U of A researchers study dinosaur tail preserved in amber that outdoes Jurassic Park

U of A researchers study dinosaur tail preserved in amber that outdoes Jurassic Park
By Bill Mah
First posted: Thursday, December 08, 2016 12:45 PM EST | Updated: Thursday, December 08, 2016 01:24 PM EST
In a discovery reminiscent of the movie Jurassic Park, researchers have found a piece of dinosaur tail encased inside a nugget of amber.

But real life has proven stranger than science fiction.

While the film featured genetic engineers extracting dinosaur DNA from mosquitos fossilized in sap turned to stone, the toonie-sized gemstone found in Myanmar actually contains a tiny tail segment from a 100-million year old dinosaur.

Scientists aren’t sure how the inch-and-a-half long piece of dino tail ended up in amber.

“It’s really strange,” said Scott Persons, a University of Alberta paleontologist, who joined, along other U of A scientists, an international team of researchers studying the find.

“Before this, it’s not something that would have ever occurred to you that something like this could happen,” Persons said. It may have been that the animal was alive, got its tail stuck and maybe the animal had to do something dramatic like gnaw off its own tail. Or maybe it broke its tail off in the resin or maybe it got stuck there and died.” A more likely scenario is the creature died and its remains were covered in the sticky secretion, he said.

The tail, from near the tip end and covered with tiny feathers, comes from a dinosaur about the size of a robin. It could be a hatchling or an as-yet unknown species of small dinosaurs.

Researchers believe the dinosaur was a two-legged carnivore that belonged to the same general group as tyrannosaurus rex.

But can scientists extract DNA from the tail to clone the dinosaur?

“Without question this is as close to the Jurassic Park scenario as we’ve ever gotten,” Persons said. “Amber is really, really good at preserving soft tissues … but I wouldn’t hold your breath at finding good genetic material in this specimen. Even though it’s preserved in amber, we’re still talking about nearly 100 million years.”

Persons calls this find the “tip of the iceberg” because it’s shown the potential for new amber-preserved dinosaur specimens to be found in Myanmar.

“Once everyone hears about this specimen, there’s probably going to be a dinosaur-amber rush and a lot more really cool specimens are going to come out.”

bmah@postmedia.com (external - login to view)

An X-ray of a piece of amber containing a tiny segment of dinosaur tail. (Supplied by Scott Persons)

U of A researchers study dinosaur tail preserved in amber that outdoes Jurassic
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Oldest piece of tail in history....
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