is over the internet and in the science journals. Muy interesante.

posted on Sat, 07/11/2009 - 4:52pm
Felipe's picture
Felipe says:

Was that farcical "dinosaur" "study" retracted from the science magazines? was the author terminated for fraud or failure to disclose? there was alot of debate back and forth regarding blood contaminants and the author not disclosing data from publically funded work.


posted on Mon, 06/14/2010 - 7:39pm

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