Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fossil Fish Eye Surprise: Small Structures Reveal Pigment

Tiny pebblelike structures found in a 54-million-year-old fossilized fish eye contain the natural pigment, melanin, a study reveals.

Similar structures show up regularly on fossilized feathers, hair and eyes, and in recent years, some scientists have suspected they contained melanin, a dark pigment found in the hair, skin and eyes of humans and animals.

This study, the first thorough chemical analysis of these microscopic structures, opens the door to better understanding the appearance and behavior of long-dead animals, said study researcher Johan Lindgren of Lund University in Sweden.

The presence of melanin alone does not reveal the color an animal displayed since other factors, such as other microscopic features, can also determine color. However, melanin is evidence of dark areas, such as bands on feathers, and the shapes of the melanosomes may correspond to some basic hues, such as gray, black or brown, according to Lindgren.

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