Gleanings from the original paper show discoverers excited but surprised. Creationists are excited and gratified.
Yesterday’s announcement of dinosaur soft tissue in Nature Communications by scientists from Imperial College London sets a new high hurdle for critics. It’s not really news, since soft tissue in dinosaur bones has been reported for over a decade now (see Bob Enyart’s list of journal papers). This new paper, however, is noteworthy in many respects that will challenge naysayers:
- The team used ordinary, common bones from museum specimens. “Models proposed to account for such preservation indicate that it should be the exception rather than the rule,” they noted. “.…Here, we examined eight dinosaur bones from the Cretaceous period, none of which are exceptionally preserved.”
- The outside of the bones gave no hint of what was inside. “Incredibly, none of the samples showed external indicators of exceptional preservation and this strongly suggests that the preservation of soft tissues and even proteins is a more common phenomenon than previously accepted.”
- The bones they sampled came from both major classes of dinosaurs. “Specimens representing both major dinosaurian clades (Ornithischia [bird-hipped] and Saurischia [lizard-hipped]) and different osteological elements were chosen.”
- The bones came from different parts of the anatomy. “…an ungual claw of an indeterminate theropod dinosaur…”, “… a hadrosaurid tibia,” “an astragalus of a hadrosaurid” and others.
- The team took great pains to prevent contamination. “The sections were obtained from the interior of each sample, ruling out modern surface contamination.” Again, “this method rules out the possibility of modern contamination, as the surface exposed is inaccessible to any contaminant.”
- The team used multiple methods for observation: SEM, TEM, energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and focused ion beam (FIB) mass spectrometry. “These results show that to determine the presence of soft tissue in fossils a new synergistic approach needs to be applied where micro/nano-analytical methods are utilized to their full potential.”
- They used controls by running the same tests with rabbit bone, another bone lacking the fibers, emu blood and a copper grid. “Sections were obtained from an agglomeration of erythrocyte-like structures and cement surrounding these from specimen NHMUK R12562, fixed emu blood, three fossils showing calcified fibres (NHMUK R4493, NHMUK R4249, NHMUK R4864), rabbit bone and a fossil not presenting sign of calcified fibres (NHMUK R12562). As a control, a mass spectrum from the copper grid holding the samples was also obtained.”
- Six of the eight samples contained soft tissue. “.…in this study, putative soft tissue (either erythrocyte-like structures, collagen-like, fibrous structures or amorphous carbon-rich structures (Supplementary Fig. 7)) was observed in six of our eight dinosaur specimens (Supplementary Table 1).”
- Two distinct kinds of soft tissue were reported: collagen and red blood cells. “In one sample, we observe structures consistent with endogenous collagen fibre remains .… Furthermore, we observe structures consistent with putative erythrocyte remains that exhibit mass spectra similar to emu whole blood.”
- The collagen structure had not degraded; it still displayed the quaternary structure characteristic of collagen’s triple-helix configuration. “One sample (NHMUK R4493) also showed, for the first time in a dinosaur bone, a clear ~67 nm banding, that is typical of the banding observed in collagen (Fig. 3e), for the length of the preserved fibre.” The fibers are obvious from the electron micrographs shown in the paper and the popular news.
- Amino acids were detected that are characteristic of collagen: “The positive mass spectrum obtained from NHMUK R4493 showed peaks corresponding to fragments of the amino acids glycine, alanine, proline and others.… Detection of fragments of the amino acids normally found in collagen supports the results obtained from TEM analysis where the ~67 nm banding is consistent with potential preservation of the original quaternary structure of the protein.”
- Blood cells were found. Though shrunken in size, this confirms Schweitzer’s original claim of finding blood cells. “The spectra obtained from four different regions of the dinosaur bone containing erythrocyte-like structures are surprisingly similar to the spectra obtained from emu blood.” Why would the dinosaur cells be smaller? “Within the dinosaur samples on average, the erythrocyte-like structures are ~2 μm in length. This is somewhat smaller than erythrocytes of birds, which range from 9 to 15 μm in length; emu blood cells in our sample were 9±2 μm (n=17). The structures consistent with putative erythrocytes in the fossil could well have been deformed and it is quite probable that these structures have undergone some shrinkage during fossilization.”
