Schweitzer then duplicated her findings with at least three other well-preserved dinosaur specimens, one 80-million-year-old hadrosaur and two 65-million-year-old tyrannosaurs. All of these specimens preserved vessels, cell-like structures, or flexible matrix that resembled bone collagen from modern specimens.
Current theories about fossil preservation hold that organic molecules should not preserve beyond 100,000 years. Schweitzer hopes that further research will reveal exactly what the soft structures isolated from these bones are made of. Do they consist of the original cells, and if so, do the cells still contain genetic information? Her early studies of the material suggest that at least some fragments of the dinosaurs' original molecular material may still be present.
"We may not really know as much about how fossils are preserved as we think," says Schweitzer. "Our preliminary research shows that antibodies that recognize collagen react to chemical extracts of this fossil bone. If further studies confirm this, we may have the potential to learn more not only about the dinosaurs themselves, but also about how and why they were preserved in the first place."
The research was funded by NC State, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and the National Science Foundation.
"Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex"
Authors: Mary H. Schweitzer and Jennifer L. Wittmeyer, North Carolina State University; John R. Horner, Montana State University; Jan B. Toporski, Carnegie Institution of Washington Geophysical Laboratory Published: March 25, 2005, in Science