Researchers from North Carolina State University have confirmed that blood vessel-like structures found in an 80 million-year-old hadrosaur fossil are original to the animal, and not biofilm or other contaminants. Their findings add to the growing body of evidence that structures like blood vessels and cells can persist over millions of years, and the data not only confirm earlier reports of protein sequences in dinosaurs, they represent a significant advance in methodology.
Molecular paleontologist Tim Cleland, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, began the work while a graduate student at NC State. He demineralized a piece of leg bone from a Brachylophosaurus canadensis, a 30-foot-long hadrosaur that roamed what is now Montana around 80 million years ago. Cleland analyzed the demineralized bone with high resolution mass spectroscopy and found several distinct proteins from the cellular components of the blood vessels. One of these proteins, myosin, is found in the smooth muscles associated with the walls of blood vessels.