Another standout feature of this paper is the undercurrent of emotion. Scientific papers tend to be stodgy and understated in tone. These scientists used “exciting” twice, and a scattering of other “surprise” words:
- Therefore, the observation of a ~67-nm banding in the fibrous structures of fossilized samples here is very exciting, as it is consistent with a preservation of the ultrastructure of putative collagen fibres over a time period of 75 million years. Before this finding, the oldest undegraded collagen recorded (based on mass spectrometry sequencing and peptide fingerprinting) was about 4 million years old.
- The common preservation of soft tissues could pave the way for cellular investigations of extinct animals, shedding light on aspects of physiology and behaviour that have been previously inaccessible to palaeontologists and inaugurating a new and exciting way to do paleontology.
- Unexpectedly, from three of the samples (NHMUK R4493, NHMUK R4249 and NHMUK R4243) TEM micrographs showed obvious fibrous structures (Fig. 3a,b,c and Supplementary Fig. 10) containing carbon.
- The spectra obtained from the erythrocyte-like structures are surprisingly similar to the spectra obtained from the whole blood of an extant emu.
The paper is timely, seeing that the latest dinosaur movie “Jurassic World” hits the theaters in two days. Reporters, so far, are sticking to their story that the evidence merely demonstrates that soft tissue can last for 75 million years. This estimate, however, is about 18 times longer than the previous “expert” opinion about the longevity of collagen, especially in its quaternary structure. Can this giant leap be simply assumed? Four million years was already a stretch for many who said soft tissue degrades quickly after death. Moreover, they thought it could only be preserved for 4my under exceptional conditions of preservation—not on common bones in museum collections.
Another noteworthy discovery from the current paper is “structures enriched in carbon.” They write, “Elemental analysis using energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) established that all these structures are enriched in carbon, in contrast with the surrounding denser tissue/cement.” This raises the possibility of running carbon-14 tests on the samples. None of the authors or reporters mentioned this rather obvious follow-up step. If the bones were older than about 100,000 years, there should be no carbon-14 at all remaining, due to its 5,730-year half-life.
Bob Enyart keeps a list of objects containing carbon-14 that should have none, such as coal, diamonds and other “dinosaur-era” fossils. A few years ago, he spoke with famous dinosaur hunter Jack Horner, who was the inspiration for the scientist in Jurassic Park, and consultant on all the Spielberg dinosaur movies. When Enyart offered him $23,000 to carbon-date the soft tissue in his T. rex, he refused the generous grant and donation to his museum. Recognizing that Enyart is a creationist, he revealed his real reason: “The spin you guys could get out of this,” he admitted, “would not help us.” But it isn’t spin! It’s a scientific test. Who is interested in facts as opposed to spin? You can hear the whole conversation here.
The world’s leading scientists are less scientific than this pastor in Denver. Enyart keeps lists of predictions by creation scientists, many of which have been confirmed. This paper now confirms #2 of his dinosaur soft tissue predictions: “For now, dinosaur tissue will be found not only in rare circumstances, but rather easily, i.e., when looked for.” Prediction confirmed! He was spot on. Did the secular evolutionists predict this? No! They were totally surprised (see the reactions in yesterday’s post). His lists also show that DNA from dinosaurs has already been found, contrary to what the reporters on the current story are saying.
Sooner or later, someone will do a carbon-14 test on dinosaur soft tissue. If there is any C-14 found at all, it will defeat the geologic column with its “Age of dinosaurs” ending millions of years ago. Don’t be alarmed if the age comes out to tens or hundreds of thousands of years, because the error bars go out of control beyond dates that can be checked against recorded history, and creationists expect different atmospheric conditions in the pre-Flood world. The point is that C-14 should be completely absent from dinosaur bone—unless dinosaurs died only thousands of years ago, not millions. That’s the Genesis Flood prediction. Want to gamble on who will be right?
We want to see a fair, unbiased suite of accurate carbon-14 tests on dinosaur soft tissue. Bring it on. We’ll see who is interested in empirical science.