A new study found that the 80-million-year-old blood vessels of a duck-billed dinosaur managed to survive without fossilising and they still contained the dinosaur’s tissue.
In 2007, the blood vessels were discovered on the femur of a 30-foot-long (9.14 metres) duck-billed dinosaur, also known as Brachylophosaurus Canadensis, which was excavated in Montana, located in the north-western United States.
At the time the discovery was made, the researchers did not known whether the blood vessels were made of dinosaur organic matter, of whether they were made of bacteria.
Several tests later it was confirmed that the blood vessels were indeed those of the duck-billed dinosaur. Researchers say that these are the oldest blood vessels ever found that survived with their original components.
The research also provides evidence that organic structures like blood vessels can survive for millions of years without fossilising.
Tim Cleland, lead researcher of the study and a postdoctoral researcher of chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, said that the bone matrix and the bone cells of the duck-billed dinosaur’s bone had already been studied. The only remaining things were the blood vessels, which the researchers began studying in isolation, Cleland said.
In the study – published November 23 in the Journal of Proteome Research – Cleland used high-resolution mass spectroscopy to study the blood vessels, after he had demineralised a piece of the leg bone. High-resolution mass spectroscopy uses an instrument to sequence and weigh proteins and peptides (short chains of amino acid monomers). He found myosins, proteins best known for their role in muscle contraction.
Researchers used antibodies in a separate test to detect proteins in the blood vessels. They found the same protein: myosins.
The bones of ostriches and chickens, both of which are related to dinosaurs, were also analysed by the researchers. The results showed that the peptide sequences were similar in the modern and ancient samples.
Mary Schweitzer, co-author of the paper and a molecular palaeontologist at North Carolina State University, said that the new research is valuable because it gives insight into how proteins can change over the course of no less than 80 million years. It also gives clues about how tissue preserves over the years, she added.
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