IVPP research is part of Discover magazine's Top 100 Science Stories of 2010


Fig.1:Fossilized pigment organelles reveal the true colors of Sinosauropteryx (Courtesy of Dr. ZHANG Fucheng)

One research discovery from Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, “Fossilized melanosomes and the colour of Cretaceous dinosaurs and birds”, developed by Drs. ZHANG Fucheng, ZHOU Zhonghe, XU Xing and WANG Xiaolin, and three other scientists from Britain and Ireland, was honored as the 64th of this year's top 100 science stories by Discover magazine.

Some 125 million years ago, a chicken-size, an early relative of T. rex, scampered through northeastern China. From its remains, we know a lot about this dinosaur: It was covered with spiny hair, it ate meat, and it walked on its hind legs. And now we know what color it was. Last January researchers determined that Sinosauropteryx sported a striped chestnut and white tail—the first time anyone has been able to describe a dinosaur’s color.

The finding of melanosomes in fossil birds and non-avian dinosaurs allows the first opportunity to reconstruct certain aspects of the external coloration of these organisms. The identification of both eumelanosomes and phaeomelanosomes implies that some basal birds and non-avian theropods had black and russet coloration. As the melanosomes are preserved in life position in the Jehol fossils, detailed study of differences in their spatial distribution, including orientation and density, and the relative abundance of each type, will reveal greater detail regarding both colour and colour patterning. “Reconstruction of colour patterns will also inform debates on the functions of feathers in non-avian dinosaurs, whether primarily for thermoregulation, camouflage or communication”, said Dr. ZHANG Fucheng.

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