Вадим Дудченко
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Using a CT scanner and a technique called dual-energy computed tomography (DECT), a team of scientists in Germany has identified a bone disease called tumefactive osteomyelitis in the fossilized jaw of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The skull of ‘Tristan Otto.’ Image credit: Hamm.

In 2010, a commercial paleontologist discovered one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever found.

The 68-million-year-old skeleton was then sold to an investment banker, who dubbed it ‘Tristan Otto’ before loaning it out to the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.

In the new research, Dr. Charlie Hamm of Charité University Hospital and colleagues investigated a portion of the Tristan Otto’s lower left jaw.

“DECT deploys X-rays at two different energy levels to provide information about tissue composition and disease processes not possible with single-energy CT,” they explained.

“We hypothesized that DECT could potentially allow for quantitative noninvasive element-based material decomposition and thereby help paleontologists in characterizing unique fossils.”

The CT technique enabled the researchers to overcome the difficulties of scanning a large portion of Tristan Otto’s lower jaw called the left dentary.

On visual inspection and CT imaging, the left dentary showed thickening and a mass on its surface that extended to the root of one of the teeth.

DECT detected a significant accumulation of the element fluorine in the mass, a finding associated with areas of decreased bone density.

The mass and fluorine accumulation supported the diagnosis of tumefactive osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone.

“While this is a proof-of-concept study, noninvasive DECT imaging that provides structural and molecular information on unique fossil objects has the potential to address an unmet need in paleontology, avoiding defragmentation or destruction,” Dr. Hamm said.

“The DECT approach has promise in other paleontological applications, such as age determination and differentiation of actual bone from replicas,” said Dr. Oliver Hampe, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.

“The experimental design, including the use of a clinical CT scanner, will allow for broad applications.”

The scientists presented their findings this week at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.


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