Dinosaur soft tissue
In seeming desperation, evolutionists turn to iron to preserve the idea of millions of years.
First published 28 January 2014; last updated 28 February 2019
Dinosaur soft tissue in fossil bones!? Nearly every CMI speaker has watched incredulous looks on people’s faces as pictures from a 2005 Science magazine article flash on-screen. These show transparent, branching flexible blood vessels and red blood cells alongside soft and stretchy ligaments from a supposedly 68 million-year-old T.rex bone. The remarkable discoveries by palaeontologist Dr Mary Schweitzer have rocked the scientific world.
Time and time again
Following the most rigorous tests and checking of data, many evolutionists now admit the existence of such dinosaur soft tissue and organic material in not just one or two specimens, but well over thirty.2 They now have to explain how extremely delicate structures could have been preserved over incredibly vast time periods.
It is not just dinosaur soft tissue, either, but the presence of detectable proteins such as collagen, hemoglobin, osteocalcin,3,4 actin, and tubulin that they must account for. These are complex molecules that continually tend to break down to simpler ones.
Not only that, but in many cases, there are fine details of the bone matrix, with microscopically intact-looking bone cells (osteocytes) showing incredible detail. And Schweitzer has even recovered fragments of the even more fragile and complex molecule, DNA. This has been extracted from the bone cells with markers indicating its source such that it is extremely likely to be dinosaur DNA.5
Others have reported the fast-decaying carbon-14 from dino bones—not a single atom should be left after 1 million years.6
Moreover, more recent discoveries show dinosaur soft tissue in samples that are (by their own assumptions) many millions of years older than those in Dr Schweitzer’s original 2005 discovery. As one article states:
“The researchers also analyzed other fossils for the presence of soft tissue, and found it was present in about half of their samples going back to the Jurassic Period, which lasted from 145.5 million to 199.6 million years ago…”7
A huge problem for the evolutionary paradigm
Believing proteins could last for tens of millions of years takes enormous faith. According to a report in the science journal The Biochemist, even if collagen were stored at 0°C, it would not be expected to last even three million years.8 But such is the power of the evolutionary paradigm that many choose to believe the seemingly impossible rather than accept the obvious implication, that the samples are not as old as they say.
National Geographic’s article titled, “Many dino fossils could have soft tissue inside”9 reveals that the scientific community is expecting many more examples of dinosaur soft tissue in the future. These facts have been a thorn in their side for several years now as they are incredibly difficult to explain within an evolutionary (millions of years) timeframe. Needless to say, they fit beautifully within a biblical (young earth) timescale; these are almost certainly the remains of creatures that were buried during the Genesis Flood, approximately 4,400 years ago.
While this information wasn’t hidden, it certainly wasn’t promoted widely in museums or popular science programs either—and definitely not in the general press. Indeed, the majority of lay people are totally unaware of the presence of dinosaur soft tissue. This is hardly surprising: if the rocks and fossils are not millions of years old, evolutionary theory is finished. Predictably, some evolutionists lost no time in seeking to discredit the data. Dr Schweitzer (an evolutionist herself, although a fideistic theistic version10) remarked,
“I had one reviewer tell me that he didn’t care what the data said, he knew that what I was finding wasn’t possible … . I wrote back and said, ‘Well what data would convince you?’ And he said, ‘None.’”11 (Not exactly a scientific comment on the reviewer’s part.)
How to answer?
‘Bio-film! It’s bio-film!’ Desperate for an answer to this damning evidence some evolutionists claimed that the blood vessels that Dr Schweitzer had found were simply bio-film (a product of more recent bacterial action).12 This was sometimes shouted out during CMI presentations by skeptics, and anticreationist blog sites and chat rooms would give this as the ‘go-to’ answer when creationists raised the topic.
But, even if the blood vessels had been bio-film, this could hardly have explained the presence of proteins and DNA.13 In any case, though, ‘bio-film’ only rarely gets trotted out in more recent years, as Schweitzer herself has been able to present a powerful case for the blood vessels not being bio-films.14
A new way out?
