Scientists have finally found a genetic link between dinosaurs and birds. Tiny pieces of protein extracted from a 68-million-year-old dinosaur bone have given scientists the first genetic proof that the Tyrannosaurus rex is a distant cousin to the modern chicken.
"It's the first molecular evidence of this link between birds and dinosaurs," said John Asara, a Harvard Medical School researcher, whose results were published in the journal Science. Scientists have long suspected that birds evolved from dinosaurs based on a study of dinosaur bones, but until recently, no soft tissue had survived to confirm the link.
That changed in 2005 when Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State University reported finding soft tissue, including blood vessels and cells, in a T. rex bone dug out of sandstone from the fossil-rich Hell Creek Formation in Montana. Schweitzer, in another study appearing in this week's issue of Science, found that extracts of T. rex bone reacted with antibodies to chicken collagen, further suggesting the presence of birdlike protein in dinosaur bones.