UCC palaeontologists have discovered new evidence that the fate of vertebrate animals over the last 400 million years has been shaped by microscopic melanin pigments.
This new twist in the story of animal evolution is based on cutting-edge analyses of melanin granules – melanosomes – in many different fossil and modern vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Melanin and melanosomes have traditionally been linked to outermost body tissues such as skin, hair and feathers, with important roles in UV protection and stiffening of tissues. Analyses of where different animals store melanin in the body, however, show that different vertebrate groups concentrate melanin in different organs, revealing shifts in how animals have used melanin over the last 400 million years.
The study, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, was led by UCC palaeontologists Prof. Maria McNamara, Dr Chris Rogers, Dr Valentina Rossi and PhD student Tiffany Slater, with an international team of evolutionary biologists from Switzerland.