Friday, April 13, 2007

Killer Chickens

Using some very interesting new technology, scientists have been able to analyze the protein codes in the fossilized bones of a 68 million year old T-rex. DNA evaluation is usually impossible because the fossilization process simply doesn't preserve it well.

So, relationships between bones is usually done by other types of analysis -- shape, size, age, etc. Rather subjective, and very dependent on the amount of remains there are. Given that fossilization is (despite the popular belief from Jurrasic Park) a rare process. Most animals die and their bones rot and disappear. But this new technology can find molecular-level similarities in bones that clearly show how bones are related to one another.

There's a lot of detailed molecular biology involved in how they figured this out, but:
The first results, described in today's issue of the journal Science, show that the collagen protein in T. rex bone is extraordinarily similar to that of the modern chicken, confirming current thinking that dinosaurs' nearest cousins are birds.
I don't know what else they tested against, but as they continue to use this particular method of comparison, I'm sure the data store will expand and they'll have more and more samples to compare against. It's a neat start. I'll be curious to see how all this data pans out. The article here details how they are trying to use this new technology, adn how it's being tested.

Or course, I have to admit that getting some level of confirmation of the theory that dinosaurs are the ancient ancestors of modern chickens actually makes me rethink just how scary a T-rex was -- and, having seen chickens in action, it actually ratcheted it up a notch. Chickens are not docile, friendly creatures, not at all! Imagine a huge T-rex with the personality of a chicken and dagger-sized teeth. Scares me.

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