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They've even found chemicals consistent with being DNA, though Schweitzer is quick to note that she hasn't proven they really are DNA.
The iron-removing techniques should allow paleontologists to search more effectively for soft tissue, and to test it when they find it."Once we can get the chemistry behind some of these soft tissues, there's all sorts of questions we can ask of ancient organisms," Schweitzer said.
The blood vessels soaked in red blood cells remain recognizable after sitting at room temperature for two years.
[Paleo-Art: Illustrations Bring Dinosaurs to Life]Searching for soft tissue Dinosaurs' iron-rich blood, combined with a good environment for fossilization, may explain the amazing existence of soft tissue from the Cretaceous (a period that lasted from about 65.5 million to 145.5 million years ago) and even earlier.
After death, though, iron is let free from its cage.
It forms minuscule iron nanoparticles and also generates free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules thought to be involved in aging."The free radicals cause proteins and cell membranes to tie in knots," Schweitzer said.
To preserve the chemistry of potential soft tissue, the specimens must not be treated with preservatives or glue, as most fossil bones are, she said."They basically act like formaldehyde."Formaldehyde, of course, preserves tissue.It works by linking up, or cross-linking, the amino acids that make up proteins, which makes those proteins more resistant to decay.Then, in 2007, Schweitzer and her colleagues analyzed the chemistry of the proteins.They found the proteins really did come from dinosaur soft tissue.
They soaked one group of blood vessels in iron-rich liquid made of red blood cells and another group in water.