NC State paleontologist Mary Schweitzer was on 60 Minutes on Sunday, in a story about her colleague Jack Horner. It’s a fascinating look at the work they’re doing on dinosaur bones and how it has shaken up their field.
The tricky thing about Schweitzer’s work is that she needs to get her hands on the insides of dinosaur bones, which means literally breaking the bones apart and sometimes dissolving pieces of them in acid. Most paleontologists won’t let her near their precious finds.
“Jack [Horner] is the only paleontologist out there who lets me dissolve his dinosaurs,” she told Stahl.
Tune in to 60 Minutes this Sunday. Lesley Stahl reports on Jack Horner, the Montana State University paleontologist, and the work he has done with NC State paleontologist Mary Schweitzer. She’s the researcher who has attracted attention for her discovery of soft tissue in dinosaur fossils.
The July issue of Wired magazine has a feature article on the controversy surrounding the work of NC State researcher Mary Schweitzer. She’s the paleontologist who in 2007, with colleagues, “announced in the journal Science that [they] had indeed uncovered seven preserved fragments of protein” in a sample of Tyrannosaurus rex femur. The story — “Origin of Species: How a T. Rex Femur Sparked a Scientific Smackdown” — is a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of scientific research and what happens when others reject your findings.
The discovery generated international headlines—”Study: Tyrannosaurus Rex Basically a Big Chicken” — as the first molecular confirmation of the long-theorized relationship between dinosaurs and birds. It was also the first-ever evidence that protein could survive even a million years, much less 68 million. The New York Times reported that the finding “opens the door for the first time to the exploration of molecular-level relationships of ancient, extinct animals.” Some news outlets couldn’t resist drawing parallels to a certain popular fictional tale. The research, suggested the UK Guardian, “also hints at the tantalizing prospect that scientists may one day be able to emulate Jurassic Park by cloning a dinosaur.”
Before long, however, a distinctly human subplot emerged. Within 16 months, three separate rebuttals appeared, two in Science itself. Many researchers were skeptical of the quality of Asara’s data and doubted that collagen could survive so long, even partially intact. “You’re talking about something a hundred times older than anything ever sequenced,” says Steven Salzberg, director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the University of Maryland. “If you have extraordinary results, they require extraordinary evidence.”
Paleontologist Mary Schweitzer and a group of researchers report in a recent issue of Science magazine that they have found soft issue in an 80 million-year-old hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur. Report of the find comes nearly four years after Schweitzer, an associate professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences, led a team that recovered soft tissue from a 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaurs Rex. The News & Observerreports:
The new evidence not only undermines skeptics of Mary Schweitzer’s earlier work, but also may point the way to where more bones with such material may be found. That could help other scientists replicate the findings and investigate questions such as how such delicate material could last for such an extraordinary length of time.