T. Rex: The Other White Meat?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! The Smithsonian staff will be taking the day off tomorrow to gather with family and eat our preferred turkey variant (turkey, tofurkey, turducken, etc.).

So, with food on everyone’s minds, now seemed as good a time as any to address the inevitable question: What did dinosaurs taste like?

And, yes, the inevitable answer: Chicken.

Well, possibly chicken. The best clue comes from two studies conducted in 2007-2008, by John Asara of Harvard Medical School and Mary Schweitzer of North Carolina State University (whose work on soft tissue in dinosaurs was described in Smithsonian magazine's "Dinosaur Shocker.") As the Washington Post reported:

"Protein retrieved from a 68 millon-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex bone closely resembles the main protein in chicken and ostrich bones and is only distantly related to lizards', strengthening the popular idea that birds, and not reptiles, are the closest living relatives of dinosaurs.

In the new analysis, the team compared the order of 89 amino acids from the T. rex sample to the equivalent collagen sequence from a chicken, an ostrich, an alligator and a green anole lizard, a reptile commonly used in laboratory research.

The results indicate that T. rex, chickens and ostriches are evolutionary siblings, all descended from a single unidentified predecessor. Alligator collagen is more distantly related, and lizard collagen is more distantly related still."

When the research team first released their findings in 2007, the New York Times wryly observed: “The scientists resisted being drawn into speculation on the likely taste of a T-rex drumstick.”

But, by 2008, Asara felt sure enough of his latest study to note, “Based on this data, you can be very confident that T. rex would taste more like chicken than it did last year.”

Our distant ancestors could have confirmed this theory—and, no, I’m not talking about cavemen like the fur bikini-clad Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. I’m referring to a shrew-like mammal named Repenomamus robustus, which lived 130 million years ago. In 2005, scientists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York announced they had found a fossilized specimen, with a baby dinosaur still in its gullet. “This is the first direct evidence that mammals fed on dinosaurs,” said Jin Meng, a paleontologist at the museum. “Now we can say that dinosaurs could be very tasty, which is good news.”

Well, good news if you’re not a dinosaur. In the meantime, the precise answer to the question of what dinosaurs tasted like will remain a mystery.

However, this much we know for certain: They weren’t kosher.

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