50-mn-yr-old reptile skin holds building blocks of life

March 23rd, 2011 - 11:51 am ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 23 (ANI): The organic compounds still present in the sample of a 50-million-year-old reptile from Utah, U.S., has been mapped for the first time - thanks to the efforts by a team of UK scientists.

These compounds, or protein residues, originate from the ancient unidentified reptile’s skin, and once served as this animal’s building blocks of life, according to the new study.

The research was conducted by some of the same scientists who investigated the famous ‘dinosaur mummy’, a 66-million-year-old hadrosaur believed to retain organic molecules and soft tissue skin structures.

“The hadrosaur ‘mummy’ was poorly consolidated and therefore we could not map organic components within the skin,” co-author Roy Wogelius told Discovery News.

“Here, the rock is well consolidated, and this allowed us to produce the first ever infrared maps of organic residue in fossil skin tissue. In doing this, we reveal that protein residue, most likely derived from the original skin, still maintains a reptilian scale pattern with exceptional fidelity,” he added.

Wogelius, a scientist in the University of Manchester, said that the new study also presents ‘the first ever X-ray maps of organic sulphur in a fossil of any type, which correlate with, and confirm, the infrared maps’.

Infrared light allowed Wogelius and his colleagues to see the internal details of the reptile, unearthed at Utah’s Green River Formation.

Based on its remains, the scientists believe the animal was bitten in half, leaving behind its lower half.

The high-tech light causes vibrations in the reptile’s fossilized skin. If organic compounds are present, they absorb portions of the beam and alter the reflected signal.

The features reveal the prehistoric reptile’s skin, which resembles that of modern lizards. Trace metals associated with colour are present, but the scientists are not certain what hues this animal sported.

The researchers believe these trace metals, along with the protein residue, are not due to contamination.

The finding has been detailed in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biology. (ANI)

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