New light on `dino-bird`

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - 09:45

Washington: Researchers have located
chemical remains of the oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx, in a
landmark development for paleontology while studying fossils
recovered 150 years ago, a new study has found.

The discovery about the half-bird, half-dinosaur
detailed in the May 10-15 journal Proceedings of National
Academy of Science, shows "portions of the feathers are not
merely impressions of long-decomposed organic material as was
previously believed.

"Instead, they include fossilized fragments of actual
feathers containing phosphorous and sulfur, elements that
compose modern bird feathers," wrote researchers including
lead author geochemist Roy Wogelius from The University of
Manchester, which worked with the Department of Energy`s SLAC
National Accelerator Laboratory in the United States.

"We talk about the physical link between birds and
dinosaurs, and now we have found a chemical link between
them," said Wogelius.

"In the fields of paleontology and geology, people
have studied bones for decades. But this whole idea of the
preservation of trace metals and the chemical remains of soft
tissue is quite exciting."

British and US researchers found that trace amounts of
copper and zinc were also found in the Dinobird`s bones: like
modern birds, the Archaeopteryx may have needed them to
flourish.

"Archaeopteryx is to paleontology what Tutankhamen is
to archaeology. It`s simply one of the icons of our field,"
said University of Manchester palaeontologist Phil Manning
said.

"You would think after 150 years of study, we`d know
everything we need to know about this animal. But guess what
-- we were wrong."

Wogelius stressed: "We talk about the physical link
between birds and dinosaurs, and now we have found a chemical
link between them.

Researchers made the game-changing discovery by
subjecting the Archaepteryx fossil to super-strong X-rays: the
Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, in California.

SLAC physicist Uwe Bergmann, who led the X-ray
scanning experiment, said: "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."

And CMW Institute researcher Bob Morton said: "The
discovery that certain fossils retain the detailed chemistry
of the original organisms offers scientists a new avenue for
learning about long-extinct creatures." (AFP)

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - 09:45

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