Tissue-specific geometry and chemistry of modern and fossilized melanosomes reveal internal anatomy of extinct vertebrates

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Rossi, Valentina
McNamara, Maria E.
Webb, Sam M.
Ito, Shosuke
Wakamatsu, Kazumasa
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National Academy of Sciences
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Recent reports of nonintegumentary melanosomes in fossils hint at functions for melanin beyond color production, but the biology and evolution of internal melanins are poorly understood. Our results show that internal melanosomes are widespread in diverse fossil and modern vertebrates and have tissue-specific geometries and metal chemistries. Tissue-specific chemical signatures can persist in fossils despite some diagenetic overprint, allowing the reconstruction of internal soft-tissue anatomy in fossil vertebrates, and suggest that links between melanin and metal regulation have deep evolutionary origins in vertebrates.Recent discoveries of nonintegumentary melanosomes in extant and fossil amphibians offer potential insights into the physiological functions of melanin not directly related to color production, but the phylogenetic distribution and evolutionary history of these internal melanosomes has not been characterized systematically. Here, we present a holistic method to discriminate among melanized tissues by analyzing the anatomical distribution, morphology, and chemistry of melanosomes in various tissues in a phylogenetically broad sample of extant and fossil vertebrates. Our results show that internal melanosomes in all extant vertebrates analyzed have tissue-specific geometries and elemental signatures. Similar distinct populations of preserved melanosomes in phylogenetically diverse vertebrate fossils often map onto specific anatomical features. This approach also reveals the presence of various melanosome-rich internal tissues in fossils, providing a mechanism for the interpretation of the internal anatomy of ancient vertebrates. Collectively, these data indicate that vertebrate melanins share fundamental physiological roles in homeostasis via the scavenging and sequestering of metals and suggest that intimate links between melanin and metal metabolism in vertebrates have deep evolutionary origins.
Fossil melanin , Synchrotron X-ray fluorescence , Soft tissue , Taphonomy , Metallome
Rossi, V., McNamara, M. E., Webb, S. M., Ito, S. and Wakamatsu, K. (2019) 'Tissue-specific geometry and chemistry of modern and fossilized melanosomes reveal internal anatomy of extinct vertebrates', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(36), pp. 17880-17889. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820285116