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A fossilized mouse 3 million years old reveals the secrets of the evolution of color


PICTURE: This is a mouse color pigment scan.
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Credit: University of Manchester

The evolutionary use of color for mammalian survival in the wild is evident in red foxes up to zebras. Today, an international team, led by researchers from the University of Manchester, publishes a research revealing evidence of colored pigments from remnants of old mice.

Color plays an important role in the evolution of life on Earth. She has also played a role in the selective processes that have guided evolution for hundreds of millions of years.

The document, "Pheomelanin pigment remnants mapped in extinct mammalian fossils" is published in the journal Nature Communications. This work marks a major scientific breakthrough in our ability to define for the first time fossilized color pigments in long extinct species.

This new study has applied X-ray imaging to 3 million-year-old fossils to unravel the history of key animal pigments and to show how to recognize the chemical signatures of red pigments specific to extinct animals to determine their evolution.

Professor Phil Manning, the journal's main paleontologist, explained, "The fossils we have studied have the immense potential to reveal many of the secrets of the original organism, and we can reconstruct essential facets of the life, death, and subsequent events that affect pre- and post-burial conservation.) To unpack these complex chemical archives, an interdisciplinary team is needed to work together to solve this problem. much more than paleontological information. "

Professor Roy Wogelius, co-author and geochemist, said: "It was a painstaking effort between physics, paleontology, organic chemistry and geochemistry.Working as a team, we were able to discover traces for the first time red pigment chemicals.We now understand what to look for in the future and hope that these results will allow us to strengthen our confidence in the reconstruction of missing animals and thus add another dimension to the study of evolution. "

The new research reveals that not only are chemical traces of dark black pigments present in exceptionally preserved soft tissues, but also that traces of the much more elusive red animal pigment can be resolved. The chemical residue of the black pigment, which colors animals like crows, was solved for the first time by this team in a previous study conducted nearly a decade ago. But the red pigment, characteristic of animals such as foxes, is much less stable in geological time and has proved much more difficult to detect.

Professor Wogelius added: "We had data suggesting the presence of red pigment residues in several fossils, but there was no useful data to compare them to modern organisms, so we had to spend several years on We have been able to prove that detailed chemical analyzes can solve these pigment residues, but we have learned much more about the chemistry of pigmentation throughout the animal kingdom. "

To unlock fossil patterns, the Manchester team collaborated with scientists on some of the brightest light sources on the planet, using synchrotron radiation at the Stanford synchrotron radiation center (USA), as well as at the Diamond Light Source (UK) to bathe fossils in intense X-rays. It is the interaction of these X-rays with the chemistry of these fossils that has allowed the team to be the first to recognize the chemistry of red pigmentation (pheomelanin) in the fur exceptionally well preserved mouse fossils dating back 3 million years.

The key to their work was to identify the traces of metals embedded in their soft tissues by ancient organisms and to compare them to the modes of incorporation into living species. The chemistry shows that the trace metals in mouse fur are bound to organic chemicals in exactly the same way that these metals are bound to organic pigments in animals with high concentrations of red pigment in their tissues.

Scientists have also translated chemical discoveries into sound waves so people can hear the sound frequencies associated with the different pigment colors found in fossils.

In order to make sure of their conclusions, modern comparison standards were analyzed both by synchrotron radiation and by specialists in pigment chemistry based at Fujita Health University in Japan.

Finally, Professor Manning added, "Paleontology offers more than current research in our daily lives, and information from the fossil record has influenced many areas, including: climate research, landfilling of biological wastes, and radioactive waste, the measurement of the environmental impact of oil with techniques developed on fossil organisms.While our research is firmly anchored in the past, we are aiming its application in the future. "


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