ICHTHY FEAT

The West Australian - - INSIDE COVER -

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.

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