The image snapped of the blood-bloated mosquito, perfectly preserved, is reminiscent of something from Jurassic Park, after the fictitious bioengineering company, InGen, made a similar discovery.
For the very first time, a group of researchers have located a female mosquito, with traces of blood found within its engorged belly, preserved within oil shale from Montana.
The team was led by Dale Greenwalt of the United States National Museum of Natural History, situated in Washington, with the fascinating discovery reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
On prior occasions, researchers had found fossilized insects that they suspected fed by taking blood meals. However, these assertions were merely theorized from observations made regarding the creatures’ anatomical features, alongside the presence of blood-borne parasites (malarial protozoan and Trypanosomes) that were extracted from their guts.
Blood-Engorged Mosquito Analyzed by Mass Spectrometry
Greenwalt and his colleagues have presented compelling evidence to suggest that blood-feeding was common practice amongst ancient insects, that were zipping about the Earth some 46 million years ago, during the Eocene era.
The finding was a phenomenally rare one, which Greenwalt was keen to reflect upon when talking to Nature:
“The abdomen of a blood-engorged mosquito is like a balloon ready to burst. It is very fragile… The chances that it wouldn’t have disintegrated prior to fossilization were infinitesimally small.”
Unlike Spielberg’s Jurassic Park movie, Greenwalt’s latest discovery was found within shale sediment, as opposed to amber. Alas, after the passage of 46 million years, since the female mosquito’s initial preservation, all of the genetic material has been degraded. However, although these large, fragile DNA molecules are no longer present, other molecules have managed to endure the test of time.
To confirm the presence of these components, the team fired molecules of a heavy metal, called bismuth, at the fossilized specimen, vaporizing the chemical constituents within. These chemicals were lofted airborne, and were then analyzed by mass spectrometry.
Exploring the contents of the ancient insect’s gut, the team were able to identify traces of iron and aromatic porphyrin molecules; these two are both constituents of hemoglobin, a pigment responsible for transportation of oxygen within the bloodstream of vertebrates.
Comparatively speaking, the molecules were either entirely absent, or were present in infinitesimal quantities, within male mosquitoes of the same age; this was to be expected, as these ancient male mosquitoes did not drink blood.
T. Rex Bone Study Finds Hemoglobin
Meanwhile, Mary H. Schweitzer of the Department of Biology and Museum of the Rockies, at Montana State University, had made the highly controversial claim that she had isolated heme compounds in dinosaur trabecular bone.
Schweitzer and her colleagues investigated the bones of the Tyrannosaurus rex, collected from the Museum of Rockies. Tissues were acquired by grinding down the bone into a powder, and adding extraction buffers. After employing several immunochemical and analytical methods, they reported finding heme and hemoglobin products.
An immunochemical study showed, when rats were subjected to the tissue extracts from the T. rex, their immune systems coordinated a specific response against hemoglobin. This finding was further corroborated by nuclear magnetic resonance studies, which demonstrated signatures consistent with those found in heme.
Greenwalt indicates that his own research lends credence to Schweitzer’s own study.
Meanwhile, those hoping for the day when dinosaurs are cloned will be disappointed to hear the contingency to be incredibly remote. A recent research study, entitled the half-life
of DNA in bone: measuring decay kinetics in 158 dates fossils, approximated DNA to last for an average of 521 years for short sequence strands.
This will, no doubt, disappoint eccentric billionaire Clive Palmer who, as reported by the Business Insider, had discussed cloning a dinosaur and releasing it into a Jurassic Park-esque enclosure, at his Palmer Resort in Coolum.
In summarizing the group’s amazing findings, George Poinar, who investigates the fossilized remains of insects at Oregon State University in Corvallis, confirmed that porphyrin compounds can “… survive under the right conditions for millions of years.”
Even though the blood-bloated insect is unlikely to be harnessed for the purposes of cloning, Greenwalt believes that the research could yield researchers with a better understanding of the fossilization process.
By: James Fenner