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[dinosaur] Preservation of keratinous claw sheath of oviraptorid Citipati

Ben Creisler

A new paper:

Alison Moyer, Mary Schweitzer & Wenxia Zheng (2016)

Microscopic and immunohistochemical analyses of the claw of the nesting dinosaur, Citipati osmolskae.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B 2016 283: 20161997

DOI:  10.1098/rspb.2016.1997


One of the most well-recognized Cretaceous fossils is Citipati osmolskae (MPC-D 100/979), an oviraptorid dinosaur discovered in brooding position on a nest of unhatched eggs. The original description refers to a thin lens of white material extending from a manus ungual, which was proposed to represent original keratinous claw sheath that, in life, would have covered it. Here, we test the hypothesis that this exceptional morphological preservation extends to the molecular level. The fossil sheath was compared with that of extant birds, revealing similar morphology and microstructural organization. In living birds, the claw sheath consists primarily of two structural proteins; alpha-keratin, expressed in all vertebrates, and beta-keratin, found only in reptiles and birds (sauropsids). We employed antibodies raised against avian feathers, which comprise almost entirely of beta-keratin, to demonstrate that fossil tissues respond with the same specificity, though less intensity, as those from living birds. Furthermore, we show that calcium chelation greatly increased antibody reactivity, suggesting a role for calcium in the preservation of this fossil material.