DNA Today Video

Dino Protein is for the Birds

Organic material from a T. rex bone shows that birds are the closest living relatives of dinosaurs.

In echoes of Jurassic Park, organic material has for the first time been recovered from a dinosaur fossil. Protein fragments from a 68 million year old T. rex bone most closely match samples from a chicken, providing further evidence of the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds.

"Analyses of Soft Tissue from Tyrannosaurus rex Suggest the Presence of Protein" by Mary Higby Schweitzer and others, Science (volume 316), April 13, 2007, pages 277-280.

Duration: 3 minutes, 25 seconds

Posted: April 20, 2007

Jan Witkowski: Welcome to DNA Today, I’m Jan Witkowski.

Dave Micklos: And I’m Dave Micklos. Welcome to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where we are discussing news about DNA.

JW: And today’s news comes, in a way, from a very long time ago. It is about a fossil 68 million years old, a T-Rex. And the research could have come straight out of Jurassic Park. As you remember Dave, in Jurassic Park, they isolated DNA from fossils bones and cloned dinosaurs. This isn’t quite as exciting as that, but scientists have been able to isolate protein from these very, very old bones.

DM: And this work built on earlier work from several years ago when, using a microscope, scientists were able to figure out that some of these dinosaur bones, T-Rex bones, for example, preserve flexible features inside the bone, including perhaps, blood vessels and even single cells. Then, the next step, which was accomplished recently, was to extract protein from these bones and the protein that was extracted was, in fact, collagen.

JW: Yes, I mean this was clearly an exceptional fossil – that this protein had been preserved for so many years. But even so, it was pretty degraded, that is, it had been destroyed, partially destroyed. It had to be analyzed by a technique called mass spectrometry. This enables you to determine what amino acids there are in small fragments of protein, in small peptides. And the researchers did this, and then they compared the sequences of amino acids that they had found in the dinosaur collagen, with the same sequences from living organisms.

DM: And that’s where they found something that was quite extraordinary. When they compared the amino acids sequence from the T-Rex bone versus sequences in databases from living organisms, they found that the closest match was a chicken.

JW: But why was this such an unexpected find?

DM: Well, in a sense it wasn’t unexpected because for the last several decades, most paleontologists have believed that, in fact, birds, such as chickens, are living relatives of dinosaurs. Ironically, this thinking that birds might be evolutionarily related to dinosaurs cropped up in the mid 1800s. Thomas Huxley proposed this shortly after Darwin published The Origin of Species. That idea was revived in the 1920s, it got a lot of support in the 1960s when analysis of therapod bones, of which T-Rex is a member of that group, reveal that there are a lot of anatomical similarities between birds and dinosaurs.

JW: Now, this was protein.

DM: This was protein.

Both: What about DNA?

JW: Well, in fact, the DNA has really only been isolated from fossils maybe 100,000 years old. So, the chances of finding DNA in this very old fossil are pretty unlikely. But then, before this paper, people wouldn’t think you could even get protein from such an old fossil. So, maybe in the years to come we will really be able to go to a Jurassic Park.

DM: Just have a strong fence.

dinosaur fossil, protein fragments, tyrannosaurus rex, evolutionary relationship, t rex, higby, soft tissue, jurassic park, dinosaurs, echoes, birds, relatives, Dave Micklos, Jan Witkowski

  • ID: 16880
  • Source: DNALC
  • Download: mp4

Related Content

16884. Genome Scans Pay Off

Scans of the entire human genome turn up genes involved in common diseases.

  • ID: 16884
  • Source: DNALC

16886. The Primate Fossil Ida – Science Review

Paleontologist Tim White and David Micklos discuss Ida (Darwinius masillae), the 47 million year-old primate fossil. Ida, who most closely resembles the modern lemur, may be important to understanding evolution and human origins. However, media publicity

  • ID: 16886
  • Source: DNALC

15152. Isolating ancient DNA, Svante Paabo

Evolutionary geneticist Svante Paabo speaks about the limitations of working with DNA from fossils.

  • ID: 15152
  • Source: DNAi

16887. Ardipithecus Ramidus (Ardi) Walked Upright

The Ardipithecus Ramidus (Ardi) discovery confirms the theory that our ancestors were walking upright long before they ever moved to the open savanna. Interview with team-leader Dr. Tim White.

  • ID: 16887
  • Source: DNALC

16885. The Neanderthal Genome Project

Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute joins Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Dave Micklos to discuss the Neanderthal genome project.

  • ID: 16885
  • Source: DNALC

16883. No Escape for GM Pollen?

Little chance that genetic modifications to chloroplasts are transferred by pollen to wild plants.

  • ID: 16883
  • Source: DNALC

16882. The Real Monkey's Uncle

Marmoset monkeys sometimes father their twin brother's children with DNA they swapped as embryos.

  • ID: 16882
  • Source: DNALC

16987. Evolution of Complexity - Single Cells to Complex Brains

Dr. Nicole King and Dr. Seth Grant join Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's David Micklos to discuss the evolution of complex, multicellular animals. Remarkably, the molecules that have driven brain evolution, are the same molecules found in simple unicellula

  • ID: 16987
  • Source: DNALC

548. Model Center

Model organisms share with humans many key biochemical and physiological functions that have been conserved (maintained) by evolution.

  • ID: 548
  • Source: G2C

1718. Chicken (Gallus gallus)

The domesticated chicken is a modern descendant of dinosaurs. It is the premier non-mammalian model organism and provides a new perspective on vertebrate genome evolution.

  • ID: 1718
  • Source: G2C