Bring 'em back alive! Part I

Two extinct creatures were back in the news this week.

Of the two, the T. rex story is far more interesting, scientifically:

When [the scientists] got it into a lab and chemically removed the hard minerals, they found what looked like blood vessels, bone cells and perhaps even blood cells.
"They are transparent, they are flexible," said Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State University and Montana State University, who conducted the study.

Normally when an animal dies, its body decays quickly. Bones decay more slowly. In rare cases, the bones are buried and—if conditions are just right—as the bone decays it is replaced, molecule by molecule, with minerals. This results in a fossil--an exact replica of the original bone.

Sometimes the original body is preserved—if an animal is buried in ice, for example, or dies in an arid cave. But those specimens are never more than a few thousand years old. Insects trapped in amber may be tens of millions years old, but big animals? Never.

The idea that you could find actual tissue from a dinosaur was completely unexpected, and enormously exciting! Bones can only tell you so much. Soft tissue can tell us a tremendous amount about the animal's body and how it functioned. It might even help settle questions like were dinosaurs warm-blooded? And are they really close relatives of birds?

Of course, everyone wants to know if this will lead to Jurassic Park--taking DNA from dinosaur cells and using it to clone new dinos. That's pretty unlikely:

  • Scientists still aren't sure if dinosaur tissue is what they've got here, let alone whether there is any DNA in it.
  • Cloning technology is far from perfect. For every successful clone you read about, there are hundreds, even thousands of failures.
  • DNA is a large, complex molecule that starts to break apart almost immediately after an animal dies. DNA from museum specimens only a few decades old is already unusable. DNA that's 70 millions years old isn't going to be any better.

So, we don't have to worry about any dinosaur petting zoos anytime soon!

(For more information, here's another news report.)

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

what color were the blood cells ps:you rock dude

posted on Fri, 03/31/2006 - 7:18pm
Mia O.'s picture
Mia O. says:

This was an awesome find and I think that it would be really fun to learn more about it! I hope that they come out with a display here at the Minnesota Science Museum.

posted on Sun, 03/27/2005 - 1:35pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Hey Mia,

I am working on getting some photos of the "fleshy tissue" up on the site. I hope to be able to show you some real close ups of the tissue with a good explanation of what the different features mean. Check back some time on Monday afternoon.
bryan kennedy
Science Buzz Site Admin

posted on Sun, 03/27/2005 - 2:32pm
bryan kennedy's picture

We have posted some pictures of the T-Rex tissue found recently. Check it out to see a comparision between this tissue and that of a modern day ostrich.
bryan kennedy
Science Buzz Site Admin

posted on Tue, 03/29/2005 - 1:10pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

bring t rex back

posted on Sun, 07/23/2006 - 12:07pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Dr. Mary Schweitzer, the paleontologist who discovered the T. rex soft tissue, is now working on a duckbilled dinosaur skeleton which may also have some soft tissue preserved. The fossil, discovered in Montana, is being prepared at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

posted on Fri, 11/10/2006 - 5:21pm
Raptor's picture
Raptor says:

she all ready atemted to clone the rex, i would like to know if it was sucsesful.

posted on Fri, 04/06/2007 - 5:10am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

The search for the Thylacine gopes on! Researchers in Australia are going to test some wild animal poop to see if it contains Thylacine DNA. If so, then this Tasmanian predator isn't dead; it's just hiding.

posted on Thu, 06/28/2007 - 12:41pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What is the most exciting thing you have ever seen in in an archaelogical dig?

posted on Thu, 06/28/2007 - 1:34pm

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