Recently a team of researchers performed the molecular analysis of fossil feathers of the Jurassic era which were small in size and feathered as well. The research aims to help the scientists how the feathers managed to evolve their flying capacity when it the dinosaur-bird transition phase.
Mary Schweitzer who is the professor of biological science at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences had led this study and one of the lead authors of this research paper. She described that the birds of the modern era have a special type of protein called beta-keratin present in their feathers. It is also the main component in the skins of the other reptiles, animals, etc. These proteins are modified which makes the birds’ feathers more flexible.
The fossils belonged to Anchiornis which was four-winged and small-sized dinosaur which was found in the region which can be identified as today’s China about 160 million years ago. It existed 10 million years before Archaeopteryx which was the first bird to be recognized by modern researchers. Researchers of premier institutes across the world such as North Carolina State University, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology and the University of South Carolina were part of this research team.
Prof Schweitzer stated that while feather was undergoing evolution process, few beta-keratin genes started disappearing. Due to this, the resultant protein was small in size. The feather’s biophysics changed and as a result, it went on to become more flexible. This made the flying process easier. This study will later help in identifying the various processes that took place when the dinosaurs transited into the birds.
As a part of their study, the team found out that the fossil feathers composed of alpha-keratins as well a protein found in all the mammals including terrestrial vertebrates. The result has been surprising since modern feathers have alpha-keratins in a pretty small amount.