Research Shows Osteomyelitis Connects Reptiles and Mammals

Researcher’s at the University of Cape Town discovered a new link between human beings and dinosaurs. That unlikely connection stems from the disease osteomyelitis. Keep reading to learn more about this prehistoric oddity, or follow the original story here.

The therapsid species thrived over 200-million years ago. This perhaps explains why most people never learned about it in biology class. In simplest terms, the therapsid is a mammal-like reptile. Scientists suspect that the therapsid is the common ancestor, or prototype for later mammals.

While studying the femur of a therapsid specimen, researchers at the University of Cape Town noticed something peculiar. The tissue of the bone didn’t adhere to normal growth patterns. As a result, researchers suspected that it could be caused by disease, and eventually determined the cause to be osteomyelitis.

Osteomyelitis results from bacterial infection. It deteriorates the bone. The disease exists in both modern mammals and reptiles. Evidence of osteomyelitis even exists in distant ancestors of mammals and reptiles that existed before dinosaurs. To learn more about it, click here.

The first recorded case of osteomyelitis occurred around 280 million years ago. The disease was first observed in the spine of the dorsal sailed pelycosaur. Pelycosaurs are also part of the group described as mammal-like reptiles and is suspected to have led to modern mammals.

Therapsids existed in between the mammal species we are familr with today and pelycosaurs. Scientists assumed therapsids would also suffer from osteomyelitis. Until the recent University of Cape Town (UCT) discovery, however, no proof existed.

Christen Shelton helped author the University’s paper on the subject. Shelton was also the one who first noticed the abnormal bone growth pattern. Shelton brought the abnormality to Anusuya Chinsamy, a paleobiologist at UCT. Professor Chinsamy agreed that it was unusual and suspected pathology.

When Bruce Rothschild, MD, of the West Virginia University School of Medicine joined the team he brought an expertise on dinosaur bone pathology. Rothschild uncovered the cause of the abnormality as bacterial infection. The creature’s response to infection created the unusual growth pattern.

Shelton added that the therapsid femur showed two puncture marks. These marks were likely from teeth, the results of a predator. The bite could later have become infected and caused the onset of osteomyelitis.

This evidence points scientists further towards the idea that mammals had a somewhat reptilian ancestor. Suspicions existed for a long time that therapsids were susceptible to osteomyelitis. Now there is finally some concrete evidence to point to.


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