Lately the Palaeontologists from University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland have found 125 million-year-old dandruff preserved amongst the plumage of feathered dinosaurs and early birds. The team of scientists conducted a study upon the fossil cells, and dandruff from modern birds using a powerful electron microscope.
The fossil dandruff is made up of tough cells called corneocytes, which in life are dry and full of the protein keratin. The study reveals that this modern skin feature came up sometime in the late Middle Jurassic, around the same time as a host of other skin features developed. Undoubtedly, dandruff is the first evidence of the way dinosaurs shed their skin. The feathered dinosaurs studied -- Microraptor, Beipiaosaurus and Sinornithosaurus -clearly shed their skin in flakes, similar to the early bird Confuciusornis studied by the team. Alongside even modern birds and mammals shed their skin in flakes, and not as a single piece or several large pieces, as in many modern reptiles. It has been observed that the modern birds have very fatty corneocytes with loosely packed keratin. This keratin makes it possible for them to cool down quickly when they are flying for extended periods. The corneocytes in the fossil dinosaurs and birds, however, were packed with keratin, suggesting that the fossils didn't get as warm as modern birds, presumably because they couldn't fly at all or for as long periods. This study was conducted by Dr. McNamara, in collaboration with her postdoctoral researcher Dr. Chris Rogers; Dr Andre Toulouse and Tara Foley, also from UCC; Dr Paddy Orr from UCD, Ireland; and an international team of palaeontologists from the UK and China.
By: Anuja Arora