August 10, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Cambrian Embryo Fossils Show Exquisite Detail in New X-Ray Imaging

The news media are all showcasing the detailed color-rendered X-ray tomographs of Cambrian worm embryos from China.  Scientists were able to determine that these embryos, alleged to be 500 million years old, are very similar to those of modern, living priapulid worms.  Despite their assumed age, some of the embryos were remarkably well preserved, displaying rows of teeth and other features in the sub-millimeter range.
    It’s really a report about an exciting new non-invasive imaging technology that is able to uncover exquisite detail in biological structures smaller than a grain of sand.  Some news reporters, however, used the announcement to promote evolutionary stories:

  • News@Nature said it has the “potential to help reconstruct the earliest steps in metazoan [animal] evolution.
  • MSNBC news calls it a “3-D vision of life’s dawn” and says the discoveries “could roll back the evolutionary history of arthropods like insects and spiders.”  Actually, these fossil worms have nothing to do with arthropods except in evolutionary models, where they are assumed to precede a “split on the evolutionary tree that separated the unsegmented nematode worms and their segmented cousins from the gigantic arthropod phylum, which includes crustaceans, insects and spiders.” 
  • Science Daily said that the discovery “suggests that arthropod evolutionary history must be pushed further back in time than previously thought.”
  • Ker Than at LiveScience echoed that thought and quoted one of the researchers claiming, “these fossils are the most precious of all because they contain information about the evolutionary changes that have occurred in embryos over the past 500 million years.”
  • National Geographic, bless its heart, did not discuss the discoveries in the context of evolution, but stated without question that they are 500 million years old.

What did the original paper in Nature say?  Donoghue et al.1 spent most of the time discussing their revolutionary imaging technique, called SXRTM, and the details of the embryos they studied.  They only made two brief references to evolution, both of which were tentative and actually problematical for evolutionary theory.  First, they said that structures previously thought to be an outer layer of blastomeres looked more like modern arthropod yolk pyramids, “with the implication that arthropod evolutionary history is thereby pushed back in time.”  In other words, if an innovation appears much earlier in the record than previously believed, its ancestry must be even earlier.  No evidence for such a hypothetical ancestor was presented.  The only other mention of evolution stressed the superiority of SXRTM over light-microscope imaging.  This paragraph is too ambiguous about evolution to provide any support for the theory:

It is clear from this study that scanning electron microscopy and light-microscopy of thin sections are insufficient to reveal fossil embryo structure.  Analyses of internal and external structure in concert by means of SXRTM have allowed us to clarify the nature of diagenetic infills, to decide between opposing interpretations of cleavage modes, and to resolve the anatomy of the later-stage embryos of Pseudooides and Markuelia, helping to constrain their affinity and evolutionary significance.  Perhaps more importantly, it has revealed aspects of the anatomy of these organisms that would never have otherwise been resolved.

That’s it.  The paper did not even mention that these embryos were Cambrian, or make any judgments about how old they were (except in the references).  Only in their quotations to the press did the researchers speculate more openly about where these embryos fit in the evolutionary scheme of things.


1Donoghue et al., “Synchrotron X-ray tomographic microscopy of fossil embryos,” Nature 442, 680-683 (10 August 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04890; Received 21 February 2006; Accepted 10 May 2006.

What they should have done is lamented the downfall of four props for evolution:

  1. Age:  The presence of exquisitely-preserved soft embryos casts doubt on the claim they are 500 million years old. 
  2. Preservation  The discovery of delicate embryo fossils destroys the excuse that Precambrian ancestors of complex life that burst on the scene in the Cambrian (04/23/2006) were not preserved because they were soft-bodied. 
  3. Abrupt Appearance:  It shows that more advanced arthropod-style embryonic features were already present in these worms at the first appearance of complex multicellular organisms in the record. 
  4. Stasis:  The embryos resemble modern counterparts, indicating that there has been little (if any) evolution during the mythical 500 million years.

  In short, this is not a paper about evolution, it is a set of evidences challenging evolution!
    The deceitful practices of evolutionary reporters about hard evidence are like two things.  (A) They are like junk-science health-pill claims, wherein manufacturers are not allowed to make health claims on the bottle, but in their ads, make wildly-unsupported promises about what the pills will cure.  (B) They are like artisans who pick up the shells creationists lob into the Darwin Party Castle, then melt them down and recast them into idols of Charlie.  Hopefully, enough smart people out there can see what is going on.
    Congratulations to the SXRTM team, anyway.  We hope this great new imaging technique will continue to provide more evidence against evolution for another 500 million seconds.

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Categories: Fossils

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