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Researchers Confirm Original Blood Vessels in 80 Million-Year-Old Fossil

Blood vessels from deminineralized bone of B. canadensis

For Immediate Release

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.

The researchers confirmed their results by performing the same process with bones from modern archosaurs, such as chicken and ostrich, which are living relatives of the dinosaurs. In both the modern and ancient samples, peptide sequences matched those found in blood vessels. Their methodology also allowed the researchers to validate previously reported sequences and recover additional sequences because only the vessels were extracted, which increased the observance of cellular proteins.

“This study is the first direct analysis of blood vessels from an extinct organism, and provides us with an opportunity to understand what kinds of proteins and tissues can persist and how they change during fossilization,” Cleland says. “This will provide new avenues for pursuing questions regarding the evolutionary relationships of extinct organisms, and will identify significant protein modifications and when they might have arisen in these lineages.”

Elena Schroeter, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State, is a co-author who worked on the analysis of the mass spectrometry data. “Paleoproteomics is a challenging pursuit. It requires us to think about how to support our conclusions from different angles,” says Schroeter. “This project is significant because it shows the power of using multiple experimental methods—as well as multiple ways to analyze the results of those methods—to address a scientific question.”

“Part of the value of this research is that it gives us insight into how proteins can modify and change over 80 million years,” says Mary Schweitzer, a molecular paleontologist at NC State and co-author of the paper describing the research. “It tells us not only about how tissues preserve over time, but gives us the possibility of looking at how these animals adapted to their environment while they were alive.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Proteome Research. The research was funded by the NSF (EAR 0541744, DGE-0750733) and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The dinosaur sample was provided by the Museum of the Rockies. Neil Kelleher, Paul Thomas, Dorothy Ahlf, and John Tran from Northwestern University, Leonid Zamdborg and Ji Eun Lee at University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, and Marshall Bern at Protein Metrics were critical for the development of mass spectrometry techniques and analysis used. Raghu Kalluri, Michael Duncan, and Valerie Lebleu from Harvard University and Megan Zheng at NC State provided key insights into conducting the immunological staining of the blood vessels.


Note to editors: An abstract of the paper follows.

“Mass Spectrometry and Antibody-based Characterization of Blood Vessels from Brachylophosaurus Canadensis”

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.5b00675

Authors: Tim Cleland, Elena Schroeter, Mary Schweitzer, Wenxia Zheng, North Carolina State University; Ji Eun Lee, Leonid Zamdborg, University of Illinois, Urbana; Marshall Bern, Protein Metrics; Michael Duncan, Valeria Lebleu, Raghu Kalluri, Harvard Medical School; John Tran, Dorothy Ahlf, Paul Thomas, Neil Kelleher, Northwestern University
Published: Journal of Proteome Research

Structures similar to blood vessels in location, morphology, flexibility, and transparency have been recovered after demineralization of multiple dinosaur cortical bone fragments from multiple specimens, some as old as 80 Ma. These structures were hypothesized to be either endogenous to the bone (i.e., of vascular origin) or the result of biofilm colonizing the empty osteonal network after degradation of original organic components. Here, we test the hypothesis that these structures are endogenous, and thus retain proteins in common with extant archosaur blood vessels that can be detected with high-resolution mass spectrometry and confirmed by immunofluorescence. Two lines of evidence support this hypothesis. First, peptide sequencing of B. canadensis blood vessel extracts is consistent with peptides comprising extant archosaurian blood vessels and is not consistent with a bacterial, cellular slime mold, or fungal origin. Second, proteins identified by mass spectrometry can be localized to the tissues using antibodies specific to these proteins, validating their identity. Data are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD001738.

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  1. FYI, there are some fossil beds west of Colorado Springs in the Fourissant area. There is one privately owned piece of property in which you can dig thru the sediment of 30 million year old volcanic ash to find bugs, tree leaves, branches, etc. I have done this and could have sworn that the “branches” preserved in the ash still had wood grains in them, ie they were not turned to stone (fossilized). I don’t know if this would be of interest to the NCSU paleontology dept or not. (I’m a 1976 EE grad of NCSU).

  2. Procrustrean Bed: a plan or scheme to produce uniformity or conformity by arbitrary or violent methods. Begging the Question: a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. Sadly, state-sponsored ‘science’ is guilty of both. Start with the ‘conclusion’ that the earth is hundreds of millions of years old and, in this case, clumsily force the data to fit the premise, regardless of how outlandish the premise might be in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

  3. I have for years suggesting that researchers take small, portable spectroscopy equipment with them to dig sites to scan the matrix. E.g., Its not unusual to find blackish, tough “rinds” wrapped onto bones, the location and consistency suggesting its not fossilized plant matter (“coal”) but the equivalent of the kind of dried soft tissue rind one might find on a partially eaten, sun dried bone. Could be where blood collected after death, increasing iron content? But that stuff just gets tossed. Of course, this find is several steps beyond that.

  4. How is this possible at all … Perhaps there is really something wrong with the calculations of radioactive decay and they are not really that old especially that as it was pointed out by the researchers from Prudue and Stanford, the sun activity may influence the ratio of this radioactive decay by producing an unknown particle interacting with a decaying atom. They also suggest that such decay might be faster in winter. If so then it is entirely possible that all geological samples are not as old as their apparent age calculated from a standard decay models. What is your opinion on this ?

  5. It is clear from reading the comments that there are people who did not understand what this article was saying. No where in this article does it say that blood cells have survived for 80 million years. It is saying that their structures have survived. Completely different.

    1. You are not reading correctly…..Their findings add to the growing body of evidence that structures like blood vessels and cells can persist over millions of years,

  6. While I am not a young-earth creationist, I reach to the conclusion that this dinosaur died recently probably, just a few thousand years; however it looks like most scientists dont easily give up their childish ideas, just like we all believed Pluto was a planet. I consider that most scientists are negatively stubborn and not open-minded.

  7. “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. ”

    Or, they add to a growing body of evidence that the creatures are actually from a more recent origin. But I guess current science due to its philosophical shackles is only capable of considering half the possibilities.

    1. My sentiments exactly. It is so obvious that it’s painful to watch them “do science” in this arena of study. Blood cells lasting for millions years is intellectual hogwash.

    2. Reminds me of the person who thinks he’s dead, then goes to the doctor, who tells him that dead people can’t bleed, which the patient confirms. The doctor then stabs the patient, who obviously bleeds, and immediately exclaims: “I suppose dead people do bleed!”

      So, I guess blood vessels can survive 80 million years after all! *facepalm*

      Look into creation, ya all, why male and female were made, and why humans are the crown of God’s creation and have been here since earth’s beginning to have dominion over it as is evident even today. We aren’t some accident; our rebellion against our Creator is real and what we’ll be judged by. Repent and believe.