In recent years the study of dinosaurs has been awash in exciting new finds coming out of Western China. These rich beds have yielded dozens of new species, and a stream of exceptionally preserved specimens including soft tissues, which are very rare.
Last month Yan-Chang Lee and colleagues report yet another remarkable find: evidence of preserved collagen from the early Jurassic . If confirmed, this would be the oldest known sample of a protein, and opens the possibility of studies much farther into the past.
The article actually focuses on the very careful microscopy that was required. The details are beyond my own humble understanding, but the a principle challenge is to establish that the detected chemicals are from the original animal, and not from bacteria or other intrusions.
In this case, they showed traces of collagen inside preserved blood (rich in iron), suggesting a fossilization process that could plausibly surround and contain the protein, and preserve it for 200 million years.
Perhaps future studies will be able to analyze such traces to infer genetic histories of dinosaurs and other animals. That would be cool!
- Helen Briggs ‘Startling’ dinosaur protein discovery.January 31 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38810065
- Yao-Chang Lee, Cheng-Cheng Chiang, Pei-Yu Huang, Chao-Yu Chung, Timothy D. Huang, Chun-Chieh Wang, Ching-Iue Chen, Rong-Seng Chang, Cheng-Hao Liao, and Robert R. Reisz, Evidence of preserved collagen in an Early Jurassic sauropodomorph dinosaur revealed by synchrotron FTIR microspectroscopy. Nature Communications, 8:14220, 01/31/online 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms14220