Science Gazette

The first signs of dinosaur respiratory illness have been discovered

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In the petrified bones of a dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago, scientists found the earliest evidence of a rare respiratory ailment. Researchers looked at the remnants of an immature diplodocid, a long-necked herbivorous sauropod dinosaur like ‘Brontosaurus,’ that lived during the Mesozoic Era’s Late Jurassic Period. In the region of its neck vertebrae, the dinosaur dubbed ‘Dolly,’ unearthed in southwest Montana, exhibited indications of an illness.

The first evidence of a rare respiratory ailment in the fossilized bones of a dinosaur that lived almost 150 million years ago was found by a consortium of researchers from around the nation, including University of New Mexico Research Assistant Professor Ewan Wolff.

Researchers studied the bones of an immature diplodocid (a long-necked herbivorous sauropod dinosaur like “Brontosaurus”) from the Mesozoic Era’s Late Jurassic Period. In the region of its neck vertebrae, the dinosaur dubbed “Dolly,” unearthed in southwest Montana, exhibited indications of an illness.

They discovered never-before-seen aberrant bony protrusions with a peculiar form and texture, headed by Cary Woodruff of the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum. These protrusions were found in a location of each bone where air sacs may have pierced them. Air sacs are non-oxygen exchanging elements of the respiratory system of contemporary birds that are also found in dinosaurs. The air sacs would have eventually joined to “Dolly’s” lungs, becoming part of the dinosaur’s intricate respiratory system. The uneven protrusions were found to be comprised of aberrant bone that had grown in response to an infection, according to CT imaging.

“Coughing, problems breathing, fever — we’ve all had these symptoms, and here’s a 150-million-year-old dinosaur who was probably just as uncomfortable as we are when we’re sick.” According to Woodruff.

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These discoveries are crucial, according to the researchers, since Dolly was a non-avian dinosaur, and sauropods, like Dolly, did not transition into birds; only avian theropods did. This lung ailment might have been caused by a fungal infection comparable to aspergillosis, a common respiratory sickness that affects birds and reptiles today and can lead to bone infections, according to the investigators. This preserved illness not only documents the first occurrence of such a respiratory infection in a dinosaur, but it also has crucial structural implications for sauropod dinosaurs’ respiratory systems.

“Not only does this ancient illness in Dolly help us track the evolutionary history of respiratory-related diseases back in antiquity, but it also helps us understand what sorts of diseases dinosaurs were vulnerable to,” Woodruff said.

“This would have been a terribly, clearly unwell sauropod,” Wolff added. “Dinosaurs were formerly thought to be enormous and robust, but they became ill. They suffered from respiratory ailments similar to those experienced by birds today, and in certain circumstances, they may have even suffered from the same life-threatening infections.”

If Dolly had been sick with an aspergillosis-like respiratory illness, the researchers believe it would have shown flu or pneumonia-like symptoms such as weight loss, coughing, fever, and breathing problems. Because untreated aspergillosis may be lethal in birds, a possibly comparable illness in Dolly might have resulted in her death.

“We need to continue to learn more about old illnesses. We may be able to learn more about the development of immunity and infectious illness if we search hard enough “According to Wolff. “We may come away with a more full picture of ancient illness when we work together across many specialities — veterinarians, anatomists, paleontologists, paleopathologists, and radiologists.”

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Cary Woodruff, a paleopathologist/veterinarian; Ewan Wolff (University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M.); Sophie Dennison (TeleVet Imaging Solutions, Oakton, Va.); and two paleontologists who are also medical anatomists, Mathew Wedel (Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, Calif.) and Lawrence Witmer (Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, Calif. (Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Athens, Ohio).

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