Saskatchewan. research teams make rare find inside Scotty T. rex fossil

Saskatchewan researchers say they may have made a rare discovery related to dinosaurs, one that would be the first of its kind in the world if confirmed.

Using the University of Saskatchewan’s Canadian Light Source, they discovered an extensive network of blood vessels preserved around a fracture in a Scotty rib fossil Tyrannosaurus rex.

“We weren’t looking for blood vessels, it was an accident,” said physics professor Mauricio Barbi of the University of Regina.

Saskatchewan. research teams make rare find inside Scotty T. rex fossil

Using the Canadian Light Source, a research team from Saskatchewan claims to have discovered a preserved network of blood vessels inside a rib fossil of Scotty the T. rex. 3:05

Barbi is part of a team that includes U of R physics master’s student Jerit Mitchell and Ryan McKellar, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

This image of blood vessel structures was taken while Mitchell was creating a three-dimensional model of a fossilized bone of Scotty the T. rex at the Canadian Light Source synchrotron. (Canadian light source)

The preserved structure was discovered as Mitchell created an intricate three-dimensional model of the 67 million-year-old fossil using data from synchrotron scans, which use bright light to see inside objects at the molecular level.

“I actually had no idea what it was,” Mitchell said. “As I’m a physicist myself, I was really new to this project and new to paleontology…I just saw this interesting structure that was working its way between the normal bone structure.

“We need to figure out what we can do next, what kind of analysis can we do to dig into that,” he said.

Mitchell stressed that his team was cautious about the theories related to their findings, as it is too early to officially declare and confirm findings from the project, which has been underway for more than a year.

See how the Canadian Light Source synchrotron works

The synchrotron uses bright light to help researchers look inside objects in a level of detail not possible with a traditional X-ray or high-powered microscope. 2:51

Ottawa paleontologist Jordan Mallon was not involved in the study, but agrees the find is “pretty cool”. The Canadian Museum of Nature research scientist says technological improvements have really helped the evolution of paleontology.

We have to find out what we can do next, what kind of analysis can we do to dig into that.-Jerit Mitchell

“For centuries it was thought that there was indeed no trace of biological tissue in a fossil – that there shouldn’t be,” he said. “And yet, as we start to put these things under the microscope and look at them with new techniques, and look at them more deeply, it turns out that the process of fossilization is not as simple – or can -not be as fast – as we thought.”

Although things like preserved blood vessels and cells are a truly rare find, Mallon said they turn out to exist.

Scotty remains a marvel

Discovered in 1991 in Saskatchewan’s Frenchman River Valley near Eastend, Saskatchewan, Scotty holds the distinction of being the largest T.rex skeleton ever found anywhere in the world.

An approximately 15-meter-tall life-size replica of Scotty is on prominent display at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. The museum also has the real fossils in its custody.

Mitchell says they believe their findings are related to how the Scotty healed his wounds.

“One of our hypotheses is that this fracture could somehow be the cause of seeing this vascular structure,” he said. “So we don’t see this creeping vascular structure in another section of the bone. We only see it around this fracture.”

Mallon says it’s possible to find out how dinosaurs healed, especially in the case of Tyrannosaurus and its relatives, because life wasn’t easy for them.

“Their facial bones are often scarred, which tells us that probably at sexual maturity these things were biting their faces, maybe for territory, maybe in sexual arguments,” he said.

“So knowing how they coped with…that lifestyle, that would be interesting.”

Using this fossilized rib bone from Scotty the T. rex and the Canadian Light Synchrotron Centre’s synchrotron, researchers in Saskatchewan believe they have discovered a preserved network of blood vessels. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

The team plans to extrapolate their findings from Scotty’s Coast to other fossils, especially those with similar fractures. Barbi says he contacted the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, and submitted a proposal to the team through the Canadian Synchrotron Light Center.

“To test this hypothesis, we want to look at other bones with…similar pathological features and see if we can identify something that is also connected,” he said. “Then, if we narrowed down similar features in fossils and structures, we can grow and compare other dinosaur species.”

The team is also studying how these blood vessels were preserved, including the chemicals involved.

Mallon says the potential addition of this find to the fossil record is exciting.

“The blood vessels that we commonly find in animals today, we find them in the fossil record,” he said, adding that scientists can now trace the blueprints of the modern body over hundreds of millions of bodies. years, thanks to this type of research.

Similar discovery in Montana

A similar discovery was made in the United States in 2005. That’s when North Carolina State University researcher Mary Higby Schweitzer recovered soft tissue, including what may be blood vessels and cells, from a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil found in Montana.

His findings, with co-authors Jennifer Wittmeyer and John R. Horner, were published in the National Library of Medicine in 2006. Schweitzer dissolved the mineralized part of the fossil and ended up with soft, stretchy tissue.

Although the results are similar, they are markedly different, Barbi said.

“She found structures that were still soft and flexible in a small area, whereas we seem to have this structure – mineralized in our case – spread over a larger area,” he said, adding that the combination of the two finds means that they could fill a gap in the study of evolution.

This isn’t Barbi’s first major dinosaur discovery using the synchrotron.

Dinosaur skin discovered in Alberta looks a lot like that of a modern crocodile (University of Regina Department of Photography)

In 2012, he was part of a team in the Badlands of Alberta that discovered preserved pieces of dinosaur skin from a 72 million year old hadrosaur dinosaur.

Using the Canadian Light Source, the team was able to compare dinosaur skin with modern animals, which revealed that the Upper Cretaceous hadrosaur in Alberta had skin that closely resembled the skin of a a modern crocodile.

“The importance is the preservation of structures,” Barbi said. “I could see the cell nucleus.”