Tyrannosaurus Re-examined

This week saw the publication of another dinosaur study in PLoS ONE. In the article, entitled, Dinosaurian Soft Tissues Interpreted as Bacterial Biofilms, Thomas Kaye, at the Burke Museum of Natural History, and colleagues reported that material recovered from dissolved dinosaur bones by palaeontologists in 2005 (and believed to be dinosaurian soft tissue) may actually have been slimy biofilm created by bacteria that coated the voids once occupied by blood vessels and cells.

This study has already generated a large number of news articles and blog posts, including the following: New Scientist (T. rex 'tissue' may just be bacterial scum), Scientific American (Presumed dinosaur flesh may just be bacterial sludge), National Geographic (Dinosaur Slime Sparks Debate Over Soft-Tissue Finds), USA Today (New study has a bone to pick about dinosaur soft tissue), Aetiology (Dinosaur soft tissue–just bacterial biofilm?) and Pharyngula (Tyrannosaur morsels).

Several comments have already been posted on the published article and you can join in the discussion once you have created an account on the PLoS ONE publication website.

On the topic of biofilm, Carsten Matz’s paper, Marine Biofilm Bacteria Evade Eukaryotic Predation by Targeted Chemical Defense, published last week also picked up some coverage in the Washington Post (Social Lives of Bacteria May Yield Benefits for Humans) and Chemistry World (Biofilms deploy chemical weapons).

Also on a watery theme was Natalia Ospina-Álvarez and Francesc Piferrer’s paper on the potential effects of climate change on sex determination in fish. In vertebrates with separate sexes, sex determination can be genotypic (GSD) or temperature-dependent (TSD). The Spanish researchers used field and laboratory data to critically analyze the presence of TSD in the 59 species of fish where this type of sex determining mechanism had been postulated and found that increasing temperatures invariably resulted in highly male-biased sex ratios and that even small changes of just 1-2°C can significantly alter the sex ratio from 1:1 (males:females) up to 3:1 in both freshwater and marine species. Time Magazine covered the article (Global Warming's Fish-Sex Effect) and the story has also been Dugg several times.

Danish palaeontologist Per Christiansen compared the evolution of skull and mandible shape both in modern cats and in (the now extinct) sabercats; Greg Laden has posted a nice write-up of the study on his blog and there also posts on The Dragon’s Tales and on Counter Minds.

Finally, here is a quick round-up of some of coverage of several papers published in PLoS ONE on July 23rd: Does Pathogen Spillover from Commercially Reared Bumble Bees Threaten Wild Pollinators? (New Scientist, Reuters, Greg Laden’s blog); Sample Size and Precision in NIH Peer Review (The Scientist, Mike the Mad Biologist); and Changes in Gray Matter Induced by Learning—Revisited (Mind Hacks).

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