The project was born when paleontologist Susannah Maidment and biomedical researcher Sergio Bertazzo struck up a casual conversation at Britain’s Imperial College London. Bertazzo, who researches microcalcification in living tissue, was curious to see what fossils looked like under a scanning electron microscope. Maidment, who studies dinosaur motion, was intrigued, too.
“The museum was worried we would destroy whatever they gave us, so they gave us ‘bad’ samples that were just sitting there for more than 100 years,” says Bertazzo.
Bertazzo was shocked when he saw what appeared to be blood cells in the fossils. Maidment was skeptical: “I thought it had to be bacteria, or pollen, or modern contamination.”
But additional research has confirmed that structures resembling blood cells and collagen protein fibers — key elements of connective tissue — were preserved in six of eight fragments. The findings mean that even subpar fossils discarded at digs or tossed in museum collection junk drawers could yield valuable evidence about how dinosaurs lived and evolved.