Cretaceous dinosaur bone contains recent organic material and provides an environment conducive to microbial communities

Evan T. Saitta, Renxing Liang, Maggie Cy Lau, Caleb M. Brown, Nicholas R. Longrich, Thomas G. Kaye, Ben J. Novak, Steven L. Salzberg, Mark A. Norell, Geoffrey D. Abbott, Marc R. Dickinson, Jakob Vinther, Ian D. Bull, Richard A. Brooker, Peter Martin, Paul Donohoe, Timothy Dj Knowles, Kirsty Eh Penkman, Tullis Onstott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fossils were thought to lack original organic molecules, but chemical analyses show that some can survive. Dinosaur bone has been proposed to preserve collagen, osteocytes, and blood vessels. However, proteins and labile lipids are diagenetically unstable, and bone is a porous open system, allowing microbial/molecular flux. These 'soft tissues' have been reinterpreted as biofilms. Organic preservation versus contamination of dinosaur bone was examined by freshly excavating, with aseptic protocols, fossils and sedimentary matrix, and chemically/biologically analyzing them. Fossil 'soft tissues' differed from collagen chemically and structurally; while degradation would be expected, the patterns observed did not support this. 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing revealed that dinosaur bone hosted an abundant microbial community different from lesser abundant communities of surrounding sediment. Subsurface dinosaur bone is a relatively fertile habitat, attracting microbes that likely utilize inorganic nutrients and complicate identification of original organic material. There exists potential post-burial taphonomic roles for subsurface microorganisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere46205
Number of pages89
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019, Saitta et al.


  • biochemistry
  • chemical biology
  • fossils
  • infectious disease
  • microbiology
  • microbiome
  • proteins

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