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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Aug 7;274(1620):1823-9.

A new Chinese specimen indicates that 'protofeathers' in the Early Cretaceous theropod dinosaur Sinosauropteryx are degraded collagen fibres.

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  • 1Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X54001, Durban 4000, Republic of South Africa.


Alleged primitive feathers or protofeathers in the theropod dinosaur Sinosauropteryx have potentially profound implications concerning feather morphogenesis, evolution offlight, dinosaur physiology and perhaps even the origin of birds, yet their existence has never been adequately documented. We report on a new specimen of Sinosauropteryx which shows that the integumental structures proposed as protofeathers are the remains of structural fibres that provide toughness. The preservation in the proximal tail area reveals an architecture of closely associated bands offibres parallel to the tail's long axis, which originate from the skin. In adjacent more exposed areas, the fibres are short, fragmented and disorganized. Fibres preserved dorsal to the neck and back and in the distal part of the tail are the remains of a stiffening system of a frill, peripheral to the body and extending from the head to the tip of the tail. These findings are confirmed in the holotype Sinosauropteryx and NIGP 127587. The fibres show a striking similarity to the structure and levels of organization of dermal collagen. The proposal that these fibres are protofeathers is dismissed.

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