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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Feb 19;116(8):3018-3023. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1815703116. Epub 2019 Jan 28.

The molecular evolution of feathers with direct evidence from fossils.

Author information

1
Chinese Academy of Sciences Key Laboratory of Economic Stratigraphy and Palaeogeography, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology and Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China; yhpan@nigpas.ac.cn mhschwei@ncsu.edu zhouzhonghe@ivpp.ac.cn.
2
Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695.
3
Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29205.
4
AmbioPharm Incorporated, North Augusta, SC 29842.
5
Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Lingyi University, Lingyi City, 27605 Shandong, China.
6
Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, Pingyi, 273300 Shandong, China.
7
CAS Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100044 Beijing, China.
8
Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100044 Beijing, China.
9
Chinese Academy of Sciences Key Laboratory of Economic Stratigraphy and Palaeogeography, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology and Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China.
10
College of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100049 Beijing, China.
11
CAS Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 100044 Beijing, China; yhpan@nigpas.ac.cn mhschwei@ncsu.edu zhouzhonghe@ivpp.ac.cn.
12
Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695; yhpan@nigpas.ac.cn mhschwei@ncsu.edu zhouzhonghe@ivpp.ac.cn.
13
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, NC 27601.

Abstract

Dinosaur fossils possessing integumentary appendages of various morphologies, interpreted as feathers, have greatly enhanced our understanding of the evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs, as well as the origins of feathers and avian flight. In extant birds, the unique expression and amino acid composition of proteins in mature feathers have been shown to determine their biomechanical properties, such as hardness, resilience, and plasticity. Here, we provide molecular and ultrastructural evidence that the pennaceous feathers of the Jurassic nonavian dinosaur Anchiornis were composed of both feather β-keratins and α-keratins. This is significant, because mature feathers in extant birds are dominated by β-keratins, particularly in the barbs and barbules forming the vane. We confirm here that feathers were modified at both molecular and morphological levels to obtain the biomechanical properties for flight during the dinosaur-bird transition, and we show that the patterns and timing of adaptive change at the molecular level can be directly addressed in exceptionally preserved fossils in deep time.

KEYWORDS:

biomechanical properties; dinosaur–bird transition; feather evolution; fossil-feather ultrastructure; keratin expression

PMID:
30692253
PMCID:
PMC6386655
[Available on 2019-08-19]
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1815703116
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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