If you’re a fan of the Jurassic Park and World, we have bad news. It’s highly unlikely to clone a dinosaur at the present time to look and act as the dinosaurs from ancient times. That’s because their DNA has broken down over millions of years of being on Earth. Even the proteins that are stabler than other material cease to exist, although scientists found that dinosaur bones are rich in microscopic life.
According to a new study published in the journal eLife, scientists studied the dinosaur fossils for collagen – a protein located in the bone and skin of dinosaurs. Because the DNA has decomposed over time, they weren’t able to find evidence of any proteins, although they did discover vast colonies of modern-day bacteria that made the dinosaur bones their new home.
“This is breaking new ground—this is the first time we’ve discovered this unique microbial community in these fossil bones while they’re buried underground,” lead author Evan Saitta, a postdoctoral researcher at the Field Museum said in a statement “And I would say that it’s another nail in the coffin in the idea of dinosaur proteins getting preserved intact.”
Saitta’s research of the dinosaur bones started during his doctoral studies at the University of Bristol. He focused on soft tissues in dinosaur bones that fossilize and how the materials break down. Nevertheless, some researchers did find evidence of dinosaur bones containing traces of protein collagen, as well as soft tissues like blood.
“There’s been an uptick in interest in these supposed dinosaur proteins,” said Saitta.
It took a while for Saitta to collect the dinosaur fossils that would correspond to the conditions he needed to search for the proteins inside of them.
“There’s a single layer where there’s practically more bone than rock, it’s ridiculous how concentrated the bones are,” said Saitta. “To collect these bones in a very controlled, sterile way, you need a dig site with a ton of bone because you have to find the bone quickly, expose just enough of one end to know what it is, then aseptically collect the unexposed bit of the bone and surrounding rock all in one.”
For his research, Saitta gathered 75-million-year-old fossils from Centrosaurus, which is a smaller relative to Triceratops. He had to test the fossil evidence in different laboratories to be able to confirm the organic composition.
The team compared the biochemical makeup of the Centrosaurus fossils to modern chicken bones, as well as thousands-of-years-old shark teeth that were found on the shore of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
“We visited multiple labs, and the different techniques gave us consistent and easily interpretable results, suggesting that the aseptic collection was sufficient,” said Saitta.
However, their research showed that the Centrosaurus fossils didn’t have the collagen proteins which would enable it to be cloned, nor in the shark teeth, which were considerably younger compared to the ancient beast.
“We see lots of evidence of recent microbes,” Saitta said. “There’s clearly something organic in these bones.” And since the labwork indicates that Saitta’s anti-contamination measures worked, these organic materials must have gotten there naturally.
That said, while we may not be able to clone dinosaurs to experience how they used to be, dinosaur bones are rich in microscopic life, that found a home in them.