Fossilized Dino Blood: Scientists Extract Blood And Collagen Cells From Dinosaur Fossils

Retrieving blood cells from fossilized bones is the stuff of science fiction movies. After millions of years, the dinosaur cells just aren’t there anymore, right? Wrong. Scientists have discovered blood and collagen cells within fossilized remains. And the fossils are in poor condition at that!

The fossils, which are approximately 75 million years old, had been in storage for over a century at the Natural History Museum in London. Scientists took another look at the old bones and discovered that eight specimens showed evidence of soft tissue — that is they contained blood and collagen cells.

Collagen is a protein that makes up skin and hair.

Soft tissues have been found before on fossilized dinosaur bones. However, the bones were fossilized under certain conditions that resulted in them being well-preserved.

The current eight fossils that were found to have soft tissue were not in that category. They were in a rather crummy condition, which makes the discovery quite surprising.

One of the specimens: An ungual claw from an unknown species of theropod.

Since these fossils, found in Canada over a hundred years ago, were in shabby condition, the finding shows that other fossils may be hiding some soft tissues as well.

As the Guardian reports, dinosaur fossils all over the world now have the potential to be carriers of prehistoric DNA.

“The finding suggests that scores of dinosaur fossils in museums around the world could retain soft tissues, and with it the answers to major questions about dinosaur physiology and evolution. More speculatively, it has made scientists ponder whether dinosaur DNA might also survive.”

Perfectly preserved specimens in museums around the world could be treasure troves of soft tissues. Mainly because the specimens studied here were considered “crap.” That’s the word used by Susannah Maidment, a paleontologist at Imperial College.

“It’s really difficult to get curators to allow you to snap bits off their fossils. The ones we tested are crap, very fragmentary, and they are not the sorts of fossils you’d expect to have soft tissue.”

The specimens examined were the fossilized claw of a theropod, a toe bone from a triceratops-like dinosaur, and a few limb and ankle bones of a duck-billed dino.

Don’t get your hopes up. Scientists are finding DNA fragments, so far there has not been a complete DNA strand, thus scientists cloning dinosaurs is not going to happen for a while. That is unless further research finds even more fossilized dino blood or they start filling in the blanks with modern DNA.

Or we could just leave that to the movies.

[Images via Sergio Bertazzo/Laurent Mekul/The Daily Mail]