Bone cancer found in 240-million-year-old stem-turtle fossil

February 8, 2019 by Bob Yirka, report
A micro-computed tomography scan shows the undisturbed cortical bone and the extent of the periosteal mass (circled area). CB indicates cortical bone; OS, osteosarcoma; SP, spicular outgrowth. The black scale bar represents 1 cm. Credit: JAMA Oncology (2019). DOI: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.6766

A team of researchers with Museum für Naturkunde and Charité—Universitätsmedizin, both in Germany, reports a case of a rare type of cancer in a 240-million-year-old stem-turtle fossil. In their paper published in JAMA Oncology, the group describes their study of the unique growth on the ancient fossil.

The fossil was from Pappochelys rosinae—a shell-less ancestor of modern turtles. The Triassic period creature was excavated back in 2015 along with 20 others of its kind from a limestone quarry near a town called Velberg, in Germany. The researchers suggest they likely looked more like iguanas than modern turtles. Since that time, all of the fossils have been stored at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart. But one of them was clearly different from the others—it had a large bone growth on a part of its thigh bone (femur). The researchers proposed various theories to explain the growth, but it took the current research effort to nail down what the growth actually was—a periosteal osteosarcoma—one that the team describes as looking "almost exactly like osteosarcoma in humans."

Evidence of cancer in fossils is rare, because cancerous tumors usually occur in soft tissue. And the kind of cancer found in the fossil was even more rare—just 800 to 900 human cases are reported each year in the U.S. That makes the fossil studied by the team in Germany a truly unique specimen.

In order to make the diagnosis, the researchers first had to rule out other possible causes of the bone growth, such as an infection or another disease or injury. Eventually, they subjected it to a micro-CT scan to better examine what was inside and beneath it. That led them to the conclusion that it was a form of cancer.

The researchers note that because evidence of cancer is so seldom observed in the , some in the field have questioned whether it was prevalent or even occurred in creatures from millions of years ago. Finds like the turtle offer more evidence that has been around for a very long time.

Explore further: Nearly forgotten 'dinosaur' bone found to belong to ancient hippo-like creature

More information: Yara Haridy et al. Triassic Cancer—Osteosarcoma in a 240-Million-Year-Old Stem-Turtle, JAMA Oncology (2019). DOI: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.6766

Related Stories

Key link in turtle evolution discovered

June 25, 2015

An international team of researchers from the United States and Germany have discovered a key missing link in the evolutionary history of turtles. The new extinct species of reptile, Pappochelys, was unearthed in an area ...

New dinosaur species unearthed in Venezuela

October 8, 2014

( —A team of paleontologists with members from Brazil, Venezuela, the U.S. and Germany has found fossil evidence of a previously unknown dinosaur in Venezuela. In their paper published in the journal Royal Society ...

Recommended for you

Light-based production of drug-discovery molecules

February 18, 2019

Photoelectrochemical (PEC) cells are widely studied for the conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels. They use photocathodes and photoanodes to "split" water into hydrogen and oxygen respectively. PEC cells can work ...

Solid-state catalysis: Fluctuations clear the way

February 18, 2019

The use of efficient catalytic agents is what makes many technical procedures feasible in the first place. Indeed, synthesis of more than 80 percent of the products generated in the chemical industry requires the input of ...

Sound waves let quantum systems 'talk' to one another

February 18, 2019

Researchers at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory have invented an innovative way for different types of quantum technology to "talk" to each other using sound. The study, published Feb. 11 in Nature ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.