A team of lucky British paleontologists just happened upon something that's never been seen before: They have found fossilized dinosaur blood for the first time, in a 75-million-year-old specimen.
"I want to stress that we really went into this project with a high degree of skepticism, but at this point [our research team] is happy to say we have found fossilized red blood-cells in which some of the original blood components are preserved," says Susannah Maidment, the lead paleontologist of the team at Imperial College London. "But we did not find any genetic material in the dinosaur fossils we studied, so to be clear: no, Jurassic Park has not happened."
in the journal Nature Communications, by the scientists used advanced electron microscopes that are meant for studying living tissues on various poorly-persevered dinosaur fossils. In fact, the eight fossils they studied had so little apparent scientific usefulness that the Natural History Museum, London allowed them to be partially broken. That's how the scientists identified both fossilized collagen (the molecule that makes up connective tissues) and red blood cells. "It was a total surprise," Maidment says. "As a paleontologist my first thought was, 'This is silly, there is absolutely no way this could be dinosaur blood'."
The fossilized blood cells were found in the claw of an a unidentified theropod (a dinosaur group which includes T. rex and velociraptor). The collagen was found in several other bones, including ribs from unknown species or genuses. Furthermore, molecular analysis of the fossilized tissues (using a tool called a mass spectrometer) has revealed the fossils contain some of their original biological proteins and amino acids—molecules that are thought to degrade completely after 4 million years.
"This pushes that envelope back about 71 million years," Maidment says. She adds that how or why these biological tissues managed to last for so long is a complete mystery. "We can only speculate, and there's a lot of research that will be needed to explain how this sort of preservation has occurred."