Just like modern birds, septic arthritis may have affected dinosaurs as well suggest a team of researchers who found evidence of the disease in fossils of a Hadrosaur – a duck-billed dinosaur.

Using microCT, scientists have shown that the dinosaur had septic arthritis in the elbow joint and this would have made it impossible for the dinosaur to move its elbow. For those of you who are not aware, Palaeopathology is a study of ancient diseases and trauma and this offers a unique snapshot into the immunology and life histories of extinct animals. These studies are most prominent in vertebrates because conditions that affect bone are much more likely to be preserved than soft tissue conditions.

The study and its findings are quite important because evidence of ancient diseases and injuries are fairly rare in the fossil record and secondly such diseases and injuries are even rarer in dinosaurs from the East Coast of North America. The combination of both is an extremely significant find, which allows for a look at the harsher side of life for dinosaurs on the eastern seaboard 70 million years ago.

The specimen was found was found in a former New Jersey quarry by David Parris of New Jersey State Museum. Like many fossils from this site, the specimen suffers from a geological condition called pyrite disease which makes it very fragile and can lead to it crumbling into dust. Therefore, the team used the microCT scanning facilities at Harvard University’s Center for Nanoscale Systems to do an internal diagnosis without the need for saws.

MicroCT allowed scientists to carry out accurate diagnosis of the pathology while also ensuring that the specimen remains intact for future studies.

“The fact that such a fossil was preserved is difficult to comprehend” said co-author Jason Schein of the New Jersey State Museum. “It’s exciting to think that New Jersey is still producing scientifically important finds after over 200 years of paleontological discoveries.”

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