Armed with the most rigorous of testing methods today, researchers have been able to isolate additional collagen peptides from an 80-million-year-old dinosaur.
In a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research, Elena Schroeter and colleagues detailed their findings, confirming earlier work that showcased collagen being discovered in 2009 from a Brachylophosaurus canadensis, a type of duck-billed dinosaur, or hydrosaur, that thrived in Montana some 80 million years ago.
The study also supports the idea that organic molecules have the ability to persist in specimens longer than believed by tens of millions of years. The researchers' results will also have implications in the scientific community's ability to study fossil records on the molecular level.
"[W]e wanted to not only address questions concerning the original findings, but also demonstrate that it is possible to repeatedly obtain informative peptide sequences from ancient fossils," said Schroeter.
Peptides form the foundations of proteins and collagen is classified as a protein. By recovering collagen peptides, researchers are given the opportunity to assess relationships between modern animals and dinosaurs in terms of evolutionary progress while also investigating other questions, like what characteristic was responsible for the dinosaur collagen lasting for millions of years.
Testing Dinosaur Collagen
When the researchers collected sample material from the dinosaur's thigh bone, they were gearing up for a molecular investigation right from the beginning. To prevent contamination, they used no preservatives or glues, left sediment a meter (about 3 feet) wide around the fossil, and only exposed the bone once it was in a clean environment. The mass spectrometer used for the study was also cleared of contamination before the sample was run.
According to results from the mass spectrometer, there were eight sequences of peptides from collagen I, six of which were new while two were identical to what other researchers recovered back in 2009. Additionally, the peptide sequences showed that the Brachylophosaurus canadensis had collagen I that featured similar characteristics with collagen I from birds and crocodylians.
Aside from replicating a portion of the results of an earlier work, the researchers are also proud of having done so using a sample smaller in size and having to wait for results for a shorter duration of time, thanks to improved research methods and technological advancements.
The Future Of Dinosaur Research
Co-author Mary Schweitzer said their purpose was to build solid scientific basis that will allow other researchers to ask the bigger questions pertaining to fossil records. For instance, with the current study confirming that it's possible for collagen molecules to be preserved, future works can build upon its findings by asking questions beyond the characteristics of dinosaurs, like why the preservation process is noteworthy.
The current study received funding support through the National Science Foundation's INSPIRE grant and included contributions from Marshall Bern, Neil L. Kelleher, Paul M. Thomas, Wenxia Zheng, Timothy P. Cleland, and Carline J. DeHart.
Earlier in January, another study was released showing the fossils of a 160-million-year-old dinosaur species, shedding insight on why birds today have toothless beaks. According to the researchers, the two-legged Limusaurus inextricabilis was born with teeth but eventually lost all of them as it got older. Because of this, the dinosaur adapted, switching from being an omnivore to herbivore in adulthood.