Evidence of proteins, chromosomes and chemical markers of DNA in exceptionally preserved dinosaur cartilage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A histological ground-section from a duck-billed dinosaur nestling (Hypacrosaurus stebingeri) revealed microstructures morphologically consistent with nuclei and chromosomes in cells within calcified cartilage. We hypothesized that this exceptional cellular preservation extended to the molecular level and had molecular features in common with extant avian cartilage. Histochemical and immunological evidence supports in situ preservation of extracellular matrix components found in extant cartilage, including glycosaminoglycans and collagen type II. Furthermore, isolated Hypacrosaurus chondrocytes react positively with two DNA intercalating stains. Specific DNA staining is only observed inside the isolated cells, suggesting endogenous nuclear material survived fossilization. Our data support the hypothesis that calcified cartilage is preserved at the molecular level in this Mesozoic material, and suggest that remnants of once-living chondrocytes, including their DNA, may preserve for millions of years.


  • Alida M. Bailleul
  • Wenxia Zheng
  • John R. Horner
  • Brian K. Hall
  • Casey M. Holliday
  • Mary H. Schweitzer
External organisations
  • Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • North Carolina State University
  • Dalhousie University
  • University of Missouri-Columbia
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Chapman University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Geology


  • Cartilage, Chromosomes, Collagen II, Dinosaur, DNA markers, Nuclei
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)815-822
Number of pages8
JournalNational Science Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Publication categoryResearch