A recent study led by Phil Manning from Manchester University uses synchrotron imaging to investigate the chemicals of the healing process of 150-million-year-old dinosaur bones. This analysis does not just examine the physical state of the bone, but the chemical makeup of these areas. The results were published in an open access format in the Royal Society journal, Interface.
After a bone breaks, the body immediately begins the healing process and essentially have to start from scratch, just like when the skeleton was formed during embryonic development. This process uses different chemicals than what are used during normal bone growth and remodeling that goes on over the course of a lifetime. Other studies have shown that chemicals are retained in fossilized soft tissues, and the team suspected that hard tissues would do the same.
A synchrotron is a particle accelerator that uses light about 10 billion times brighter than our Sun for many uses, but in this case, it was used to analyze the chemical composition of ancient Allosaurus fragilis and Cathares aura bone calli, the sites of the healed bone. This approach investigated three elements with connections to bone physiology: copper, zinc, and strontium. Zinc encourages ossification, strontium inhibits osteoclasts (cells that break down bone) while promoting osteoblasts (cells that form bone), and copper is an important factor in the structural stability of collagen. The chemical analysis gave insight about the microstructure of the healing bone.
“Using synchrotron imaging, we were able to detect astoundingly dilute traces of chemical signatures that reveal not only the difference between normal and healed bone, but also how the damaged bone healed,” Manning said in a press release. “It seems dinosaurs evolved a splendid suite of defense mechanisms to help regulate the healing and repair of injuries. The ability to diagnose such processes some 150 million years later might well shed new light on how we can use Jurassic chemistry in the 21st Century.”
The team will continue looking for other trace biomarkers associated with dinosaur bone healing. This information will allow researchers to understand the different strategies employed by different extinct species for bone healing. Not only will this give clues to how dinosaurs were able to cope in such a violent environment, but the information gathered could lead to different approaches in facilitating the healing of human bones as well.