Morphological and geochemical evidence of eumelanin preservation in the feathers of the Early Cretaceous bird, Gansus yumenensis

Holly E. Barden, Roy A. Wogelius, Daqing Li, Phillip L. Manning, Nicholas P. Edwards, Bart E. van Dongen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Recent studies have shown evidence for the preservation of colour in fossilized soft tissues by imaging melanosomes, melanin pigment containing organelles. This study combines geochemical analyses with morphological observations to investigate the preservation of melanosomes and melanin within feathers of the Early Cretaceous bird, Gansus yumenensis. Scanning electron microscopy reveals structures concordant with those previously identified as eumelanosomes within visually dark areas of the feathers but not in lighter areas or sedimentary matrices. Fourier transform infrared analyses show different spectra for the feathers and their matrices; melanic functional groups appear in the feather including carboxylic acid and ketone groups that are not seen in the matrix. When mapped, the carboxylic acid group absorption faithfully replicates the visually dark areas of the feathers. Electron Paramagnetic Resonance spectroscopy of one specimen demonstrates the presence of organic signals but proved too insensitive to resolve melanin. Pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry shows a similar distribution of aliphatic material within both feathers that are different from those of their respective matrices. In combination, these techniques strongly suggest that not only do the feathers contain endogenous organic material, but that both geochemical and morphological evidence supports the preservation of original eumelanic pigment residue. © 2011 Barden et al.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere25494
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2011


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