• Can Dinosaur Bone Protein Survive the Test of Time? Chromatography Investigates!


Can Dinosaur Bone Protein Survive the Test of Time? Chromatography Investigates!

Jan 28 2016

Ever since Steven Spielberg brought dinosaurs back to life on the big screen in Jurassic Park — people have been fascinated by the thought of bringing dinosaurs back to life. And while we dream of dinosaurs roaming around it is scientists who are attempting the impossible — seeking samples from 65 million years ago.

But what information can we find from the fossils left behind. Do mosquitoes encased in amber hold the key or should we be looking at dinosaur bones. Let’s see whether we will be going to Jurassic Park anytime soon?

A little bit of movie magic?

Richard Attenborough created Jurassic Park by extracting and amplifying the DNA of dinosaurs. The DNA was obtained from blood extracted from a mosquito that had been preserved in tree sap or amber. The ideas in the book and film came from actual science that was carried out by scientists working on ancient DNA from mosquitoes in amber.

The work on ancient DNA from amber encased insects was eventually found to be flawed. Unfortunately, the DNA found was contamination from a modern source, highlighting the difficulty in finding biological samples from millions of years ago.

But scientists are still looking — and protein samples might have been found that could help us work out how T. rex lived.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Researchers believe that they have found tissue samples from fossilized dinosaur bones — but not everyone agrees. In a paper published in Science, titled ‘Analyses of Soft Tissue from Tyrannosaurus rex Suggest the Presence of Protein’, it is reported that proteins in a dinosaur’s bone have been found.

The protein was found by taking a piece of fossilized T. rex bone and carrying out a process of demineralization — a weak acid removes all the inorganic material leaving behind any surviving organic matter — followed by analysis which included liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry. Protein sequencing and analysis by liquid chromatography is the topic of this article, Improvement in Speed and Reproducibility of Protein Digestion, and Peptide Quantitation Utilising Novel Sample Preparation Technology in a Full Solution Workflow on Chromatography Today.

The researchers report that they identified the protein collagen in their samples — which in a sample of bone might not be surprising as it is the main organic constituent of bone. But this is a sample of 65-million-year-old bone: and that’s the problem according to some scientists.

Can protein survive 65 million years?

With the earlier controversies from the ancient DNA from amber, scientists are concerned to get it right this time. And many voices question the results published by Mary Schweitzer and her team in Science regarding T. rex proteins. Although it is accepted that proteins can survive longer than DNA samples, the issue of contamination in such old and tiny samples is hard to put to rest.

So better go to Disneyland — Jurassic Park isn’t ready just yet.

Image from Wikimedia commons

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