Feathers in feathered dinosaurs are considered transitional forms between classic dinosaurs and birds. A study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution reveals that the feathers of feathered dinosaurs and modern birds are more similar than previously thought.

Previous research suggested that ancient feathers had a different composition than feathers in present-day birds. However, a new study has found evidence that the modern composition of feathers may have originated much earlier than previously believed.

The research team analyzed feathers from a 125 million-year-old Sinornithosaurus dinosaur and the Confuciusornis species from China, as well as a 50 million-year-old feather from the United States. Using X-rays and infrared light, they discovered that the feathers of the Sinornithosaurus dinosaur contained many beta-keratin proteins, just like the feathers of present-day birds.

This means that although ancient feathers contained alpha-keratin, it may not have been originally present. Instead, the team found traces of beta-keratin, suggesting that alpha-keratin could have formed from the degradation of beta-keratin during the fossilization process and the extreme heat to which fossils are exposed.

This study, conducted in collaboration with scientists from the University of Linyi (China) and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, demonstrates the importance of understanding the fossilization process and the chemical secrets of fossils to gain new insights into the evolution of tissues and biomolecules.

– Nature Ecology & Evolution
– Dr. Tiffany Slater, paleontologist at the School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, University College Cork
– Dr. Maria McNamara, scholar at UCC