Hidden secrets of dinos may be revealed by X-ray technique

February 16th, 2009 - 1:43 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 16 (ANI): By using synchrotron X-rays, a team of scientists hope to uncover the hidden secrets of dinosaurs, by detecting unseen details of the soft tissue that once surrounded the well-preserved bones of dinos.

About 150 million years ago, an evolutionarily hybrid creature, a dinosaur on its way to becoming a bird, died in what is now Germany, and become fossilized in limestone.

About 150 years ago, the fossil of this dinobird was discovered and celebrated as proof of Charles Darwins new theory of evolution.

The famous fossil, the Thermopolis specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica, made its way by truck from the Wyoming Dinosaur Center to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) in California, where it was meticulously scanned by one of the worlds most powerful X-ray machines, a building-sized device created for physics research.

By looking for traces of specific elements left in the slab of limestone as the bird decomposed, the researchers hope to uncover heretofore-unseen details of the soft tissue that once surrounded the well-preserved bones.

The X-rays, generated by SSRLs high-speed electrons as they race around a 260-foot-diameter ring, cause the elements to glow, revealing the ghost of soft tissue or feathers.

If you want to find a single fossil which is a missing link in the evolution of dinosaurs into birds, this is it, said University of Manchester paleontologist Phil Manning, a member of the research team.

Its a bird with sharp teeth, claws and a long bony tail. If you were to freeze-frame evolution, you would end up with Archaeopteryx, he added.

What you normally cant see are the chemical elements from the original organism that might still be present in the fossil, said SSRL scientist Uwe Bergmann.

Using X-ray fluorescence imaging, we can bring these elements to light, getting a better look at the fossil and learning more about the original animal, he added.

These X-rays work a thousand time better than what you could do with a commercial X-ray machine. Only a synchrotron can do this, Bergmann said.

In addition to offering a new view of a long-extinct animal, this work may also reveal more about fossilization itself.

By understanding how fossilization occurs and what exactly is preserved in the process, researchers will be able to deduce much more about ancient organisms and evolution. (ANI)

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