Sequencing proteins from a 68 million-year-old leg bone from a T. rex, scientists have learned that what they were actually looking at — was a drumstick!
Comparing sequences of proteins with other animals it was discovered that the closest living relative to the T. rex was practically right under our noses all along, in the refrigerator aisle, and on dinner plates the world over, dressed in a variety of cunning disguises from coconut curry to cacciatore.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the humble chicken.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
This revelation is amazing, amusing, and a little disappointing; rather like pulling back the curtain of the Great and Powerful Oz and finding a pudgy little man from Kansas. Still, this brings an answer to the great philosophical question;
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
It would be the egg, laid by an ancestor who was more reptilian than avian.
According to the UK Guardian, study of a 68 million-year-old leg bone of a T. rex, unearthed in 2003 in Montana by Dr. Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, revealed that it still had collagen fibers which could be analyzed. Collagen is a protein that allows bone to have flexibility and structure.
Scientists at Harvard University's Medical Center used advanced medical technology normally used for analyzing human cancers to study the T. rex bone collagen matrix. Seven different proteins were extracted, sequenced, and compared to other animals living today.
The scientists discovered that T. rex protein make-up is indistinguishable from a modern chicken's. Dr. Angela Milner, the associate keeper of paleontology at the Natural History Museum in London concurs, "This corroborates a huge body of evidence from the fossil records that demonstrates the birds are descended from meat-eating dinosaurs."
So, for all the veggies mad to defend the buttery chickens, think about this. If times were reversed, you would be running for your life from T. rex, who wouldn’t consider you anything but a tasty morsel it needed to survive – and it would dispense with the spicy Vindaloo.
And for those having visions of Jurassic Park, scientists assure that the recreation of living dinosaurs like T. rex remains thankfully in the realm of science fiction. As Dr. Angela Milner noted, "Cloning any organism needs its DNA which carries the instructions to make a copy. DNA is not a protein, it is not a very stable molecule and it has never been recovered from any organism more than 30,000 years old."
Protein sequencing and analysis ushers in a new and exciting chapter in palaeontology, rather than being limited to examining relative sizes and shapes of fossil bones. As computers, software, and medical technology advance, the ability to analyze and learn will increase. The book is far from closed on the mysteries of the past. There are surprises, theories to be overturned, and new things to be discovered.
Judging from another recent article, this one from the BBC, assuming you and T-rex had a confrontation, you wouldn’t have much of a chance escaping one either. In a computer modeled race amongst a predatory dinosaur, a human, an ostrich, and an emu, all bets were on the birds.
According to BBC News, the University of Manchester study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows T. rex had a top running speed of 18 mph. The fastest dinosaur was a small bipedal and carnivorous species. This animal, called Compsognathus, was about the size of a chicken, and could run at 40 mph. The only modern bird to equal this speed is the ostrich.
By comparison, an athlete in a 200 meter sprint can reach a top speed of 27 mph. T. rex’s speed is slightly quicker than the average professional soccer player. This would make the rest of us dinner.
As for the question of ‘What were they chasing after?’ Dr. Bill Sellers says, “We’re now doing some work on Hadrosaurus which is assumed to be one of the things that T. rex would prey upon because there have been fossils found with bite marks on their backs. What we find is that we’re getting really quite high speeds for these animals as well, which makes perfect sense. If you’re a fast predator, you’re probably chasing fast prey that you want to catch.”
The computer was fed information from fossil records concerning the sizes and shapes of different animals and rendered their movements accordingly, free from any preconceptions scientists might have had of how they might run and how fast. Using this data, the computer made decisions on muscle movements. The results were somewhat surprising to the scientists who noted that T. rex ran like neither a human, nor like an ostrich. As the technology used to render such information is still in its infancy, more information about these ancient animals will be revealed.
Computers do not currently have the capacity to explore what the scientists want to do with their data. Just making the dinosaurs model to learn to walk was a big feat. Their next goal is to be able to render full dinosaur movement in 3-D.
All of this is quite a paradigm shift. Either you are going to start feeling quite superior to the bland chicken breasts in your refrigerator, or you're going to begin having nightmares of them chasing you. Your therapist should be amused.
Modern science is amazing. So, now we know the answer to that ancient question philosophers have scratched their domed heads about, and courtesans contemplated whilst staring at the ceiling. The dinosaur egg came first, from whence emerged the genetic permutation that became the barnyard chicken.
Now that we’ve put that old nut away, we can turn our minds to other mind-twisting philosophical questions that people have pondered for millennia, such as…
How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?