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Dr. Mary Schweitzer on T-Rex Soft Tissue Discovery.flv

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Published on Mar 1, 2014

The day molecular paleontology was born: Dr. Mary Schweitzer an associate professor of marine earth and atmospheric sciences created the molecular paleontology field of study. While studying dissolved pieces of a T-Rex bone she found something that should not have been there: soft tissue. "I looked at the scope and I backed up and I looked at the scope again" Schweitzer told the NC State alumni magazine in 2005. "And I said Jen Wittmeyer a lab technician this is not possible. That is not a microbe that is an osteocyte a type of cell found in bone . " The bone itself has long dominated the field of paleontology a result of the belief that no tissue could be found in an extinct dinosaur bone. So is the bone really70 million years old T. Rex Blood : Expert Q amp A Posted 07.31.07 NOVA scienceNOW Q: I have a stereomicroscope and I love looking at bugs and other stuff with it. What did it feel like when you first realized what you were looking at I mean the dinosaur tissues Did it blow your mind Thanks so much for your answer Olivia Tyson Ottoson Middle School 7th Grade Arlington Massachusetts Schweitzer: Yeah it did sort of "blow my mind." Still does. I spent about three weeks saying that I couldn t be seeing what it looked like I was seeing. I kept looking at them over and over and I would get goosebumps. I kept thinking that there had to be some kind of mistake and I had my technician repeat the studies over and over and over with new chunks of bone to be sure we could get the same results. Q: What does your discovery of soft tissues still surviving after many millions of years say about our understanding of how fossils become fossils Will that understanding now have to be greatly revised Also did other paleontologists initially doubt your discovery seeing how radical it was Keep up the good work Alexander McCurdy East Blue Hill Maine Schweitzer: I think that our fundamental understanding of the fossilization process may be somewhat in need of revamping but only if it can be shown that this material is original to the dinosaurs and not some unknown artifact. One thing I am focusing on in our lab is to try to tease out the pathways that would go from what we know of modern tissues and cells to whatever these structures have become. But in reality although the mechanisms of fossilization have been presented to the public in relatively simplified form we in the profession have always known that it is more complicated and that microenvironments within a single bone can vary greatly resulting in a highly varied preservation. This is just an extension of that I guess. As for an acceptance of this work what needs to be realized is that it is the job of my colleagues to be very skeptical. That is how we keep one another in line Peer review is crucial to the scientific process and the skeptical opinion of my colleagues is something I rely on very much. They are probably not as skeptical as me though. I think many of them have a "let s just wait and see" attitude that is very very appropriate. We have a saying that goes "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." That is what we are trying to come up with and the community will wait until then to weigh in fully I think. They will also wait until the work is repeated by other colleagues. Those are things that are necessary to validate our work. Q: Why has it taken so long to extract or attempt to extract DNA from this tissue Has it been tried and failed I would think intact DNA even in fragments would be the most important finding from this soft tissue. Terence Milligan Edgewater New Jersey Schweitzer: Well it has taken so long because I don t work with ancient DNA and so have not tried to extract DNA. My lab does not meet the requirement of an ancient DNA lab. I am not particularly well-trained in DNA studies and I personally think that it is much more informative and less risky to begin by demonstrating first ultrastructural preservation and then protein preservation. Many in the scientific community believe that DNA is too labile to have possibly survived even in tiny fragments for 70 million years. It is more generally accepted that some proteins like collagen have a higher preservation potential than DNA. And my lab is more suited to do protein studies than to work with ancient DNA. Others are certainly welcome to try to obtain DNA from this or other dinosaurs. It probably won t be me directly though if we get to the point where funding and equipment allow I will certainly do the supportive work.

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