A new record for soft tissue in a dinosaur fossil was reported in Nature: collagen in dinosaur eggs from the early Jurassic.
The Nature paper is all over the news, but not all the science reporters are mentioning the most damaging admission to long ages: the preservation of organic material in fossil sauropod eggs from China, said to be 190–197 million years old from the early Jurassic – 100 million years older than the previous record. The Nature paper by Reisz et al. states, “This discovery also provides the oldest evidence of in situ preservation of complex organic remains in a terrestrial vertebrate.” Here’s how Chris Palmer reported it in Nature News:
But it is not just the age of the fossils that is notable, the researchers say. Spectroscopic analysis of bone-tissue samples from the Chinese nesting site revealed the oldest organic material ever seen in a terrestrial vertebrate. That was surprising because the fossilized femur bones were delicate and porous, which made them vulnerable to the corrosive effects of weathering and groundwater, says Reisz.
“That suggests to us that other dinosaur fossils might have organic remains,” he says. “We just haven’t looked at them in the right ways.”
The organic material is thought to be collagen. The researchers reported “organic residues, probably direct products of the decay of complex proteins, within both the fast-growing embryonic bone tissue and the margins of the vascular spaces.” They mentioned Schweitzer’s “controversial” reports of dinosaur soft tissue and corroborated them by their own methodology:
The embryonic bones were also studied using synchrotron radiation-Fourier transform infrared (SR-FTIR) spectroscopy. In contrast to previous studies of organic residues based on extracts obtained by decalcifying samples of bone, our approach targeted particular tissues in situ (Fig. 5). This made it possible to detect the preservation of organic residues, probably direct products of the decay of complex proteins, within both the fast-growing embryonic bone tissue and the margins of the vascular spaces (Fig. 5a, b). This is indicated by the multiple amide peaks revealed by both infrared (1,500–1,700 cm−1 strong band from amide I and II, and 1,200–1,300 cm−1 weak band from amide III) and Raman spectroscopy (amide A peak at 3,264 cm−1) (Supplementary Figs 6.1 and 6.2). Previous reports of preserved dinosaur organic compounds, or ‘dinosaurian soft tissues’, have been controversial because it was difficult to rule out bacterial biofilms or some other form of contamination as a possible source of the organics. Our results clearly indicate the presence of both apatite and amide peaks within woven embryonic bone tissue (Fig. 5a), which should not be susceptible to microbial contamination or other post-mortem artefacts.
References in that quote were to Schweitzer’s 2005 and 2007 papers. The Supplementary Material indicated that mathematical manipulation was necessary to see the amide peaks:
The orginal FT-IR amides peaks from the organic residues of Dawa (Lufeng) embryonic limb bone were convoluted, and provided relatively little detailed information (Fig.5, main document), showing a big unresolved hump around 1600 cm–1. Deconvolution is a mathematically based process to reverse the effects of convolution on recorded data. The deconvoluted peaks shown above match well known secondary structures of protein. Thus, it can be concluded that complex proteins were preserved in our specimen.
A table after this statement shows that they identified typical secondary structures of protein, such as alpha helices, beta sheets, and side chains – i.e., actual protein structures, not just amino acid “building blocks” of protein.
Science Now said the researchers “suspect” the presence of organic remains, but maintained some caution on the grounds that it’s hard to rule out contamination. “Still, if the evidence holds up, the find could finally tip the scale in favor of soft tissue preservation,” the article said. The BBC News and New Scientist didn’t mention the organic remains, but Science Daily did, based on a press release from the University of Toronto where Robert Reisz works. He said, “To find remnants of proteins in the embryos is really remarkable, particularly since these specimens are over 100 million years older than other fossils containing similar organic material.” Live Science briefly mentioned the soft tissue, and added an Image Album about the story.
National Geographic completely ignored the soft tissue evidence, but did add this detail: the eggshells were found crushed, and the bones were sorted and concentrated. Reisz presumes they were buried in a flood: “It became inundated, the embryos were smothered by sediment and water, and [they] basically rotted and fell apart,” he said. The original paper described what the site looked like: “completely disarticulated skeletal elements at various stages of embryonic development… with calcium carbonate nodules often surrounding tightly packed appendicular skeletal elements.” What does this imply? The paper continues,
We interpret the bone bed as a para-autochthonous assemblage, formed by low-energy flooding and slow inundation of a colonial nesting site. The host sediment is a heavily bioturbated, massive siltstone, throughout which are dispersed isolated skeletal elements, eggshell fragments and the small, fossil-rich nodules of calcium carbonate. There are no preserved nest structures or uncrushed eggs.
It would seem that vulnerable, porous bones buried underwater in silt subject to bioturbation would have difficulty preserving the dinosaurs’ protein parts for 197 million years. It would also seem that a low-energy local flood by a riverbank would not leave “massive siltstone” filled with bone fragments.
Interesting that the Brits at BBC & New Scientist (as well as NG) ignored the most important part of the story, the soft tissue, as if trying to protect their national hero Charlie from embarrassment. The other articles simply assumed that soft tissue can last almost 200 million years! Why isn’t anyone seeing the obvious? Chris Palmer admitted that the eggs were “vulnerable to the corrosive effects of weathering and groundwater,” making it unbelievable that up to 197 million years passed without obliterating the proteins. Who are you going to believe, evolutionary scientists or your own eyes?
Notice also that Reisz suggested soft tissue would likely be found in other dinosaur fossils. Why haven’t they all been looking? Evolutionary theory often dictates what scientists look for and what they expect to see. Thank goodness Reisz & team made an effort to find the protein signal, even if they didn’t dwell on the implications for geological dates. This is a hot topic for creation research. Unfortunately, when they try, they are often severely criticized for (1) poor technique or (2) agenda-driven bias (example to be forthcoming). As if those problems never occur in the secular world.
Multiple reports now from different parts of the world are making a watertight case for soft tissue in dinosaur bones. Critics of the reports are not necessarily driven by respect for the evidence, but by fear of what it means to evolutionary geology, evolutionary dating and the whole evolution industry.