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New Picture of Ancient Life of “Biochemical Ghosts”

Phil Manning professor at Manchester University mentioned that Life on Earth had littered the fossil record with a wealth of information that has only recently been accessible to science. “A suite of new picturing techniques can now be deployed, which permit us to peer deep into the chemical history of a fossil organism and the processes that preserved its tissues. Where once we noticed simply minerals, now we gently unpick the ‘biochemical ghosts’ of long-extinct species.”

Researchers have for the first time founded chemical uncover of red pigment in an ancient fossil – an exceptionally well-preserved mouse, not unlike at present’s subject mice, that roamed the area of the German town of Willershausen around 3 million years ago.

The research revealed that the extinct creature, affectionately named “mighty mouse” by the authors, was dressed in brown to reddish fur on its back and sides and had a tiny white tummy. The results published at present in Nature Communications.

The international collaboration, conduct by researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K., used X-ray spectroscopy and multiple imaging methods to detect the elegant chemical signature of pigments in this long-extinct mouse.

In this image resulting from the fossil chemistry of a historical mouse, blue represents calcium in the bones; green is the component zinc which is necessary for the biochemistry of red pigment and red is a particular type of natural sulfur. This type of sulfur is enriched in pink dye. When merge, regions rich in both zinc and sulfur appear yellow on this image, showing that the fur on this animal was abundant in the chemical compounds that are most likely derived from the original red pigments produced by the mouse.

This most recent paper marks a development in the capability to resolve fossilized shade pigments in long-gone species by mapping critical elements associated with the pigment melanin, the ruling pigment in animals. In the form of eumelanin chemical, the pigment gives a black or dark brown coloration; however, in the type of pheomelanin, it produces a reddish or yellow color.

Using method X-rays from SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Light source, the researchers pictured the fossil (right) and showed that the mouse likely had reddish and brown fur on its back and sides and a white stomach, as seen in an artist’s sense on the left.

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