HELENA - The discovery of 70-million-year-old soft tissue from a Tyrannosaurus rex unearthed near Jordan is ranked by "Discover" magazine as one of the 10 most important science stories of the year.
The magazine, which hit newsstands last week, lauded Helena native Mary Schweitzer and her North Carolina State University research team for finding the soft tissue in the thigh bone of a T. rex known as MOR 1125. The fossil was found in 2000 in the Hell Creek sandstone formation in the C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge and removed in 2003. The dinosaur was about 18 years old when it died.
The tissue find was No. 6 on the magazine's list. The year's top science story, according to "Discovery," was how major hurricanes have intensified the debate on global warming.
Previous theories surrounding fossil preservation held that organic molecules couldn't survive beyond 100,000 years. But Schweitzer's discovery suggested otherwise, although researchers have yet to say whether the cells still contain genetic information.
Jack Horner, a co-author of the paper and paleontologist at Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies, said 2005 was a remarkable year in paleontology.
"Finding soft tissue in fossilized bone is the most significant discovery made in paleontology this century," he said. "It's changing our view of how fossilization works. It reveals things that paleontologists _ since paleontology began - thought was just not possible."-
Horner, a technical adviser for the "Jurassic Park" movies, said the discovery would likely lead to other significant work, including new breakthroughs in the study of biomolecules.
"You can't just look at a specimen and say it's well preserved," he said. "It's something that has to be done by careful analysis, and that's why we're here."
Later in the year, Schweitzer's team advanced its discovery when it found, in the same T. rex tissue, a specific tissue common to modern female birds. The find helped scientists prove that this particular dinosaur was a female ready to lay eggs and that bids and dinosaurs were, in fact, closely related as long suspected.
"Besides those two discoveries, we learned a great deal this year on how dinosaurs grew," Horner said. "I can't say there's ever been a time that we've made such great progress."