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Bird fossil holds new color clue.

A 130-million-year-old bird holds a clue to ancient color that has never before been shown in a fossil.

Feathers from an Eoconfuciusornis fossil contain not only microscopic pigment pods called melanosomes, but also signs of beta-keratin, a protein in the stringy matrix surrounding melanosomes. Mary Schweitzer and colleagues report the find online November 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Together, these clues could strengthen the case for inferring color from dinosaur fossils (SN: 11/26/16, p. 24). Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has long pointed out that the microscopic orbs that some scientists claim are melanosomes may actually be microbes. The two look similar, but they have some key differences. Microbes aren't enmeshed in keratin, for one.

In Eoconfuciusornis' feathers, the researchers found round, 3-D structures visible with the aid of an electron microscope. And a molecular analysis revealed bundles of skinny fibers, like the filaments of beta-keratin in modern feathers.

"Identifying keratin is key to ruling out a microbial source for microbodies identified in fossils," the researchers write.

Caption: A basin on Pluto named Sputnik Planitia (shown in this image from the New Horizons spacecraft) might be a depression formed by the weight of a massive ice cap, researchers report.

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Author:Rosen, Meghan
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief article
Date:Dec 24, 2016
Words:222
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