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Ancient crinoid toxins/pigments were only discovered after careful extraction

Looking at fossils of so-called "sea lillies" or crinoids, observers have sometimes noted a curious thing -- they're often different colors than the base rock.  For example, one sample recent examined by Ohio State University geology Ph.D student Christina O'Malley was a light blue gray, another was dark grey, and a third was cream colored.

I. A Shocking Discovery

Grinding up small bits of the colorful fossilized sea critters and analyzing their chemistry with a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, Ms. O'Malley made a surprising discovery.  The fossilization had preserved quinones, a type of aromatic biomolecule that serve both as a pigment, and sometimes as a toxin to ward off predators.

The discovery was unusual because aromatic molecules -- which also included molecules like dioxyribonucleic acid (DNA) -- were thought to be almost entirely broken down after just millions of years.

Crinoids
Crinoids' color presumably comes from preserved biochemicals. [Image Source: OSU]

The key to the preservation was the mineral calcite that permeated into the sea creature's pores and locked in the organics during the fossilization.  And while many fossils are exposed to harsh conditions -- volcanism or mountain range shifts -- the crinoids found in Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa digs were exposed to relatively gentle conditions.

This allowed the fragile biomolecules to stand the test of time.

II. Biochemicals Could be Useful in IDing Species

Ms. O'Malley and her advisor Earth Sciences Professor William Ausich are confident that the quinones were indeed produced by the ancient crinoids as they are similar in composition to quinone pigments produced by the crinoids modern-day living relatives.  

Quinones
Quinones (purple) are found in modern Crinoids as well. [Image Source: Biochimica]

The Ph.D student says her predecessors lacked the tools to perform that kind of analysis, commenting, "People noticed the color differences 100 years ago, but no one ever investigated it.  The analytical tools were not available to do this kind of work as they are today."

The work was published in the peer-reviewed journal Geology and featured OSU geochemist Yu-Ping Chin as a coauthor.  The National Science Foundation and the Geological Society of America funded the work.

Professor Ausisch cheered the discovery, suggesting it could provide clues about ancient genetics.  He comments, "These molecules are not DNA, and they'll never be as good as DNA as a means to define evolutionary relationships, but they could still be useful.  We suspect that there's some kind of biological signal there -- we just need to figure out how specific it is before we can use it as a means to track different species."

Those clues could give scientists better perspective on what life was like in North American 350 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period, a time when vast seas covered North America.

Sources: Geology, Ohio State University



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RE: whatever...
By retrospooty on 2/19/2013 8:45:53 PM , Rating: 4
Ya, I know, science is a tough one for you to understand. As I recall in the last evolution article, you were insisting that every single scientist on Earth are working together in a conspiracy to make people think evolution happened for some unknown reason. LOL, I don't know if you are more paranoid, ignorant or insane, either way its sad.

Here is a nice link for your reading pleasure. http://humanorigins.si.edu/

You know how the smithsonian loves to spread lies right? LOL.


RE: whatever...
By Director12 on 2/19/2013 10:30:02 PM , Rating: 2
"The discovery was unusual because aromatic molecules -- which also included molecules like dioxyribonucleic acid (DNA) -- were thought to be almost entirely broken down after just millions of years."

Meh my first thought was that maybe the sample wasn't as old as they need it to be too?


RE: whatever...
By navair2 on 2/20/2013 6:57:30 AM , Rating: 2
My thoughts exactly.


RE: whatever...
By drycrust3 on 2/20/2013 10:25:02 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
"The discovery was unusual because aromatic molecules -- which also included molecules like dioxyribonucleic acid (DNA) -- were thought to be almost entirely broken down after just millions of years."

The most amazing part isn't the discovery of the aromatic molecules, but that no one thought "Oh, maybe these fossils aren't hundreds of millions of years old after all".
Since these were discovered inside sedimentary rocks, and since the vast majority of sedimentary rocks were laid down by what science calls "A mass extinction event", the last major one, according to Wikipedia, happened about 65 million years ago. It could easily be the wrong dating has been applied to the layer these fossils were discovered.
The Quaternary extinction event actually happened only about 50,000 years ago, so if it was the mass extinction event responsible for these sedimentary rocks, then there would still be traces of Carbon 14 in these crinoids.
Of course, if there was, then that ... might upset the apple cart ... a bit.


RE: whatever...
By ianweck on 2/20/2013 11:31:33 AM , Rating: 2
Just because the article doesn't mention anyone questioning the age of the sample, doesn't mean no one did question the age.


RE: whatever...
By DesertCat on 2/20/2013 12:11:56 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
"...since the vast majority of sedimentary rocks were laid down by what science calls "A mass extinction event..."


Ummm, no. That's not what geologists or the geologic record says at all. The majority of rocks are thought to have been deposited slowly over time with only a minor component being from catastrophic events.

quote:
It could easily be the wrong dating has been applied to the layer these fossils were discovered.


No, the stratigraphy and ages of the rock record is well understood from thousands of radiometric dates of the appropriate method (e.g. uranium-lead, potassium-argon, etc.) from around the world. The possibility of a "whoops, wrong dating method!" being applied is virtually zero, not to mention that scientists don't rely on just a single method but dozens of methods that overlap in time range to double check their work.


RE: whatever...
By drycrust3 on 2/22/2013 1:38:21 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
The possibility of a "whoops, wrong dating method!" being applied is virtually zero,

The entire seafloor is modern, not ancient, as your favourite theory would suggest it should be.
Notice something odd about that? It doesn't fit in with what you'd expect from your favourite theory. Could it be your favourite theory is wrong? It sure sounds like it.
quote:
The majority of rocks are thought to have been deposited slowly over time with only a minor component being from catastrophic events.

Why the mention of Catastrophic Plate Techtonics? It sure sounds like someone is trying to make light of a major catestrophic event. These can make entire continents move at the speed of about 2 m/s. Does that fit in with your favourite theory?


RE: whatever...
By navair2 on 2/20/2013 7:01:48 AM , Rating: 2
It's a spiritual conspiracy...a matter of the heart.


RE: whatever...
By Omega215D on 2/20/2013 11:31:00 PM , Rating: 2
"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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