Thought that Jurassic Park could be real? Then think again…
We’ve all seen the film(s); dinosaurs running free in a safari park where you can literally step back in time, until it all goes horribly wrong and you find yourself cowering under the kitchen sink as velociraptors prowl past. You’d think they’d learn after four (soon-to-be five) films that dinosaurs in the modern age just isn’t going to work, but that’s exactly what scientists at The University of Manchester have found.
Palaeontologist Dr Mike Buckley and his team found that earlier research, reporting to have found samples of collagen in an 80 million year old Brachylophosaurus canadensis (a duck-billed dinosaur) skeleton, probably didn’t come from B. canadensis, but rather a modern-day contaminant. We’re sorry to burst the Jurassic Park bubble.
In 2007 a research team in America claimed to have isolated the protein collagen (the protein that makes up most of our bodies and is found in bones, muscle and skin) from the B. canadensis skeleton. Many scientists at the time thought this was bunkum, but the same team returned to conduct the study again this year. They were more thorough in their methodology, but there are still questions over how well something as delicate as collagen would stand the test of time.
Dr Buckley and his team, a mix of academics from The University of Manchester and National Museums Scotland, took to analysing samples of bones from three different ostriches, as it was known that ostrich and alligator bones were also analysed in the lab of the original study. Dr Buckley’s team found that there were strong matches between the peptides (strings of protein) of the ostriches and those reported in the earlier study.
With collagen being such an important protein in the study of our past, and given that so far there are no examples of collagen that have been verified as surviving more than 3.5 million years, it is unlikely that the claims of 80-million-year-old collagen remaining viable can be true.
So, this is where it’s important to remember that, when conducting research, there’s a risk of seeing what you want to see, rather than what is actually there. But don’t worry, if you’re still hoping to get close to a dinosaur you can head to Cheltenham this weekend for their annual science festival, where you can hear our Honorary Visiting Scientist Dean Lomax talk about Jurassic Britain. He will take you back in time – to when you were just as likely to bump into a Stegosaurus in Gloucestershire as you were to find Sauropods (like Diplodocus) lumbering around Yorkshire. And if you were visiting Wales, you’d have to watch out for this tiny carnivore – the first meat-eating dinosaur discovered in the UK and thought to be a distant cousin of the T-rex.
It’s hard to imagine now, but the UK was a haven for our dino ancestors, and has turned up some of the most important vertebrate fossils for studying our past and evolution. After all, Dinomania kicked off in the UK.
Dean will be presenting at the Crucible building at 5pm on Sunday 11 June. Tickets cost £7 and can be bought here.
Words – Enna Bartlett