18 February 2006

Dinosaurs going soft on us?

I was recently reading a scary Beeb article on how T Rex has “razor-sharp senses” (dull senses would be just fine with me in a pursuing four-tonne toothsome monster), when a small fragment of the text leaped out at me:

Dr [Jack*] Horner and colleagues carried out microscopic analysis of the dinosaur's vertebrae. They found tissue remnants related to the animal’s nuchal ligament, which provides passive support for the head and neck.

Hmm? “Tissue remnants”? After 60-odd million years? Impressions in the rock?

Then my attention was caught by another Beeb article from a year ago linked from that page: “T rex fossil has ‘soft tissues’ ”

The first thing we learn from the article is that The Beeb only has one T Rex photo. But it does go on to say:

Dinosaur experts have extracted samples of what appear to be soft tissues from a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil bone. The US researchers tell Science magazine that the organic components resemble cells and fine blood vessels.

In the hotly contested field of dino research, the work will be greeted with acclaim and disbelief in equal measure. [no! really?]

What seems certain is that some fairly remarkable conditions must have existed at the Montana site where the T rex died, 68 million years ago.

The article is accompanied by a nice picture of a lump of dino flesh with a stretchy ligament holding it together.

We live in interesting times.

A quick search hasn’t turned up anything else on the “remarkable conditions” in question, but if someone ever does nut those out, the preserved foods market is never going to be the same again.

It turns out that the scientist in the older article is Dr Mary Schweitzer, a former protégée of Dr Jack Horner, the scientist from the recent article.

* The poor blighter must loathe plums by now.

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