Sore Enough to Eat San Diego

Even a tyrant lizard had to bellow and roar and regularly spread bloody carnage to be sure that none of the other Cretaceous creatures forgot who was rex. But the stressof life at the top of the food chain may not have been the only reason Tyrannosaurus rex is remembered as a world-class grouch. According to an analysis of a T. rex fossil called Sue, unearthed in South Dakota in 1990, this par- ticular queen, at least, suffered from excruciating gout.

The joints in one of Sue's forearms are pockmarked by lesions, found Dr. Bruce Rothschild of the Arthritis Center of Northeast Ohio. The "nature of the erosions [particularly their overhanging edges] is characteristic of gout," write Rothschild and colleagues in the current issue of Nature. Gout arises when uric acid in the blood forms deposits of crystals in the joints; the crystals eat away at the ends of the bones. And why did Sue contract gout? "Sue shows evidence of healed bite marks on her face and multiple bone fractures," says paleontologist Ken Carpenter of the Denver Museum of Natural History, who first noticed the signs of joint disease. "The injuries probably led to infections, which can damage the kidneys. And damaged kidneys make gout more likely." Especially, he says, if Sue was eating a diet rich in red meat - love that Triceratops sirloin - which contains proteins that can cause gout.

Did Sue's other joints ache? For about $1 million, you can look for yourself. The FBI seized Sue in 1992 in a byzantine legal case about the right to dig for fossils on land that's under federal jurisdiction. Now the landowner is putting her on the auction block at Sotheby's; this fall, she'll go to the highest bidder.