Nicholas P. Edwards, Arjen van Veelen, Jennifer Anné, Phillip L. Manning, Uwe Bergmann, William I. Sellers, Victoria M. Egerton, Dimosthenis Sokaras, Roberto Alonso-Mori, Kazumasa Wakamatsu, Shosuke Ito & Roy A. Wogelius (2016)
Elemental characterisation of melanin in feathers via synchrotron X-ray imaging and absorption spectroscopy.
Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 34002 (2016)
Melanin is a critical component of biological systems, but the exact chemistry of melanin is still imprecisely known. This is partly due to melanin’s complex heterogeneous nature and partly because many studies use synthetic analogues and/or pigments extracted from their natural biological setting, which may display important differences from endogenous pigments. Here we demonstrate how synchrotron X-ray analyses can non-destructively characterise the elements associated with melanin pigment in situ within extant feathers. Elemental imaging shows that the distributions of Ca, Cu and Zn are almost exclusively controlled by melanin pigment distribution. X-ray absorption spectroscopy demonstrates that the atomic coordination of zinc and sulfur is different within eumelanised regions compared to pheomelanised regions. This not only impacts our fundamental understanding of pigmentation in extant organisms but also provides a significant contribution to the evidence-based colour palette available for reconstructing the appearance of fossil organisms.