October 18, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Original Proteins Found in Fossil Sea Turtle

The fossil of a sea turtle said to be 54 million years old still has original proteins of pigment and muscle.

A press release from North Carolina State University drops another bomb on deep time. Even though the researchers, including co-author Mary Schweitzer, do not doubt the age of the fossil at 54 million Darwin Years, that is an awful lot of time for original biomolecules to be preserved.

Researchers from North Carolina State University, Lund University in Sweden and the University of Hyogo in Japan have retrieved original pigment, beta-keratin and muscle proteins from a 54 million-year-old sea turtle hatchling. The work adds to the growing body of evidence supporting persistence of original molecules over millions of years and also provides direct evidence that a pigment-based survival trait common to modern sea turtles evolved at least 54 million years ago.

That last clause compounds the problem by pushing back a trait earlier than expected. In this case, it is dark coloration, believed to provide camouflage from predators and heat regulation by absorbing sunlight as the hatchling scurried across the sand to the seashore. No evolution is documented, because the adaptive trait was already present!

Fossil (left) and modern sea turtle hatchlings. Credit: Johan Lindgren, reproduced from NC State press release (click for link).

The fossil was found in Denmark in 2008, but soft tissue remains were not recovered till 2013. Johan Lindgren of Lund University performed multiple tests to analyze the remains. He found organelles he suspected were melanosomes, the structures that provide coloration. He brought in other researchers for further analysis.

Lindgren performed ToF-SIMS on the samples to confirm the presence of heme, eumelanin and proteinaceous molecules – the components of blood, pigment and protein.

Co-author Mary Schweitzer, professor of biological sciences at NC State with a joint appointment at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, performed histochemical analyses of the sample, finding that it tested positive against antibodies for both alpha and beta-keratin, hemoglobin and tropomyosin, a muscle protein. TEM, performed by University of Hyogo evolutionary biologist Takeo Kuriyama, and Schweitzer’s immunogold testing further confirmed the findings.

Schweitzer, in an apparent pre-emptive strike at skeptics, stated that confirmation of these particular proteins rules out contamination, because bacteria don’t make eukaryotic melanin or keratin.

The open-access paper was published October 17 in Nature Scientific Reports, DOI:  10.1038/s41598-017-13187-5. It calls the specimen “arguably one of the best preserved juvenile fossil sea turtles on record.” Traces of soft tissue were preserved “with great fidelity“, the paper says. What was found was original, unmineralized material.

Here we show that the extraordinary preservation of the type of T. danica goes beyond gross morphology to include ultrastructural details and labile molecular components of the once-living animal. Haemoglobin-derived compounds, eumelanic pigments and proteinaceous materials retaining the immunological characteristics of sauropsid-specific β-keratin and tropomyosin were detected in tissues containing remnant melanosomes and decayed keratin plates. The preserved organics represent condensed remains of the cornified epidermis and, likely also, deeper anatomical features, and provide direct chemical evidence that adaptive melanism – a biological means used by extant sea turtle hatchlings to elevate metabolic and growth rates – had evolved 54 million years ago.

“…arguably one of the best preserved juvenile fossil sea turtles on record.”

The evolutionary speculation and dates are not derived from the observations. It’s important to recall that until recently, no one expected original proteins to survive a hundred thousand years, let alone millions. So how do the researchers explain this “extraordinary preservation” of material in this fossil labeled MHM-K2, that should be long gone?

We hypothesise that calcium ions (and other trace elements) adsorbed onto the surface of the carcass during the microbially mediated formation of the calcareous concretion in which MHM-K2 was found. Mild geothermal conditions might then have limited further breakdown of the stabilised organics.

Haemoglobin also imparts tissue fixation by iron-catalysed free radical reactions and/or inhibition of bacterial growth (ref.44 and references therein), possibly contributing to preservation of anatomical features deeper than the cornified epidermis. Blood breakdown products released from erythrocytes during hemolysis can seep into surrounding tissues, causing a reddish-brown discolouration. Impregnation by haemoglobin-derived compounds has been recorded not only in bones, but also in scales and teeth. Consequently, it is possible that the outer integument was infiltrated by blood residues diffusing from underlying (and now almost completely degraded) dermal or deeper tissues sometime during the early stages of decomposition of MHM-K2. Detection of haemoglobin- and tropomyosin-derived compounds supports this possibility.

The language is cautious, because they can only suggest “possibilities” that “might” explain the preservation. Proteins, however, are delicate molecules subject to thermal breakdown. Stabilizing processes, even if plausible, cannot last indefinitely. But for tens of millions of years? Mark Armitage, who has recovered and analyzed dinosaur soft tissue himself, strongly disputes the ability of blood-derived iron to stabilize soft tissues.

Much of the paper sidesteps this important question by speculating about when “adaptive melanism” evolved. But really, does the fossil look any “less evolved” than the living turtle? Why do they give it a different scientific name when it is virtually identical? Did the hatchling really fossilize that long ago?

Since dinosaur soft tissues and proteins have been found twice as old as those in this sea turtle (1/29/17), long-age evolutionists are panicking. They are scrambling to downplay the findings (6/09/15, 9/19/17) or pretending soft tissue is exciting because it can shed light on evolution. These are distractions from the danger their worldview is in.

The Darwin hot-air balloon can only hold a finite number of fossils with soft tissue before it comes crashing to the ground. Keep piling them up in the gondola. And turn on those video cams, everyone! Let the public see the collapse.


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