Remember Jurassic Park? The dinosaurs in that movie franchise were brought to life through DNA found in amber. The DNA purportedly came from mosquitoes that had taken blood from dinosaurs prior to being trapped in the tree resin that turned into amber.
Amber, a semi-precious stone that is fossilized tree resin, often contains the fossilized remains of insects and other small creatures, with little, if any, organic matter left. No organic matter, no dinosaur DNA, no Jurassic Park.
However, a team of researchers from the University of Regina, Royal Saskatchewan Museum, and Institute of Life Sciences and Technologies at Daugavpils University in Latvia, have now identified what appears to be organic matter in a 44-million-year-old beetle fossilized in amber.
This remarkable finding, and the methodology used in making it, has been published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, the fifth most-cited journal in the world.
“Using a set of advanced techniques we’ve not tried before, we took a 44-million-year-old beetle trapped in Baltic amber to see if it was possible that any preserved organic material might be present,” says U of R master’s of science student Jerit Mitchell, lead author of the study.
Dr. Mauricio Barbi, a U of R physics professor, says the team used the synchrotron radiation facilities at the University of Saskatchewan’s Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatoon to extract high-resolution 3D micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) images of the beetle.
“The synchrotron mid-infrared radiation gave us the capability to identify possible organic compounds in the specimen. We then complemented these two synchrotron radiation techniques by using a scanning electron microscope to provide further high-resolution images of the beetle and to determine the specific chemical elements present in the sample,” says Barbi, who led the team that discovered structurally preserved fossilized dinosaur cell layers in the skin of a 72-million-year-old hadrosaur.”
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Image: Jerit Mitchell gazing at a millions-year-old fossilized beetle
Credit: U of R Photography