A combined team of paleontologists which included members from the University of Bristol and the University College Cork has made a breakthrough discovery regarding new sources of melanin. The theory will lead to a radical shift in how scientists reconstruct the color of fossilized animals such as birds, reptiles and dinosaurs.
Most studies affirmed that melanosomes, the fossilized granules of melanin, came from the skin. New evidence has shown however that different tissues, like the spleen, liver and lungs also contain melanosomes rendering the belief that melanosomes determined the color of the skin to be wrong.
Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study is led by the University College Cork professor Dr. Maria McNamara along with her PhD student Valentina Rossi and a team composed of paleontologists from the University of Dublin, Japan and UK. Powerful microscopes were employed in order to observe highly abundant internal melanosomes under chemical stimulation.
According to the study, several animals may have been incorrectly reconstructed, by assuming the skin color was provided by the number of melanosomes contained in the skin. As such many of the reconstructed animals may need a change when the fossils on which they are based will be analyzed by using the brand new method. While not a radical change, this will certainly impact future studies, allowing for a more accurate study of how extinct species really looked like. It will also allow the construction of reproduction that is more loyal to the original.
It was also found out that melanosomes may leak from the inside to the outside of the body during the fossilization process. Analysis of decay experiments also proved this process to be valid but there is, however, a very important detail: skin melanosomes can be distinguished from others based on comparisons between shapes and sizes
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