December 08, 2016

Dinosaur Tail Found Encased In Amber


In the movie Jurassic Park, scientists extract dinosaur DNA from the bellies of prehistoric mosquitoes preserved in amber. Now researchers have done away with the middle man.
Palaeontologists have found the feathered tail of a 99 million-year-old dinosaur encased in a piece of amber at a jewellery market in Myanmar. The discovery, outlined today in the journal Current Biology, marks the first confirmed find of a dinosaur fossil trapped in the resin.

It is also the first time scientists have been able to observe intact dinosaur feathers, gleaning vital clues about their structure and colour. Co-author Ryan McKellar said while amber ­pieces could capture only “tiny snapshots” of ancient critters, they were invaluable. “They record microscopic ­details, three-dimensional arrange­ments and labile tissues that are difficult to study in other settings,” said Dr McKellar, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada.

“This is a new source of information that is worth researching with intensity.”

Amber is fossilised tree resin that often traps bugs and plant fragments before it hardens.
Biologists have found mating flies, stingless bees, midges, ants, wasps, beetles, spiders and mammals’ hair in chunks of the yellowish gemstone.

Some of the finds are highly significant. In March, US researchers reported finding the forerunner of the malaria parasite in a 100 million-year-old biting insect fossilised in amber from Myanmar.

Prehistoric feathers have previously been discovered in amber from Canada and France, but it was impossible to tell whether they came from dinosaurs or birds.

“In this piece of amber, we ­finally have skeletal remains that allow us to pin down the source animal and say that we are dealing with a dinosaur,” Dr McKellar told The Australian.

CAT scans and microscope studies revealed the 4cm-long tail was flexible, not fused like a bird’s. The team believes it comes from a juvenile coelurosaur, a huge dinosaur group that included the tyrannosaurs.

Feathers along each side appear pale underneath and brown on top, although Dr McKellar said their preservation in amber could have changed the colouring. He dismissed any suggestion the find could be used to clone dinosaurs, Jurassic Park-style.

“Recent work has suggested that it is almost impossible to preserve DNA in amber for thousands of years, let alone ­millions.”

In separate research, scientists have found one of the oldest known tumours in a 255 million-year-old fossil of a predator known as a “gorgonopsian”.

US researchers found a benign tumour called a “compound odontoma” in the jawbone of a Tanzanian gorgonopsian, one of a group of land carnivores that preceded mammals and could grow to the size of polar bears.

Odontomas are tumours made of dental material. Until now their appearance in the fossil record has been restricted to more recent creatures such as mammoths and prehistoric deer.

The new find is not the oldest known cancer — that honour belongs to a 300 million-year-old fish.

By John Ross 
With many thanks to The Australian

More on Dinosaurs and Prehistoric creatures:

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Austroposeidon Magnificus: Brazil’s Biggest Dinosaur Has Been Rediscovered

Newfound Ancient 'Sea Monster' Is Largest Yet from Antarctica