Friday, November 29, 2013

Fleshy fossil

Molecular paleontologist Mary Schweitzer of North Carolina State University was astounded in 2005 when she discovered in her lab that soft tissue from the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex had survived for 68 million years. Preserved inside the leg of the adolescent dinosaur unearthed in Montana was collagen that was soft, transparent, and flexible. Now she reveals how this could be possible. It required an ideal environment for fossilization: the animal died quickly, was buried before scavengers could carry away the bones, and was deposited in porous sandstone, which wicked away bacteria and reactive enzymes that would otherwise have degraded the bone. But by analyzing the chemistry of the proteins, she discovered that after death the iron in the blood is freed to form minuscule iron nanoparticles and to generate the highly reactive molecules known as free radicals. Schweitzer explains, "The free radicals cause proteins and cell membranes to tie in knots. They basically act like formaldehyde."

1 comment:

  1. Amazing post - thank you for putting this up - I'd missed it. I take it there is no information on DNA or that the sample cannot provide that.


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