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Feathered Fossils Provide Insight on Dinosaurs' True Colors

Aug 30, 2015 01:45 PM EDT
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Fossilized feathers from a bird-like dinosaur, Anchiornis huxleyi, were found to contain preserved pigments that could further indicate the ancient animal's true colors, according to Brown University. An international team of researchers went beyond the fossil's structure, to examine its melanosomes. 

Melanosomes produce pigment, which determines skin and hair color. Whether or not this could be preserved in fossils was previously a hot topic for debate; however, this study has proved that it is possible.

"We have integrated structural and molecular evidence that demonstrates that melanosomes do persist in the fossil record," co-author Ryan Carney, a graduate student at Brown University, said in a statement. "This evidence of animal-specific melanin in fossil feathers is the final nail in the coffin that shows that these microbodies are indeed melanosomes and not microbes."

Carney noted that these findings are important for past and future studies that seek to determine the color of a dinosaur based on its fossils.

The team of researchers used an electron microscope to observe the fossilized feather's chemical attributes, and when comparing them to that of modern-day pigments, they found them to be almost identical. They also confirmed the pigments found in the Anchiornis suggests it had dark black feathers.

The study was led by Johan Lindgren of Lund University, in Sweden, and was recently published in Scientific Reports.

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