Trace metals as biomarkers for eumelanin pigment in the fossil record

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

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Well-preserved fossils of pivotal early bird and nonavian theropod species have provided unequivocal evidence for feathers and/or downlike integuments. Recent studies have reconstructed color on the basis of melanosome structure; however, the chemistry of these proposed melanosomes has remained unknown. We applied synchrotron x-ray techniques to several fossil and extant organisms, including Confuciusornis sanctus, in order 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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1622-1626
    Number of pages4
    JournalScience
    Volume333
    Issue number6049
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Sep 2011

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