Well, it's not John Hammond extracting blood from a preserved mosquito, but a new scientific discovery means that we may soon know a lot more about dinosaur physiology than we used to, and even perhaps eventually gain access to dinosaur DNA.
When we think about dinosaur remains, we almost always just think of bones, and that limits what scientists can really discover about the creatures. Soft tissue has previously been discovered in fossils, but it was considered a very rare find, until now. Researchers at London's Imperial College just announced that, through examination of some fragmentary fossils collected decades ago in Canada, they have discovered not only soft tissue like collagen, but actual red blood cells from dinosaurs. But, if soft tissue has been found before, why is this such a big deal? Because, according to the researchers themselves, these fossils were "crap," just fragments from unidentified dinosaurs, which means that fossils of a higher quality could unlock even more secrets.
The discovery began when scientist Sergio Bertazzo asked Imperial colleague and paleontologist Susannah Maidment if he could try some electron microscope analysis on the fossils, some of which had been broken into bits in order to facilitate a closer look (something that better-quality fossils would not be subjected to).
“One morning, I turned on the microscope, increased the magnification, and thought ‘wait -- that looks like blood!’,” Bertazzo said.
At first, Bertazzo thought the blood he was seeing might be the result of a past scientist who'd cut himself and accidentally bled onto the sample, but after further testing, human blood was ruled out. More testing is needed to see how genuine these blood and collagen samples (shown in the microscope photo above) are, but if this really is a glimpse at the soft tissue of dinosaurs, it could have major implications for how we understand these creatures and their evolution in the future.
So, scientists now suspect that soft tissue in dinosaur fossils is more common than we thought, but could that lead to an eventual profile of dinosaur DNA? It's hard to say right now, but Imperial researchers aren't ruling out the possibility.
“This opens up the possibility of loads of specimens that may have soft tissue preserved in them, but the problem with DNA is that even if you find it, it won’t be intact," Bertazzo said. "It’s possible you could find fragments, but to find more than that? Who knows?”
(Via The Guardian)