Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ancient Protein Found in Sea Lizard Fossil

Mosasaur pic

IMAGE 1: Clidastes propython, a mosasaur from the Late Cretaceous of Kansas (Wikimedia Commons).

The world is one step closer to Cretaceous Sea World, the aquatic version of Jurassic Park.

Tissue from a 70-million-year-old marine lizard was recently extracted from ancient remains by a team from Lund University in Sweden.
Mosasaur protein

IMAGE 2: Bone matrix fibrils, or small fibers, in mosasaur bone: (a) Histologic preparation that shows how the fibers surrounds a vascular duct. (b) SEM-picture that shows etched fibers. (c) Detail of histologic preparation showing fibers encapsulated in bioapatite. (d) Histo-chemical stain (blue) showing that the fibers contain biological matter. (Credit: Photo by Johan Lindgren)

Collagen protein, a type of connective tissue, was found inside the fossilized upper forelimb bone of the mosasaur Prognathodon, a long-dead relative of the monitor lizard.

While this is not the first time proteins have been recovered from dinosaur-era remains, this is the first find of preserved tissues from a marine environment. And the first time they have been found in place in a fossil.

Earlier finds came from extracts of whole dinosaur bones preserved in sediments from what were once river floodplains.

In the journal PlosOne, the Swedish scientists detail their new mosasaur find. The researchers note that the earlier ancient protein extractions have been controversial, but note that their new research is backed up by several tests to corroborate the tissue's authenticity.

The researchers used infrared microspectoscopy, mass spectrometry, and a chemical analysis on the ancient sea-going predator's remains to make sure what they had found was not contamination from bacteria or other modern sources.

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