Timely Jurassic Park find sees dinosaur blood cells captured

11 Jun 2015

Ancient proteins and cells have been found in dinosaur fossils according to a new report, which leads any right-thinking human to wonder when we get to see a real-life Jurassic Park on some remote Pacific island.

Much like the storyline of a film that sees its fourth iteration premiere around the world this week, scientists have long been seeking a way to find soft tissue remains of the largest animals to have ever walked the Earth.

The problem is that these giants died off millions of years ago, leaving us nothing but fossilised bones, large footprints and an imagination.

However, using brand new methods, which saw a team slice through remains to reveal a new world of information, this week’s edition of Nature Communications details how soft tissue preservation may well be more common than we think.

First: Focused ion beam. Second: Jurassic Park?

Sergio Bertazzo, one of the leads on the study, uses a focused ion beam to slice through fossil samples, “leaving pristine surfaces that are ideal for high-resolution imaging studies”, according to Science.

Bertazzo teamed up with paleontologist Susannah Maidment to work on bits of dinosaur toe, hip, leg, rib and claw.

The results were surprising – when the duo looked at the imaging, they didn’t see bone crystallites.

“What we saw instead was soft tissue. It was completely unexpected. My initial response was these results are not real,” says Maidment.

In a story all about surprising discoveries, more weight is given to the potential for further, better soft tissue finds when you consider that the fossils investigated were “crap” according to the team.

“It’s really difficult to get curators to allow you to snap bits off their fossils,” said Maidment in The Guardian. “The ones we tested are crap, very fragmentary, and they are not the sorts of fossils you’d expect to have soft tissue.”

Bertazzo and Maidment first found blood cells in one fossil, then bands of fibres in another. These bands contained amino acids that make up collagen, the protein-based material that forms the basis for skin and other soft tissues.

The duo are following this discovery up with further, necessary, steps to establish conclusively that contamination is not the cause of these findings.

Of course they could just find mosquitos in amber, extract the blood sucked from dinosaurs found therein and, from the resulting DNA, recreate a safari park filled with perfectly safe monsters…

Jurassic Park gif

Dinosaur image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic