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Confuciusornis colors revealed with X-rays

From: Ben Creisler

New in Science Express:

R. A. Wogelius, P. L. Manning, H. E. Barden, N. P. Edwards, S. M. Webb, W.
I. Sellers, K. G. Taylor, P. L. Larson, P. Dodson, H. You, L. Da-qing, & U.
Bergmann (2011)
Trace Metals as Biomarkers for Eumelanin Pigment in the Fossil Record.
Science (Science Express advance publication)
DOI: 10.1126/science.1205748 

Well-preserved fossils of pivotal early bird and nonavian theropod species
have provided unequivocal evidence for feathers and/or down-like
integuments. Recent studies have reconstructed color based upon melanosome
structure; however, the chemistry of these proposed melanosomes has
remained unknown. Here, we apply synchrotron x-ray techniques to several
fossil and extant organisms, including Confuciusornis sanctus, to map and
characterize possible chemical residues of melanin pigments. Results show
that trace metals, such as copper, are present in fossils as organometallic
compounds most likely derived from original eumelanin. The distribution of
these compounds provides a long-lived biomarker of melanin presence and
density within a range of fossilized organisms. Metal zoning patterns may
be preserved long after melanosome structures have been destroyed. 


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