'DNA' found preserved in 75-million-year-old dinosaur fossils for the first time

Cartilage cells, chromosomes and DNA have been found preserved in the 75-million-year-old fossils of a baby duck-billed dinosaur, a study has claimed.

Researchers analysed the skull fragments of young, nest-bound Hypacrosaurus specimens unearthed from the 'Two Medicine Formation' in Montana in the US.

Experts have conventionally believed that such organic material should not be able to remain intact for so long — with DNA expected to only last under 1 million years. 

If the findings are correct, however, it would appear that organic material can survive for far longer than previously thought.

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Cartilage cells, chromosomes and DNA have been found preserved in the 75-million-year-old fossils of a baby duck-billed dinosaur, a study has claimed. Pictured, Hypacrosaurus cartilage seen under a microscope, showing individual cells, cell nuclei and inter-cellular bridges

Cartilage cells, chromosomes and DNA have been found preserved in the 75-million-year-old fossils of a baby duck-billed dinosaur, a study has claimed. Pictured, Hypacrosaurus cartilage seen under a microscope, showing individual cells, cell nuclei and inter-cellular bridges

Experts have long believed that such organic material should not be able to remain intact for so long — with DNA expected to only last under 1 million years. Pictured, top, the Hypacrosaurus fossils under increasing magnification, with Emu bones, bottom, for comparison

Experts have long believed that such organic material should not be able to remain intact for so long — with DNA expected to only last under 1 million years. Pictured, top, the Hypacrosaurus fossils under increasing magnification, with Emu bones, bottom, for comparison

'These new exciting results add to growing evidence that cells and some of their biomolecules can persist in deep-time,' said paper author and palaeontologist Alida Bailleul of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

'They suggest DNA can preserve for tens of millions of years.'

'We hope that this study will encourage scientists working on ancient DNA to push current limits and to use new methodology in order to reveal all the unknown molecular secrets that ancient tissues have.' 

In their study, Dr Bailleul and colleagues studied fossilised skull fragments of the young Hypacrosaurus under the microscope — finding exquisitely preserved cells within calcified cartilage tissues.

Two of the cartilage cells were still linked by an inter-cellular bridge — just as would be seen near the end of the process of cell division — while elsewhere cell nuclei could be seen as a dark material in the specimens.

One cartilage cells even held preserved dark elongated structures that the researchers believe may be chromosomes.

'I couldn't believe it, my heart almost stopped beating,' Dr Bailleul said. 

If the researchers' findings are correct, it would appear that organic material can survive for far longer than previously thought. Pictured: left, two dinosaur cartilage cells in the late stages of cell division, centre, an individual cell and, right, a cell being tested for DNA. The red stain in the cell indicates the potential presence of preserved dinosaur DNA

If the researchers' findings are correct, it would appear that organic material can survive for far longer than previously thought. Pictured: left, two dinosaur cartilage cells in the late stages of cell division, centre, an individual cell and, right, a cell being tested for DNA. The red stain in the cell indicates the potential presence of preserved dinosaur DNA

'These new exciting results add to growing evidence that cells and some of their biomolecules can persist in deep-time,' said paper author and palaeontologist Alida Bailleul of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Pictured, a fossil Hypacrosaurus youngling (stock image)

'These new exciting results add to growing evidence that cells and some of their biomolecules can persist in deep-time,' said paper author and

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