May 18, 2017
The identification of essential chemical elements in the feathers of long-distance migratory seabirds using advanced X-ray imaging techniques promises new insights into the underlying physiological processes behind feather growth.
In research published in Nature Scientific Reports, a team of investigators led by ANSTO biologist Nicholas Howell and Prof Richard Banati provided evidence of previously unseen spatial patterns in the distribution of metals that do not appear to be linked to physical characteristics in the feathers.
Because the patterns are not linked to pigmentation, thickness or other structural characteristics in the feathers, the authors suggest another unidentified mechanism may be at work.
"Our collaboration has produced some remarkable depictions of the feathers that let us see into complex and pattern-forming, biochemical processes in cells," said Prof Banati.
High resolution images collected using the X-ray fluorescence microprobe and Maia spectroscopic detector at the Australian Synchrotron, revealed independent distribution of zinc, calcium, bromine, copper and iron.
In this investigation, the technique was applied to the whole feather, and required no subsampling or extraction procedures in order to accurately identify elements.
"Using this powerful instrument and Maia detector, David Paterson and Daryl Howard were able to scan samples that were several centimetres in length at micron resolution," said Howell.