New paper in Nature Communications on fossil dandruff

25 May 2018

UCC palaeontologists Maria McNamara and her postdoc Chris Rogers have discovered 125-million-year old dandruff preserved amongst the plumage of feathered dinosaurs and early birds.

Just like human dandruff, the fossil dandruff is made of tough cells called corneocytes, which in life are dry and full of the protein keratin.

The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, is led by Maria and features other researchers from UCC (Dr Andre Toulouse and Ms Tara Foley from the UCC Dept. of Anatomy and Neuroscience), Dr Patrick Orr from UCD and researchers from the UK and China.

The team studied the fossil cells, and dandruff from modern birds, with powerful electron microscopes.  ‘The fossil cells are preserved with incredible detail – right down to the level of nanoscale keratin fibrils’ said Dr McNamara. ‘What’s remarkable is that the fossil dandruff is almost identical to that in modern birds – even the spiral twisting of individual fibres is still visible.’

Modern birds have very fatty corneocytes with loosely packed keratin, which allows them to cool down quickly when they are flying for long 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.

The paper can be accessed here!

  See below for several news articles related to the findings: Maria's research was also mentioned on a recent episode of "Have I Got A Bit More News For You"!

Maria McNamara Research Group

Experimental and analytical taphonomy

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), University College Cork (UCC), Butler Building, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork, T23 TK30, Ireland