The idea of obtaining dinosaur DNA from a prehistoric mosquito encased in amber was the premise behind the movie Jurassic Park but researchers from Curtin University have done something just as impressive in real life.
A team led by John Curtin Distinguished Professor Kliti Grice, an organic geochemist, obtained cholesterol, red blood cells and collagen fibres from the 182.7 million-year-old vertebra of an ichthyosaur, a large, lung-breathing marine reptile that resembled modern dolphins.
Professor Grice said the vertebra, collected from a cement quarry in Germany, had been fossilised in a way that preserved the animal’s soft tissue, giving researchers a rare insight into its biology.
“During our analyses of the sample, we discovered red blood cell structures that were up to five times smaller than those reported in most modern organisms,” Professor Grice said.
The researchers believe these small blood cells were an evolutionary response to the lower atmospheric oxygen levels in the Early Jurassic, much like some modern-day mammals that have adapted to make smaller red blood cells to live at high altitude.
The full paper was published in Scientific Reports.
A graphic of an ichthyosaur.