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Researchers Are Baking Up 24-Hour Fossils

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© Evan Saitta / Tom Kaye

By Laura Yan, Popular Mechanics

[post_ads]It takes tens of millions of years to form a natural dinosaur fossil:pieces of bone, feather or other sediment get buried underground, and a combination of heat, pressure, chemical reactions and fate preserves it for scientists to find. Now, researchers are developing a method to create fossils in a lab in just twenty-four hours. The process will help deepen their understanding of the natural fossilization process, and determine the materials that can become preserved into fossil.

The new approach, according to Evan Saitta, a Field Museum researcher and lead author of the new study in Palaeontology, “saves us from having to run a seventy-million-year-long experiment.” Here’s how it works: Saitta and his research partner, Tom Kaye, packed samples of modern bird feathers, lizard limbs and leaves into clay tablets using a hydraulic press. Next, they put the tablets under intense heat and pressure, “baking” the tablets inside a sealed metal tube at over 410 degrees Fareneheit and 3,500 psi pressure (it’s as high as 300 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level, according to Discover).

The next day, they retrieved stimulated fossils that looked a lot like real fossils, with dark films of skin and scales, and browned bones. Not only did the fossils look real: when examined under an electron microscope, researchers saw exposed melanosome (found in real fossils), while materials like proteins and fatty tissue, which don’t tend to show up in real fossils, disappeared in the baked fossils too.
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“Our experimental method is like a cheat sheet,” said Saitta. “If we use this to find out what kinds of biomolecules can withstand the pressure and heat of fossilization, then we know what to look for in real fossils.”

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Technology - U.S. Daily News: Researchers Are Baking Up 24-Hour Fossils
Researchers Are Baking Up 24-Hour Fossils
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Technology - U.S. Daily News
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