Origin of Species: How a T. Rex Femur Sparked a Scientific Smackdown

Everyone suspected dinosaurs were giant birds; then one researcher produced 68 million-year-old protein to prove it. Critics rejected those findings as statistical junk. How a femur sparked a new field of biology—and a scientific smackdown.

  1. Sixty-eight million years ago, on a soggy marsh in what is now a desolate stretch of eastern Montana, a Tyrannosaurus rex died. In 2000 a team of paleontologist led by famed dinosaur hunter Jack Horner found it. These are scientific facts, as solid as the chunk of fossilized femur from that same T. rex that Horner gave to North Carolina State University paleontologist Mary Schweitzer in 2003. It was labeled sample MOR 1125.

    Several facts concerning MOR 1125 are also beyond dispute: First, that a technician in Schweitzer's lab put a piece of the bone in a demineralizing bath to study its components but left it in longer than necessary; when she returned, all that remained was a pliable, fibrous substance. That Schweitzer, intrigued by this result, ground up and prepared another piece of the bone and sent it to John Asara, a mass spectrometry expert at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. That Asara treated the brown powder with an enzyme and injected it into...

The complete text of “Origin of Species: How a T. Rex Femur Sparked a Scientific Smackdown” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on www.wired.com.

Originally published in Wired, June 2009

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