Melanin discovery may shake up fossil record

Avatar By Joseph Scalise | 2 years ago

A group of international palaeontologists have found new sources of the pigment melanin, a discovery that could completely alter the way scientists restructure the color of certain fossils.

Recently, a range of studies focused on the color of different fossils assumed that fossilized melanin — otherwise known as melanosomes — only come from the skin.

However, the team behind the new research found evidence that they originate from other parts of the body, including the liver, lungs, and spleen.

To analyze that, the researchers studied various internal tissues taken from modern frogs. They then used a combination of high-power microscopes and in-depth chemical techniques to reveal that internal melanosomes sit in various places beyond the skin.

As a result, it is likely that researchers need to reevaluate many different fossils to get a better idea of their color.

“This means that these internal melanosomes could make up the majority of the melanosomes preserved in some fossils,” said lead author Maria McNamara, a researcher at the University College Cork, according to

In addition, researchers also ran a series of decay experiments to closely examine fossils and show that, in some cases, internal melanosomes can leak to different body parts during the fossilization process.

Even so, by analyzing the size and shape of melanosomes, researchers can tell where they first originated from.

This finding is key because it will aid future research and give scientists a new way to study some of Earth’s most mysterious extinct animals. It could also force them to reevaluate past findings as well.

“Understanding the origin of melanosomes is crucial in the new studies of color in dinosaurs and other extinct beasts,” said study co-author Mike Benton, a researcher from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, according to Tech Explorist.

This new study is published in the journal Nature Communications.