How scaly dinosaurs turned into feathery birds – new gene study offers clues

November 29, 2017 by  
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Dinosaurs no longer roam the planet – unless you count birds . Recent discoveries have revealed many dinosaurs once had feathers , and birds are actually dinosaurs that have evolved over time. But we don’t really know how feathers evolved. A recent study led by University of Southern California (USC) researchers involving alligator and chicken genes may offer new insight. Feathers and scales are comprised of keratin, and both are part of skin growth, so scientists have surmised they might have a shared evolutionary history. But the nature of that history is still a mystery. A dinosaur unearthed in 2014 in Siberia appeared to possess feather-like filaments, some growing out of scales – leading researchers to think feather-like structures might have evolved from modified scales. So the USC-led team took genes they think might be important in the development of feathers and had them expressed in chicken and alligator embryos while feathers and scales, respectively, developed. They also identified new genes that regulate the development genes and altered the amount of their activity, according to The Guardian . Related: New details of feathered dinosaur could elucidate the origins of flight The researchers produced new types of modified scales, revealing relatively simple changes to some genes can cause alligator early scale development to produce things like the ancestral feathers of non-avian dinosaurs. The Guardian said it’s not a large step from the feather-like structures to something similar to a true early feather. Add the idea that early proto-feathers that gave advantages to their owners would have developed more under natural selection , and it’s not a massive leap to suggest feathers could have formed rather easily. Modifying genes in chickens led to an array of feather forms, including ones seen in dinosaurs, narrowing the gap between feather and scale from a creature with feathers. We still have a long way to go in our understanding, but this recent work could offer some clues. More gene tweaks could potentially reveal the pathway from scale to feather. The journal Molecular Biology and Evolution published the research this month; scientists from institutions in Taiwan, China, and Louisiana contributed to the work. Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos and PublicDomainPictures.net

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How scaly dinosaurs turned into feathery birds – new gene study offers clues

99-million-year-old dinosaur tail found immaculately preserved in amber

December 9, 2016 by  
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When a small, sparrow-sized dinosaur died about 99 million years ago, part of its tail was immaculately preserved in amber. Researchers who recently discovered the tail from a Hukawng Valley amber mine in Myanmar say it’s a notable find not only because it is the first dinosaur tail ever identified, but also because it is covered in feathers. Co-first author Lida Xing of China University of Geosciences found the amber piece in a Myanmar market in 2015, according to NPR . The Dexu Institute of Palaeontology agreed to purchase the specimen, and Xing and colleagues got to work scrutinizing it. Related: First dinosaur brain tissue discovered in 130-million-year-old fossil The dinosaur was likely a carnivorous coelurosaurus, part of a group that includes the mighty Tyrannosaurus , although the discovered dinosaur probably wasn’t very mighty itself. Scientists can tell it was tiny from the tail bone, which is a mere two millimeters across. Part of the mystery of dinosaurs with feathers is that many probably didn’t use that plumage to fly. The structure of the little dinosaur’s feathers instead resembles ornamental feathers seen on some modern birds . Scientists can see the way the feathers’ barbs bend means they’re far more flexible than feathers used for flight, and could have been employed to send signals or regulate the dinosaur’s temperature. The top of the feathers could have been dark brown, the scientists think, with the underside having no color at all. That or carotenoids – pigments responsible for orange, red, and yellow hues – may have brightened the underside feathers in life but broke down swiftly when the dinosaur died. Thrilled with the discovery, the scientists hope they might be able to find even more specimens in the future. With a conflict between the Kachin Independence Army – who currently possess the Hukawng Valley – and the Myanmar government hopefully coming to a close, scientists may be able to get more access to the amber mines, according to Xing. He speculated they might even find a whole dinosaur one day. 14 scientists from international institutions participated in a new study published by the journal Current Biology . Via National Geographic and The Economist Images via Lida Xing, et al.

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99-million-year-old dinosaur tail found immaculately preserved in amber

Autonomous concept car features an urban garden on wheels

December 9, 2016 by  
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From a Swiss think tank widely known for its outrageous car concepts comes the automotive dream to end all others: an autonomous vehicle featuring a mobile office and a living garden . The Rinspeed Oasis is set to be unveiled at the upcoming CES event held in Las Vegas in early January 2017. The fully autonomous concept vehicle takes a wildly different approach to commuting, with a built-in personal assistant, a lock-box for packages, and a host of other smart features that change the way we think about transportation. Rinspeed has promoted the “mobile office” notion in previous concept designs, and the Swiss think tank even transformed a Tesla Model S into a self-driving office on wheels. With the debut of the Oasis concept next month, Rinspeed is upping the stakes quite a bit in terms of innovation and thinking outside the literal box of a car frame. That’s the whole point of the Oasis concept, according to the company’s press release, which acknowledges some critics might be scratching their heads at the notion of growing plants inside a car. Related: Rinspeed turns Tesla Model S into an autonomous mobile office “Urban gardening on wheels as a new trend? A little bit out there? Maybe. But as always, the creation of Swiss mobility innovator Frank M. Rinderknecht is an oasis for inspiration in the otherwise rather expansive automotive wasteland,” the company said. The Oasis also features an onboard “personal assistant” that puts artificial intelligence to work for the car owner by linking personal data (via digital calendar and social media accounts, for instance) with the vehicle’s navigation system and traffic information. As a result, the vehicle can not only let you know whether you’ll make it to your destination on time, but can also give you a heads up if you’re about to miss an appointment. Let’s be clear about one thing: there are no plans for mass production currently in place. At CES, Rinspeed will do what they do for another year in row, which is reveal outlandish concepts to push the envelope of automotive design and hope that carmakers will follow. Via New Atlas Images via Rinspeed

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Autonomous concept car features an urban garden on wheels

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