150 million-year-old 'dinobird' fossil key to animal's original chemistry

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Washington, May 11 (ANI): An international team of paleontologists, geochemists and physicists has found that a 150 million year old "dinobird" fossil has been hiding remnants of the animal's original chemistry.

Using light source technology of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), located at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the scientists traced a hair-thin X-ray beam across the fossil.

They then identified the locations of chemical elements hidden within the fossil, and found half a dozen chemical elements that were actually a part of the living animal and not merely chemicals that stuck to it from surrounding rocks.

"People have never used a technique this sensitive on Archaeopteryx before.

"Because the SSRL beam is so bright, we were able to see the teeniest chemical traces that nobody thought were there," said SLAC physicist Uwe Bergmann, who led the X-ray scanning experiment.

The maps created from the chemical elements of the creature show that portions of the feathers are not merely impressions of long-decomposed organic material but actual fossilized feathers that contain phosphorous and sulfur, elements that comprise modern bird feathers.

Trace amounts of copper and zinc, which are present in bodies of birds today, were also found in the dinobird's bones, which the Archaeopteryx may have required to stay healthy.

As a result, the research has the potential to change the way a paleontologist views a fossil. "We're able to read so much more into these organisms now using this technology-we're literally touching ghosts," said Wogelius. "Chemistry is the real key in the future of paleontology. It's a paradigm shift."

As a result of this work, Manning said, he wouldn't be surprised if "future excavations look more like CSI investigations where people look for clues at a scene of a crime. There's info that's still there that can't be seen with the naked eye. We can only see these really quite valuable pieces of data with the synchrotron eye."

The study has been published in Proceedings of National Academy of Science. (ANI)

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