Scientists may have just discovered the oldest soft tissue in existence—inside the bone of a 195-million-year-old dinosaur.
According to a Jan. 31 report in Nature Communications, potential bits of collagen (the structural protein found in connective tissue), as well as possible remnants of blood, were found inside the rib of a Lufengosaurus, a little-known, long-necked plant eater from the early Jurassic period thought to be about 26 feet long.
Lufengosaurus fossils are commonly found in Lufeng, a county in China’s Yunnan Province. Some of the same paleontologists involved in the Nature Communications study discovered nests full of fossilized Lufengosaurus embryos in 2013.
Though collagen has been detected in dinosaur bones before, this particular discovery is considerably older than the previously oldest soft-tissue specimen ever discovered, which was located inside an 80-million-year-old hadrosaur femur.
“We have shown the presence of protein preserved in a 195-million-year-old dinosaur, at least 120 million years older than any other similar discovery,” study co-author Robert Reisz, of the University of Toronto Mississauga, told the AFP news agency. “These proteins are the building blocks of animal soft tissues, and it’s exciting to understand how they have been preserved.”
Previous paleontological soft-tissue discoveries required either cutting fossils with a grindstone or dissolving bones in acid, but the Lufengosaurus rib was examined using a synchrotron, a type of superpowered X-ray machine the size of a football field, at the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center in Taiwan. This method not only provides for a clearer look at a specimen, but also prevents damage to the fossil.
Kat Merck is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. An amateur naturalist who studied forestry and natural resources at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, she writes on a wide range of topics for local and national publications.