April 16, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Intact Dinosaur Molecules Found

A skeptic’s own lab proves that
amino acids came from
the original dinosaur


— Herein lies a proverb about how belief in deep time clouds scientists’ judgment —

Evan Thomas Saitta, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago, was out to prove that claims of original biomolecules in dinosaur bones were mistaken. Then he heard a “gleeful exclamation” from a grad student, Kirsty Penkman, who was practically jumping up and down across the room. The student had detected spectral signatures of intact amino acids from pieces of fossilized dinosaur eggshells. Well how about that! Saitta concluded, “Fossilized dinosaur eggshells can preserve amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, over millions of years” — the title he gave an essay at The Conversation on 9 April 2024.

Not much organic material survives over millions of years, which limits scientists’ ability to study the biology of extinct organisms compared to modern ones, whose proteins and DNA can be sequenced. As Penkman’s enthusiasm suggested, these amino acids were extraordinary.

In fact, this result came unexpectedly amid our team’s efforts to test claims of near-pristine protein preservation in dinosaur bone. I had brought various fossil bones to Penkman, but the results suggested no original amino acids had been preserved, and that they were even contaminated by microbes from the environment they’d been buried in.

The article includes links to papers by Mary Schweitzer and others who have been claiming to have found original proteins in dinosaur bones. Up till this moment, Saitta and his grad student had not found such evidence in their fossils. But now, they were testing eggshell fossils, and evidence raised its voice.

Testing eggshell fossils was not even in our original research plan.

However, I had just seen that my colleague Beatrice Demarchi, Penkman and their team had detected short protein sequences in 3.8-million-year-old bird eggshell. I predicted that if dinosaur eggshells didn’t preserve any original proteins, then their bones likely wouldn’t preserve any either, and wanted to see whether that was the case. Luckily, we had a source of dinosaur eggshell.

And that’s when the identification was made. But did Saitta test millions of years? No; he just believed in them. Evolution requires it. He never would have thought that amino acids could survive that long. But the spectral signatures of intact amino acids were facing him and his grad student. They required him to change his beliefs, and conclude that “Fossilized dinosaur eggshells can preserve amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, over millions of years.”

Prompted by this initial discovery, our large, international team analyzed more dinosaur eggshells from Argentina, Spain and China, using a wide variety of techniques. Although some eggshells preserved amino acids far better than others, the evidence overall suggested that these molecules were ancient and original, possibly ranging from 66 million to 86 million years old.

by Brett Miller

Saitta claims that calcite preserves these molecules because the minerals act as a closed system, preventing their degradation. But is that true? Numerous forces, from climate to bioturbation to erosion, can act on crystals and the molecules they hold. One cannot assume that a system that appears closed in 2024 was always closed for millions of years. This must especially have been the case soon after the dinosaur (or bird) died, and the tissues were exposed to water in the first few weeks and months.

Evolutionary belief requires theory rescue devices to maintain deep time assumptions

The amino acids appear racemized (mixed-handed), due to a natural process that takes the homochiral (one-handed) amino acids and converts them to 50/50 mixtures of left- and right-handed molecules. The rate of racemization can be measured during modern times, but cannot be extrapolated recklessly millions of years into the past without begging the question of millions of years. No scientist has ever observed millions of years.

Saitta’s change of mind about soft tissue preservation for millions of years reveals the priority of an assumption: the existence of millions of years for evolution. That assumption hampered his objectivity—his ability to question the millions of years. It led to illogical thinking. He could not think outside the box, such as to ask whether the eggshells might actually be far younger—thousands of years old, not millions. Such ideas were beyond his worldview resources. He had to maintain the millions of years at all cost. Darwinism itself was at stake!

Having believed one impossible thing before breakfast, he began to think of more impossible things.

In future research, our team will use fossils to search even further back in time. Organisms other than egg-laying dinosaurs reinforced their tissues with calcite. For example, marine arthropods called trilobites that lived more than half a billion years ago had calcite in their eyes.

Having crossed the Rubicon of belief in soft tissue preservation from dinosaurs, Saitta and his moyboys may in future days publish more evidence of soft tissues far older: hundreds of millions of years old. A million here, a few million there—pretty soon you’re talking real funny.

My Impossible Things (to the tune of My Favorite Things)

Dinosaur tissues and awkward convergence,
Lazarus taxa and rapid divergence,
Fossil explosions and lizards with wings,
These are among my impossible things.

Natural likeness to breeders’ selection,
Warm little ponds yielding living perfection,

Unguided flux from which everything springs,
These are among my impossible things.

When a God speaks, when ID swings,
When I’m feeling mum,
I simply assume my impossible things,
And then I don’t feel so dumb.

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