Just weeks into 2017, we already have a contender for the greatest discovery of the year: a sample of dinosaur protein that’s 195-million-years-old.
Found in the rib of a long-necked herbivore, the collagen is 100 million years older than any other protein ever discovered.
It would have once made up the building blocks of the Lufengosaurus’s soft tissue and could shed light on how the ancient creatures evolved.
Robert Reisz, a palaeontologist at the University of Toronto, told the BBC: “We hope to be able to learn more about the biology of these animals and the more we know about their soft tissues the more we will know about them overall.”
Normally, the only evidence of soft tissue is in the impressions it leaves in the harder and later fossilised material, such as bones and teeth, surrounding it.
The remarkable preservation is thought to be owed to the presence of hematite, a mineral in blood, which survived with the collagen in the bone canals, according to the study, published in Nature.
The researchers, led by Reisz, discovered the protein using a localised search technique that, unlike alternatives, protect the rest of the fossil from damage.
Reisz is now hopeful the technique could pave the way for the discovery of even old proteins, leading to a greater understanding of dinosaurs’ tissue.
“Our localised search, in areas of the bone that are likely to preserve remnants of the original soft tissues, is more likely to succeed than previously used methods,” Reisz said in a statement. “This approach has great future potential, because localized searches will yield important results even when the amount of organic remains is miniscule.”
Here’s hoping for even more dino discoveries in 2017.