Lunch with a paleontologist. Molecular Biology and a T. Rex

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Jack Horner, a noted paleontologist, best known academically as the discoverer of the Maiasaura, a duck-billed dinosaur that proved that dinosaurs had parental instincts; and also an expert in the arena of dinosaur growth research (in particular concerning a number of recent T Rex findings, one of which is even bigger than Sue)


Of particular interest to me (as a molecular biologist), however, was that last year he had a paper come out in Science entitled, Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex, with the following abstract:

Soft tissues are preserved within hindlimb elements of Tyrannosaurus rex (Museum of the Rockies specimen 1125). Removal of the mineral phase reveals transparent, flexible, hollow blood vessels containing small round microstructures that can be expressed from the vessels into solution. Some regions of the demineralized bone matrix are highly fibrous, and the matrix possesses elasticity and resilience. Three populations of microstructures have cell-like morphology. Thus, some dinosaurian soft tissues may retain some of their original flexibility, elasticity, and resilience.

Holy doodle! That's so Jurassic Park! And the irony of it all is that Jack was the Dinosaur technical consultant in all of the Jurassic Park movies. Anyway, the paper is very interesting but does state the caveat that at that time, they were not sure whether the tissue (such as the figure above) was indeed "tissue" or actually some unknown geophysical side effect that happen to maintain a number of physical soft tissue characteristics. Preliminary evidence suggested a possibility of it being some semblance of soft tissue since some antigenic studies were performed (although I wouldn't say very thorough).

But that was like a year and half ago... So I had to ask, "what's the prognosis now?" - having presumably had the opportunity to do things like gas chromotagraphy and mass spec to check on the specimen status. And I was given an answer, but unfortunately, I'm not entirely clear if his answer was off the record, so for now I guess I better keep it to myself.

I can tell you, however, that I did also ask whether it was hard finding collaborators in the molecular biology fold, and not surprisingly, he said "Not at all, not at all." That's too bad really - kinda looking for a molecular project I can sink my teeth into.

p.s. Any UBC folks reading, should note that Jack Horner is giving a free talk at 5pm tonight at Green College.

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All I can say is "friggen awsome", to have lunch with Jack that is... I can't imagine. I also consider him a rock star. Did he reveal anything else that was intersting?