By: April Carson
What if scientists were able to isolate and sequence dinosaur DNA? Could the resurrection of extinct species be a consequence of this?
A cell nucleus containing chromatin was discovered in the fossilized cartilage of the Early Cretaceous dinosaur Caudipteryx by Chinese paleontologists. Previously, chromatin was found in a duck-billed dinosaur that lived approximately 70 million years ago and now it has been discovered in vertebrate fossils for the first time.
The discovery of cell nuclei in ancient fossils.
More recently, research papers have emerged in the scientific literature regarding the discovery of cell nuclei in fossils dating from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years ago, including mammoths that lived tens of thousands of years ago and plants that date back to the Mesozoic era or even Proterozoic embryo-like organisms with an age of about 1.1 billion years, as published in the scientific journal Nature.
Whatever the result, the fact is that no nuclei were discovered in any of these specimens. The authors of the works state that they could identify chromatin in the nuclei - a complex of DNA with proteins - using histochemical methods in some fossil plants from the Jurassic period (particularly).
Fossilized vertebrate nuclei
Researchers employed histochemistry for the first time in 2017 to identify chromatin in the nuclei of fossil vertebrates. Alida M. Bailleul of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences was at the helm of this project. Her group discovered cell nuclei with bits of DNA in the fossilized remains of some Jurassic amphibians and reptiles. The discovered biomolecules, according to Bailleul et al., were the oldest DNA found in vertebrates so far.
Many scientists are critical of the research on identifying such ancient DNA fragments since, in geological terms, it decays rapidly. The woolly mammoth's oldest sequenced DNA is only 1.65 million years old. Critics question whether ancient DNA comes from contemporary bacteria (1, 2). According to endogenous DNA supporters, the pattern of DNA distribution in fossil cells is consistent with endogenous DNA surviving over millions of years.
Dinosaur cell nuclei
Another study has been published recently by Alida Bayol and her Chinese colleagues on the cell nuclei of dinosaurs. This time, paleontologists looked at the Caudipteryx sp . fossil cartilage. This dinosaur was from the early Cretaceous period – about 125 million years ago.
Scientists obtained a sample of articular cartilage from the Caudipteryx's distal femur and chopped it into three pieces. The researchers made thin sections (thin sections) from the first two, which were studied using light and electron microscopy. Paleontologists discovered chondrocytes in the fossil as a result of this analysis.
They also found that the cells have nuclei with a specific structure, which supports the hypothesis that petrified cells can be preserved for many millions of years.
How did researchers analyze the samples?
The researchers had to decalcify the third piece in ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid for 21 days before cutting it into microscopic pieces and studying it histologically. Some were stained with hematoxylin (basophilic structures) or eosin (separate fast-moving cells), while others did not have any paint at all.
What did the researchers discover about the cells?
The researchers discovered that the majority of Caudipteryx cell nuclei were translucent, but in one cell, hematoxylin stained purple a rounded structure that they identified as a nucleus. It also contained several blackish crimson threads, according to the authors, which were chromatin. Scientists observed a similar picture on chicken cartilage stains.
What does the work mean for science?
The researchers discovered chemical distinctions between the nucleus and cytoplasm in Caudipteryx cartilage that suggest DNA may have been partially preserved in the fossils. They add, however, that such DNA, most likely, cannot be extracted and sequenced.
This discovery is important, they argue, because it adds to the body of evidence that chemical modifications in chromatin—and potentially DNA—may help preserve cells and tissues for millions of years.
This discovery makes it possible to speculate about DNA and its stability under certain conditions. The researchers conclude that it is plausible to think DNA could be preserved for a million years, at least in some cases. They also note their results indicate as much as half of the organic matter may survive more than one million years under certain conditions.
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