Recently there has been a spate of popular level articles claiming that Dr Schweitzer may have found the answer. She had proposed this solution earlier, namely that iron might help preserve dinosaur soft tissue, both by helping to cross-link and stabilize the proteins, as well as by acting as an anti-oxidant.15 Now she has ostensibly tested this idea. Here are two excerpts from one such article that help summarize this new hypothesis:
— “New research from North Carolina State University shows that iron may play a role in preserving ancient tissues within dinosaur fossils, but also may hide them from detection.”
— “Mary Schweitzer’s latest research shows that the presence of hemoglobin—the iron-containing molecule that transports oxygen in red blood cells—may be the key to both preserving and concealing original ancient proteins within fossils.”16
And these comments from another article explain further:
“The free radicals17 cause proteins and cell membranes to tie in knots,” Schweitzer said. “They basically act like formaldehyde.”
“Formaldehyde, of course, preserves tissue. It works by linking up, or cross-linking, the amino acids that make up proteins, which makes those proteins more resistant to decay.”18
In her technical paper, Schweitzer claimed:
Haemoglobin (HB) increased tissue stability more than 200-fold, from approximately 3 days to more than two years at room temperature (25°C [77°F]).19
The power in this argument is its seeming simplicity. The ‘average Joe’ might think; “Oh I get it, iron acts as a preserving agent like formaldehyde, the stuff scientists use to embalm things. It’s like those animals preserved in jars I’ve seen in laboratories. So the iron in the dinosaur’s blood must have preserved the organic material. And scientists know what they are talking about much better than I do so dinosaur soft tissue makes sense to me …”
It’s actually very strategic. By announcing this as ‘the answer’, evolutionists may catch creationists off-balance, lessening the impact of the argument. From now on ‘Joe’ will likely not be surprised if he is presented with the facts of dinosaur soft tissue found in fossils, thinking evolutionary scientists have already explained this. The creationists are crazy to think dinosaurs died out recently!
However, even under moderate scrutiny, Schweitzer’s explanation quickly falls to pieces. In her new paper she discusses experiments that appear totally unrepresentative of the conditions under which these dinosaur remains were actually preserved. Instead, she describes what boils down to a ‘best and worse case scenario’ for soft tissue preservation.
“They soaked one group of (ostrich) blood vessels in iron-rich liquid made of red blood cells and another group in water. The blood vessels left in water turned into a disgusting mess within days. The blood vessels soaked in red blood cells remain recognizable after sitting at room temperature for two years.”20
Reading the supplementary material in her article it appears that pure hemoglobin was used, not lysed cells or materials that could be expected to mimic what would be present in an animal carcass. (Blood vessels soaked in laboratory-prepared hemoglobin is hardly representative of decomposing bones).
One might also ask how realistic a concentrated hemoglobin extract is, compared to the real world. While unrealistically concentrated hemoglobin might preserve for a time, it doesn’t follow that natural, dilute hemoglobin will act the same way. Indeed, tissues rich in blood vessels, such as lungs and gills, often decay very quickly. One infamous example is the gills of dead basking sharks that rot and slough off to form the pseudo-plesiosaur shape.21
And the suggestion that blood vessels remaining ‘recognizable’ for two years somehow demonstrates that these could last thirty five million times as long requires a phenomenal cognitive leap.
Further, it is not plausible that iron could be as good a preservative as formaldehyde, which directly forms covalent cross-links between protein chains, something iron can’t do. But even if we grant that it had the same preservative power (just for the sake of the discussion), what reason is there for anyone to expect that formaldehyde could preserve soft tissues, and fine cellular details, for tens of millions of years? Embalmers of human bodies widely acknowledge that their use of formaldehyde is to slow down, not prevent, the relentless process of decomposition. The embalmed body of Lenin has been widely suspected of being faked or touched up due to it looking ‘too good’ after only some 90 years on public display. Even then, more recent photos show it looking distinctly ‘ragged’ compared to earlier shots.
It’s quite possible that the hemoglobin in Schweitzer’s experiment ‘pickled’ the blood vessels so that neither bacteria nor enzymes could degrade them. This requires a concentrated solution of the pickling agent (usually salt and acidic conditions). If this is the real explanation, then a dilute solution, as normally found in tissues, would not work anyway.
Even a concentrated solution, while it could keep it for the two years observed, would not suffice over great time spans. Because over millions of years, even the lack of enzymatic and bacterial degradation makes no difference. DNA and proteins will eventually succumb to ordinary chemistry, especially reactions with water. Evolutionists have likewise recognized this:
After cell death, enzymes start to break down the bonds between the nucleotides that form the backbone of DNA, and micro-organisms speed the decay. In the long run, however, reactions with water are thought to be responsible for most bond degradation. Groundwater is almost ubiquitous, so DNA in buried bone samples should, in theory, degrade at a set rate.22
A watertight argument?
Another problem for Dr Schweitzer is the burial environment. One article stated;
“If the hemoglobin were contained in a bone in a sandstone environment, keeping it dry and insulated from microbes, preservation becomes more likely.”23
Reinforcing this, another said:
“They’re also buried in sandstone, which is porous and may wick away bacteria and reactive enzymes that would otherwise degrade the bone.”24
However, the very same porosity proposed to ‘wick away’ things would also more readily expose it to penetration by water over those millions of years, thus hastening decomposition. But in any case, even supposing that there was no exposure to water, radiation, bacteria or enzymatic attack, measurements of DNA decay rates in bone show that DNA could not have survived the alleged 65 million years since dinosaur extinction. Even frozen at –5°C (23°F), the DNA should have completely disintegrated into its individual building blocks in under 7 million years:
“However, even under the best preservation conditions at –5°C, our model predicts that no intact bonds (average length = 1 bp [base pair]) will remain in the DNA ‘strand’ after 6.8 Myr. This displays the extreme improbability of being able to amplify a 174 bp DNA fragment from an 80–85 Myr old Cretaceous bone.”25
A thought experiment
Another way to highlight the problem for long-agers, even if their ‘wicking’ arguments could solve the water problem, and even if iron were as good as formaldehyde, is the following thought experiment (it has to be just in thought, because of the practical barrier that even several human lifetimes would not be enough to do the experiment in practice).
Take a laboratory-prepared specimen, place it in a jar full of formaldehyde (even assuming the complete integrity of the jar/seal etc), then stick it in the ground encased in rock—and just for good measure, keep the surroundings permanently frozen at 0oC. It would still be subject to the thermodynamic breakdown of such complex, fragile molecules. Atoms and molecules in a compound are always in motion, even at such freezing temperatures. For any scientist to have said prior to the Schweitzer discoveries that they would have expected blood vessels, delicate cell structures, DNA and proteins after 70 million years from such an experiment would have been inviting derision at best, psychiatric scrutiny at worst. There are very good scientific reasons behind Schweitzer’s earlier (2010) comment on videotape:
“When you think about it, the laws of chemistry and biology and everything else that we know say that it should be gone, it should be degraded completely.”26
So what has Dr Schweitzer actually shown with her more recent ‘iron’ observations? She’s demonstrated that the iron in red blood cells apparently has some qualities that could well contribute to soft tissue preservation, at least if it is artificially concentrated. Actually, so far from being a threat to biblical creationists, this may well be a plus, in that it might help explain how such fragile things could possibly last for thousands of years. We commented earlier on her proposals before this latest experiment:
“Actually, this is all reasonable from a biblical creationist perspective, up to a point. Measured decay rates of some proteins are compatible with an age of about 4,500 years (since the Flood), but not with many millions of years. However, seeing not only proteins but even cell microstructures after 4,500 years is still surprising, considering how easily bacteria can normally attack them. These ideas could help explain survival over thousands of years. But they seem totally implausible for millions of years… since the above preservation proposals could not stop ordinary breakdown by water (hydrolysis) over vast eons.”27,28
The bottom line?
