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New Study of Dinosaur Fossil Sheds Light on Evolution of a Unique Breathing Technique

Heterodontosaurus lived in the early Jurassic period, about 200 million years ago. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Heterodontosaurus lived in the early Jurassic period, about 200 million years ago. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The study quashed the earlier held belief that all dinosaurs had lungs that functioned like those of birds. Their observations pointed out that Heterodontosaurus used a different mechanism of respiration.

A new study is here to present new information on how the ancient animals used to breathe. A team of international scientists published their study in eLife journal last week showing their observations on the breathing biology of dinosaurs after they studied a fossil.

The team of researchers included: Viktor J Radermacher Is a corresponding author, Vincent Fernandez, Emma R Schachner, Richard J Butler, Emese M Bordy, Michael Naylor Hudgins, William J de Klerk, Kimberley EJ Chapelle and Jonah N Choiniere. The study scanned one of the most complete dinosaur fossils ever found, that of Heterodontosaurus tucki, a small herbivorous dinosaur. The fossil was discovered in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa.

Using data from the European Synchrotron Radiation Source (ESRF), researchers were able to work out how the dinosaur breathed. The study quashed the earlier held belief that all dinosaurs had lungs that functioned like those of birds. Their observations pointed out that Heterodontosaurus used a different mechanism of respiration. It is now believed that the extinct animal had toothpick-like bones called gastralia, and paired sternal bones and sternal ribs that were shaped like tennis rackets. These bones expanded both its chest and belly in order to breathe.

Scientists have mentioned in the study that this skeletal structure increased the motion of the chest, which was only possible in more primitive ornithischians or extinct herbivore reptiles. In the advanced species, this anatomy was not present and hence the breathing motion was also much more modern.The research mentions that while the chest was simpler in advanced species, their pelvis was more specialised and is believed to have played a role in breathing as it does in modern crocodiles.

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The species studied for this research walked the earth 200 million years ago during the early Jurassic period. Through the discovery of its unique breathing mechanism, scientists believe that differences in respiration strategies might be one of the underlying reasons that some lineages of animals go extinct.

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first published:July 12, 2021, 19:50 IST