Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

First image of protein residue in 50-million-year-old reptile skin

Date:
March 23, 2011
Source:
University of Manchester
Summary:
The organic compounds surviving in 50-million-year-old fossilized reptile skin can be seen for the first time, thanks to a stunning infrared image produced by palaeontologists and geochemists.

Above: 50-million-year-old reptile skin from the Green River Formation, Utah. A team of researchers led by the University of Manchester in the UK have used modern infrared technology to show that protein residue has survived within the remarkably preserved skin. The small sample is about 8 cm long.
Credit: N. P. Edwards

The organic compounds surviving in 50-million-year-old fossilized reptile skin can be seen for the first time, thanks to a stunning infrared image produced by University of Manchester palaeontologists and geochemists.

Published in the journal Royal Society Proceedings B: Biology, the brightly-coloured image shows the presence of amides -- organic compounds that serve as building blocks of life -- in the ancient skin of a reptile, found in the 50-million-year-old rocks of the Green River Formation in Utah.

This image had never been seen by the human eye, until a team led by Dr Roy Wogelius and Dr Phil Manning used state-of-the-art infrared technology at The University of Manchester to reveal and map the fossilized soft tissue of a beautifully-preserved reptile.

These infrared maps are backed up by the first ever element-specific maps of organic material in fossil skin generated using X-rays at the Stanford synchrotron in the USA, also by the Manchester researchers.

Chemical details are clear enough that the scientists, from the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, are even able to propose how this exceptional preservation occurs.

When the original compounds in the skin begin to break down they can form chemical bonds with trace metals, and under exceptional conditions these trace metals act like a 'bridge' to minerals in the sediments. This protects the skin material from being washed away or decomposing further.

Geochemist Roy Wogelius said: "The mapped distributions of organic compounds and trace metals in 50 million year old skin look so much like maps we've made of modern lizard skin as a check on our work, it is sometimes hard to tell which is the fossil and which is fresh."

"These new infrared and X-ray methods reveal intricate chemical patterns that have been overlooked by traditional methods for decades."

The new images are compelling, and represent the next step in the academics' research programme to use modern analytical chemistry and 21st century techniques to understand how such remarkable preservation occurs, and ultimately to discover the chemistry of ancient life.

These new results imply that trace metal inventories and patterns in ancient reptile skin, even after fossilisation, can indeed be compared to modern reptiles.

The infrared light causes vibrations in the fossilized skin, and a map of where these vibrations occur can be obtained from a fossil by using a trick: a tiny crystal (like an old phonograph record stylus) which moves from point-to-point in a programmable grid across the surface.

At each point where the tiny crystal touches the fossil, an infrared beam that shines through the crystal reflects off of the crystal base, but a small amount of the beam probes beyond the interface- and if organic compounds are present, they absorb portions of the beam and change the reflected signal.

This allows the team to non-destructively map large fossils which do not themselves transmit or reflect the beam -- a revolutionary process for paleontologists.

Nick Edwards, first author on the publication, said: "The ability to chemically analyse rare and precious fossils such as these without the need to remove material and destroy them is an important and long overdue addition to field of palaeontology.

"Hopefully this will provide future opportunities to unlock the information stored in other similarly preserved specimens."

Dr Manning said: "Here physics, palaeontology and chemistry have collided to yield incredible insight to the building blocks of fossilized soft tissue.

"The results of this study have wider implications, such as understanding what happens to buried wastes over long periods of time. The fossil record provides us with a long-running experiment, from which we can learn in order to help resolve current problems."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Manchester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. N. P. Edwards, H. E. Barden, B. E. van Dongen, P. L. Manning, P. L. Larson, U. Bergmann, W. I. Sellers, R. A. Wogelius. Infrared mapping resolves soft tissue preservation in 50 million year-old reptile skin. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0135

Cite This Page:

University of Manchester. "First image of protein residue in 50-million-year-old reptile skin." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110322224314.htm>.
University of Manchester. (2011, March 23). First image of protein residue in 50-million-year-old reptile skin. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110322224314.htm
University of Manchester. "First image of protein residue in 50-million-year-old reptile skin." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110322224314.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Did ISIS Destroy Jonah's Tomb?

Did ISIS Destroy Jonah's Tomb?

Newsy (July 25, 2014) — Unverified footage posted to YouTube purportedly shows ISIS militants destroying a shrine widely believed to be the tomb of the prophet Jonah. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Richard III's Car Park Burial Site Opens to Public

Richard III's Car Park Burial Site Opens to Public

AFP (July 25, 2014) — Visitors will be able to look down from a glass walkway on the grave of King Richard III when a new centre opens in the English cathedral city of Leicester, where the infamous hunchback was found under a car park in 2012. Duration: 00:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites

Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites

AP (July 25, 2014) — Emory University's Center for Digital Scholarship has launched a self-guided mobile tour app to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's Battle of Atlanta. (July 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Tyrannosaur Pack-Hunting Theory Aided By New Footprints

Newsy (July 24, 2014) — A new study claims a set of prehistoric T-Rex footprints supports the theory that the giant predators hunted in packs instead of alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins