New paper in Proceedings B

UCC palaeontologists have discovered new evidence on what type of animal is the bizarre 300 million year old fossil known as the “Tully Monster”.  The new findings show that the Tully Monster may not be a backboned animal as previously thought.

This new twist in the tale of the Tully Monster is based on cutting-edge analyses of melanin granules – melanosomes – in Tully’s weird stalked eyes. Chemical tests show that Tully’s eye melanosomes resemble those in animals without backbones.

Dr Chris Rogers using the scanning electron microscope at University College Cork to look at melanosomes in the eyes of modern octopus.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, was led by UCC’s Drs Chris Rogers and Maria McNamara with an international team of scientists from the UK, USA and Japan.

The team used cutting-edge techniques to analyse the structure and chemistry of the eyes of the Tully Monster fossil, along with various other fossils and modern animals.

The eyes of Tully contain layers of melanosomes, a feature thought to exist only in the eyes of animals with backbones. Surprisingly, however, the new study shows that these layers are also found in the eyes of animals without backbones, such as octopus and squid. ‘I was amazed’ said Dr Rogers. ‘for decades scientists have failed to identify the pigments in the eyes of animals like the octopus, but our chemical tests show it’s definitely melanin.’ Powerful X-ray analyses show that the eye melanosomes of animals with and without backbones contain different metals. Controversially, the metals in the Tully Monster’s eyes are like those of animals without backbones. ‘This means that invertebrates are still contenders for the Tully animal,’ says senior author Dr McNamara. ‘The riddle of what kind of fossil creature this is continues, but future X-ray work will probably play an important part in figuring out the identity of Tully Monster and other enigmatic fossils.’

Rogers, C.S., Astrop, T.I.A., McNamara, M.E., Webb, S., Ito, S., Wakamatsu, K. Synchrotron-X-ray absorption spectroscopy of melanosomes in vertebrates and cephalopods: implications for the affinity of Tullimonstrum. Proceedings B, 286, 20191649. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.1649.

See below for news item on the study:

http://theconversation.com/the-mysterious-tully-monster-fossil-just-got-more-mysterious-126531

New paper in Palaeontology

Congratulations to UCC student Tiffany for her paper published last week, and adding fuel to the fossil feather preservation debate!

Slater, T.S., McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Foley, T.B., Ito, S., Wakamatsu, K., 2019. Taphonomic experiments resolve controls on the preservation of melanosomes and keratinous tissues in feathers. Palaeontology, xx. DOI: 10.1111/pala.12445.

It is open-access and can be viewed at the following link:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/pala.12445

Fossil melanosome chemistry unlocks anatomy of extinct vertebrates

UCC palaeontologists have discovered a new way of reconstructing the anatomy of ancient vertebrate animals by analysing the chemistry of fossilized melanosomes from internal organs.

Fig. 1. 10 million year old fossil frog from Libros, Spain and X-ray map showing elevated levels of copper and zinc in the internal organs. Fossil photograph copyright the Natural History Museum, London. X-ray fluorescence map copyright Valentina Rossi.

Until recently, most studies on fossil melanin have focussed on the skin and feathers, as here the pigment is linked to visible colour. Unexpectedly, the new study shows that melanin is also abundant in internal organs of modern amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, and their fossil counterparts.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, is led by UCC’s Valentina Rossi and her supervisor Dr Maria McNamara in collaboration with an international team of chemists from the USA and Japan. The team used cutting-edge synchrotron techniques to analyse the chemistry of the fossil and modern melanosomes using X-rays.

The team made the initial discovery of internal melanosomes last year on fossil frogs. ‘After the pilot study, we had a hunch that these features would turn out to be more widespread across vertebrates. But we never guessed that the chemistry would be different in different organs,’ said Ms Rossi.

Fig. 2. 10 million year old fossil tadpole from Libros, Spain and X-ray map showing elevated levels of titanium in the skin, eye and especially the liver. X-ray fluorescence map copyright Valentina Rossi.

‘This discovery is remarkable in that it opens up a new avenue for reconstructing the anatomy of ancient animals. In some of our fossils we can identify skin, lungs, the liver, the gut, the heart, and even connective tissue’ said senior author Dr McNamara. ‘What’s more, this suggests that melanin had very ancient functions in regulating metal chemistry in the body going back tens, if not hundreds, of millions of years.’

This study would not have been possible fifteen years ago: ‘The advent of new synchrotron X-ray analysis techniques allows us to harness the energy of really fast-moving electrons to detect minute quantities of different metals in the melanosomes,’ said collaborator Sam Webb. ‘The fossils are so well preserved that even the melanin molecule can be detected,’ said collaborators Sho Ito and Kazumasa Wakamatsu from Japan.

The study was published today in PNAS: Rossi, V., McNamara, M.E., Webb, S., Ito, S., Wakamatsu, K., 2019. Tissue-specific geometry and chemistry of modern and fossilized melanosomes reveal internal anatomy of extinct vertebrates. PNAS, in press. DOI: doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1820285116.

See below for news items on the study:

https://horizon-magazine.eu/article/fossil-colour-studies-are-changing-our-idea-how-dinosaurs-looked.html

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/ucc-study-finds-new-way-to-reconstruct-extinct-animals-1.3991211

https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/ucc-scientists-discover-new-way-to-reconstruct-what-extinct-animals-looked-like-944928.html

https://www.echolive.ie/corknews/We-may-finally-be-able-to-tell-what-colour-dinosaurs-were-after-UCC-scientists-discover-a-new-way-to-reconstruct-what-extinct-animals-looked-like-e49873ec-0b9c-4d47-ab2b-23eac4210a49-ds

https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/ucc-scientists-discover-new-way-to-reconstruct-what-extinct-animals-looked-like-944928.html

https://www.heraldo.es/noticias/aragon/teruel/2019/08/20/los-fosiles-de-libros-protagonizan-otro-relevante-avance-metodologico-en-paleontologia-1330495.html

https://m.phys.org/news/2019-08-scientists-reconstruct-extinct-animals.html

https://www.corkindependent.com/news/topics/articles/2019/08/20/4178432-worldfirst-from-ucc-on-fossils/

https://www.thesun.ie/news/4462154/scientists-ucc-groundbreaking-method-to-put-flesh-on-bones-of-dead-animals-10-million-years-death/

https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/frogs-help-irish-scientists-make-leap-in-reconstructing-the-appearance-of-extinct-animals-945043.html

https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/real-life-jurassic-park-prehistoric-18973798

https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a28659401/extinct-animal-reconstuction-technology/

https://www.corkbeo.ie/news/local-news/ucc-scientists-discovered-new-way-16785323

http://theirishexpress.com.au/ucc-scientists-discover-new-way-to-reconstruct-what-extinct-animals-looked-like/

https://soundcloud.com/kfmradiokildare/kildare-today-21-08-19-hour-2 (Valentina’s interview starts at 25:20!)

https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/technology/how-colour-shaped-dinosaurs-lives/ar-AAGOa0d

Evening Echo extinct vertebrate chemistry article

Irish Daily Mirror extinct vertebrate chemistry article

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