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Taphonomic experiments reveal authentic molecular signals for fossil melanins and verify preservation of phaeomelanin in fossils
University College Cork, Ireland.
Fujita Health University, Japan.
Fujita Health University, Japan.
Linyi University, China.
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2023 (English)In: Nature Communications, E-ISSN 2041-1723, Vol. 14, no 1, article id 5651Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Melanin pigments play a critical role in physiological processes and shaping animal behaviour. Fossil melanin is a unique resource for understanding the functional evolution of melanin but the impact of fossilisation on molecular signatures for eumelanin and, especially, phaeomelanin is not fully understood. Here we present a model for the chemical taphonomy of fossil eumelanin and phaeomelanin based on thermal maturation experiments using feathers from extant birds. Our results reveal which molecular signatures are authentic signals for thermally matured eumelanin and phaeomelanin, which signatures are artefacts derived from the maturation of non-melanin molecules, and how these chemical data are impacted by sample preparation. Our model correctly predicts the molecular composition of eumelanins in diverse vertebrate fossils from the Miocene and Cretaceous and, critically, identifies direct molecular evidence for phaeomelanin in these fossils. This taphonomic framework adds to the geochemical toolbox that underpins reconstructions of melanin evolution and of melanin-based coloration in fossil vertebrates. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Nature Research , 2023. Vol. 14, no 1, article id 5651
Keywords [en]
Cretaceous; fossil record; maturation; Miocene; signal processing; taphonomy; vertebrate
National Category
Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-67682DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-40570-wScopus ID: 2-s2.0-85173756792OAI: oai:DiVA.org:ri-67682DiVA, id: diva2:1809987
Note

Funding sponsors: European Research Council

Available from: 2023-11-06 Created: 2023-11-06 Last updated: 2023-11-06Bibliographically approved

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Sjövall, Peter

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