Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Good Dentistry May Have Saved The Dinosaurs

Infectious diseases can be spreaded by sneezing, touching, or – for Tasmanian devils – biting each other on the face, a habit that may have driven the dinosaurs to extinction through the transmission of a protozoan parasite.

Jacqueline Upcroft, a member of f1000 Biology, draw attention to the 'paleobiological detective work' of David Varricchio and colleagues published in PLoS One. This led them to figure out that a protozoan parasite was to blame for the diseased jaw bones seen in many tyrannosaurid fossils.

The parasite's modern-day equivalent, which infects birds, eats away at the jawbone and can stimulate ulcers so severe that the host starves to death. Living in the jaw, the parasite may have been passed from one dinosaur to another dinosaur during head biting.

Upcroft said, "this organism generally infects pigeons ,doves, turkeys and raptors, causing necrotic ulceration in the upper digestive tract," and in extreme cases it can fully penetrate the bone.

The similarity of the fossilized jawbones and modern-day samples suggest that the parasite was deadly enough to kill infected dinosaurs. Furthermore, as Upcroft notes, "this may not have been an separated situation but may have occurred en masse and led to the extinction of the species."

12 comments:

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