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“Ostrich-osaurus” discovery?

Shedding more light on the new startling find of soft tissue in a T. rex bone

Professor Emeritus of Anatomy, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri

28 March 2005

Scientists have recently made the startling discovery of a dinosaur skeleton that still retains well preserved soft tissue including blood vessels, cells and connective tissue1 (see our previous story—with photos). This comes as a big surprise to evolutionists who believe that dinosaurs all died off at least 65 million years ago. It certainly taxes one’s imagination to believe that soft tissue and cells could remain so relatively fresh in appearance for the tens of millions of years of supposed evolutionary history.

Still, as we noted eight years ago, this is hardly the first report of soft tissue—and even cells—in dinosaur fossils. Evidence of small blood vessels, cells and even molecular information in dinosaurs has all been previously described.

In the March 25 issue of the journal Science, it has been reported that a team led by Dr Mary Schweitzer of Montana State University2 found flexible connective tissue and branching blood vessels, as well as intact cells that have the appearance of red blood cells and osteocytes (bone cells) in the femur (thigh bone) of a “68-million-year-old” Tyrannosaurus rex from the Hell Creek formation of Montana. The dinosaur was deposited in sandstone of “estuarine” origin, meaning that the animal was buried in rock layers laid down by water (no surprise here for the creationists—see Genesis and catastrophe). The bones were mostly detached from each other but well preserved.

Since the bone looked relatively unfossilized, researchers, using weak acid, dissolved the mineral from a piece of the dinosaur bone (much the same way as the common science class exercise where chicken leg bones are soaked in vinegar for a week to make them rubbery). In fresh bones, the acid removes the hard mineral, leaving only organic material such as fibrous connective tissue, blood vessels and various cells. By comparison, if one were to demineralize a typical well-permineralized fossil, there would be nothing left. The acid-treated T. rex bone fragment, however, produced a flexible and elastic structure similar to what you would get from a fresh bone.

When the demineralized T. rex bone was examined under the microscope, it revealed small branching translucent blood vessels with what appeared to be red blood cells inside. The interior walls of the blood vessels were examined in the scanning electron microscope and appeared to be lined with closely packed endothelial cells. These are the specialized cells that line all blood vessels and the heart. The bone also appeared to contain cells bearing numerous slender processes very much like the cells (osteocytes) one sees in fresh bone preparations.

Naturally, the investigators were puzzled how a 68-million-year-old bone could have the appearance of essentially fresh bone after demineralization. They speculate that this remarkable preservation might be a special form of fossilization involving “undetermined geochemical and environmental factors” that preserve fossils right down to the cellular level and perhaps beyond.

Needless to say, there was no consideration given by these evolutionists to the possibility that the dinosaur bone was nowhere near as old as they think.

The report would have been an interesting scientific contribution if the writers would have ended on the note that old dinosaur bones look surprisingly young. But this would hardly serve as evidence for their millions of years of evolution.

From dinosaurs to ostriches?

Then, in an obvious effort to capitalize on the current “birds are dinosaurs” craze in evolutionism, the authors go on to compare the microscopic anatomy of their well-preserved dinosaur bone to a bone from a bird. For some unexplained reason, they chose an unidentified area of an unidentified bone from a recently deceased ostrich.

Using the light microscope and scanning electron microscope, they gleefully reported that the general appearance of blood vessels, connective tissue and cells from both the dinosaur and the ostrich are “virtually indistinguishable.” Specifically, they report that the blood vessels have the same branching tubular appearance and appear to be lined with the same type of cells with nuclei. The nearly transparent vessels contain the same presumed red blood cells. The bones of both have the same presumed osteocytes, with the same cytoplasmic processes imbedded in the same fibrous connective tissue. The unstated conclusion is that this similarity in microscopic structure proves that dinosaurs and birds are closely related through evolution.

One cannot help but wonder if this was the first time these paleontologists looked at soft tissue or bone through the microscope. You see, all of the similarities they describe would be expected in essentially any amphibian, reptile, bird or mammal. All small blood vessels are tubular and branched. All blood vessels, as well as the heart, are lined with special cells called endothelial cells. Among other things, these cells are necessary to avoid clotting of the blood inside the vessel. And of course, all blood vessels contain … blood cells.

Nearly all bones are produced by special cells called osteoblasts that secrete a special organic matrix that attracts minerals to deposit in close association with connective tissue fibers (collagen) and other bone-specific organic components. In most bones, these cells develop long processes and become buried in the very matrix they secrete (prior to mineralization), at which time they are called osteocytes. While osteocytes are found in essentially all bone (with the exception of some fish), their function is not well understood.

While the authors report what appear to be red blood cells in both the dinosaur and the ostrich, they do not mention the presence of nuclei in the red blood cells. Erik Stokstadt, however, reporting on this study in Science Now (24 March 2005), claims that “inside these [dinosaur red blood cells] are smaller objects similar in size to the nuclei of the blood cells in modern birds.” If indeed, the dinosaur red blood cells do contain nuclei, this would hardly be surprising for a reptile, and certainly would not prove their presumed evolutionary relationship to birds. All amphibians, reptiles and birds have nucleated red blood cells. Even mammals have nucleated red blood cells in their bone marrow.


Sadly, we have become accustomed to reading published reports pertaining to evolution and its millions of years in both the popular and scientific literature that are highly biased and lacking in scientific substance. But this study and report by Schweitzer and co-workers are lacking in merit even by evolutionary standards. While the report of yet another dinosaur fossil with evidence of soft tissue is interesting in itself, why did the authors choose to compare the histology (microscopic anatomy) of this bone to an unidentified bone from a bird—and why an ostrich? Why not compare the histology of the dinosaur bone to that of some living reptile? After all, dinosaurs are reptiles.

The answer to this question is obvious. It wouldn’t be very interesting to report the well-known fact that unsectioned blood vessels, blood cells, bone matrix and bone cells of most vertebrates look similar at the level of detail observed in this study.

One must assume that the standards for publication in even the most prestigious scientific journals like Science are quite different for evolution than for any other branch of empirical science. Evolutionary paleontology also appears to be the branch of science in which so many of its proponents are so dug-in with their beliefs that their thinking promises to remain buried in the sand, regardless of where their own facts lead.

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Further Reading


  1. Science, Vol. 307, pp. 1952–1955, 25 March 2005. Return to text.
  2. Also at North Carolina State University. Return to text.

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