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Dr. Mary Schweitzer

Dr. Mary Schweitzer speaks to a crowd about her dinosaur research at the Raleigh Museum of Art.

When we think of invention, we imagine objects: a super-charged chip that can revolutionize the world of computers or a new material to change the way we clothe ourselves.

With a single discovery, Dr. Mary Schweitzer, an associate professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences, created an entire field of study. Several years ago, while studying dissolved pieces of bone from a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, Schweitzer saw something that shouldn’t have been there: soft tissue.

Initially, Schweitzer didn’t believe her eyes. She thought she was looking at microbes that had worked their way into the bone.

“I looked at the scope, and I backed up, and I looked at the scope again,” Schweitzer told the NC State alumni magazine in 2005. “And I said, ‘Jen (Wittmeyer, a lab technician), this is not possible. That is not a microbe, that is an osteocyte [a type of cell found in bone].’ ”

With that discovery, molecular paleontology was born. The bone itself had long dominated the field of paleontology, a result of the belief that no tissue could have survived the tens of millions of years since extinction.

“It is a wide-open field that she invented,” Dr. John Horner, a colleague and professor of paleontology at Montana State University, told Discovery magazine in 2006.

2 responses on “Dr. Mary Schweitzer

  1. Kevin Barraclough says:

    Hi, I am from Australia and I have just recently seen an hour long documentary, on your work with the bones of TRex’s, and wish to pass on congratulations for your ground breaking discoveries. I love the studies in this work and where it could possibly go in the future.
    It is now 2015 and it would great to see how the work has proceeded since 2006 and to be kept up to date if possible. All the best for the future Kevin.

  2. Irvin Nielsen says:

    I have a small section of a rib bone found in the Cretaceous Mesa Verde Cameo coal in Debeque Canyon near Grand Junction, Colorado. It is still bone and is radioactive. It is so well preserved that I think it might have preserved DNA. If you want to examine it, contact me at the email address.

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