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Imagine That! -- "Soft Fossil Tissue"


Imagine That!
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Imagine That! -- "Soft Fossil Tissue"

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

T.rex lived over seventy million years ago. But scientists recently found a T.rex fossil that just doesn't seem to want to age...

Imagine that!

Paleontology is a tough biz. You spend years looking for bones, and when you finally find them, they've transformed into rock. That's because bone is composed of protein and other organic materials. Over time, the organic material is replaced by minerals, making the bone fossilized.

If you examined a fairly modern bone, you could just dissolve the minerals to reveal the remaining organic materials. But dissolve the minerals in a seventy million year old fossil, and there'd be nothing left. Which is why assistant professor at North Carolina State, Mary Schweizer, examined a newly discovered T. rex leg bone fossil and was mighty surprised.

Schweizer: "We had to remove some of the mineral to look at it. And so we thought, we'll do a partial demineralization, we'll stop it before everything's gone and in the process of doing that, what we realized is that when we removed the mineral we had soft, stretchy, bendable, pliable, weird stuff remaining."

That "stuff" was dinosaur bone tissue, containing blood vessels and cell structures, very similar to those of modern day ostriches, who are believed to be the living descendants of dinos. It's research that's making us re-think what a fossil is, how it's made, and what else might be out there. I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That! " covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at nsf.gov.

 
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