What if the birds that populate our regions were more similar to dinosaurs than they appear? This question may be surprising, but it recently gave food for thought to an international team of scientists. They analyzed – using X-rays – feathers that belonged to dinosaurs that walked our planet 125 million years ago.
Experts concluded that the chemical structure of the plumage of these gigantic creatures was remarkably similar to that of modern birds, details LiveScience in an article published Wednesday September 27, which is based on the results of a study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
Experts have highlighted the fact that the feathers of dinosaurs and those of modern birds had a common protein composition. A discovery which turns out to be very promising, because it offers scientists a unique insight into the evolution of animal plumage over several hundred million years…
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A similar chemical structure
Before reaching such a conclusion, paleontologists carefully examined the feathers of three ancient animals, including Sinornithosaurus. The latter is a non-avian dinosaur that lived in China 125 million years ago.
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The second animal analyzed, also native to this Asian country, is a primitive bird named Confuciusornis. He lived at the same time as the one mentioned above.
Finally, concerning the third animal concerned, the species was not specified. However, we know that this creature lived – 50 million years ago – in an area which now corresponds to the Green River formation in Wyoming: a state in the western United States which is characterized by Rocky Mountains and vast plains.
In detail, the researchers began by carrying out X-ray and infrared light analyzes on ancient plumages, indicates the scientific information site. Next, they detected traces of cornea beta proteins (CBP). Previously known as beta-keratins, these are essential for strengthening feathers, when it comes to allowing the animal to fly.
Third, the researchers examined the feathers of modern birds, including zebra finches, whose scientific name is Taeniopygia. That’s when they observed that they contained a similar chemical structure.
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Proteins saved in fossils
Tiffany Slater, postdoctoral researcher in paleobiology at University College Cork (Ireland) – and lead author of the study – spoke on this subject to Live Science. In particular, she recalled that before this study, scientists thought that the feathers of ancient animals had a completely different protein composition, but also that they were mainly composed of alpha proteins.
However, as this study demonstrated, ancient feathers were mainly made of CBP. Furthermore, these proteins transformed into alpha proteins at the time of fossilization, according to a press release. Among the many lessons learned from this study, we learn that proteins can persist in fossils for several hundred million years.
“Modern feather chemistry is much older than previously thoughtsummarized Tiffany Slater to Live Science. Our research helps rewrite the story and shows that the building blocks needed for powered flight were already present, at least, 125 million years ago.”
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