News: Dino sores wreck Rex

Tyrannosaurus rex might be well known as the ‘tyrant lizard king’, but it seems not even this royal reptile was immune to nature’s tiniest organisms. Once thought to be caused by the bite of a fellow T. rex, holes in the jaws of a number of skeletons around the world are now suspected to be caused by a type of microscopic parasite.
Modern day pigeons can suffer from mouth infections caused by a single-celled organisms called Trichomonas gallinae. If left untreated, this microbe can move through the body and shut down major organs, killing the bird. This bird illness has been a major concern for pigeon racers in the past.
Serious infections caused by trichomonas parasite can often cause degeneration of nearby bone, which has led some US and Australian palaeontologists to question if such markings on the jaws of Tyrannosaurus rex remains could be caused by a similar parasite. Given that birds share a branch of the family tree with dinosaurs, this similarity could be rather significant.
This is not the first time bones have provided clues on a possible disease. Contagious diseases such as syphilis, leprosy and even tuberculosis have left marks on human skeletons, helping anthropologists gain a better understanding of the lifestyle and health of people who lived during ancient times.
Discoveries such as these can tell us a lot about how dinosaurs lived and died. As with pigeons, a T. rex with an infected jaw would find it difficult to eat and may starve to death. No other dinosaurs have been found with similar markings, and it has been proposed that it may have been spread via direct contact between fighting tyrannosaurs or even through cannibalism.
When studying extinct species, scientists typically have very little to go on other than a couple of bones or an occasional footprint. Even a tiny hole or mark on a bone can tell an interesting story.