The recent reports proposing iron as a preservative are indicators that the cat, if not yet entirely out of the bag, is at least peering out it. The information that there are abundant amounts of soft tissue in creatures supposedly millions of years old is spiralling out of control. Evolutionists know that they need to confront this dinosaur soft tissue matter head on, and their responses to date have been far from convincing.
Perhaps the most important lesson in all this is the power of the paradigm, i.e. the ideology of millions of years. The straightforward scientific response to such a discovery would have been to trust the laws and observations of science that indicate breakdown in a much shorter period, then seriously question the ‘millions of years’. However, in the face of today’s widespread secular religion such would have the ideological impact of a nuclear warhead. A world that made itself is basic to this religion, and it absolutely, definitely needs millions of years. So instead, in the face of this evidence, the desperate search has continued–for some mechanism, even part-way plausible-seeming, to give this belief system some straws to clutch at.
Technical update, 19 June 2015: Schweitzer’s idea is that iron generated free hydroxyl (.OH) radicals (called the Fenton Reaction) causing preservation of the proteins. But free radicals are far more likely to help degrade proteins and other organic matter. Indeed, the reaction is used to destroy organic compounds. It also requires that the hydroxyl radicals are transported by water. However, water would have caused hydrolysis of the peptide bonds, and very fast deamidation of the amino acids residues asparagine and glutamine. Aspartyl residues should also have isomerized to isoaspartyl residue if exposed to water. Tyrosine, methionine and histidine would have been oxidized under Schweitzer’s proposed conditions. But the dino proteins show that these unstable residues are still present:
The dilemma is this: how did the fragment successfully become cross-linked through aqueous hydroxyl free radical attack apparently explaining peptide survival while hydrolytically unstable moieties such as Asn avoid contact with the aqueous medium—for 68 million years? If we are to accept the benefits of random aqueous hydroxyl radicals cross-linking the peptide matrix in an undefined chemical bonding, we should also accept the cost—peptide and amino acid hydrolysis.29
Update, 28 February 2019: The latest evolutionary evasion is a claim that some chemical reactions akin to ‘toasting’ helped preserve the proteins. For its many flaws, see Ref. 30.
References and notes
- The input and assistance of several colleagues is acknowledged and appreciated, particularly Dominic Statham, Jonathan Sarfati, and Carl Wieland. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Double-decade dinosaur disquiet, Creation 36(1):12–14, 2014; creation.com/dino-disquiet. Return to text.
- Other researchers had found osteocalcin ‘dated’ to 120 Ma: Embery G. and six others, Identification of proteinaceous material in the bone of the dinosaur Iguanodon, Connective Tissue Res. 44 Suppl 1:41–6, 2003. The abstract says: “an early eluting fraction was immunoreactive with an antibody against osteocalcin.” Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Bone building: perfect protein, J. Creation 18(1):11–12, 2004. Return to text.
- Schweitzer, M.H. et al, Molecular analyses of dinosaur osteocytes support the presence of endogenous molecules, Bone, 17 October 2012 | doi:10.1016/j.bone.2012.10.010. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Radiocarbon in dino bones: International conference result censored, creation.com/c14-dinos, 22 January 2013. Return to text.
- Pappas, S., Controversial T. Rex soft tissue find finally explained, livescience.com/41537-t-rex-soft-tissue.html, 26 November 2013. Return to text.
- Nielsen-Marsh, C., Biomolecules in fossil remains: Multidisciplinary approach to endurance, The Biochemist 24(3):12–14, June 2002; www.biochemist.org/bio/02403/0012/024030012.pdf. Return to text.
- Many dino fossils could have soft tissue inside, Oct 28 2010, news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/02/0221_060221_dino_tissue_2.html. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., and Sarfati, J., ‘Schweitzer’s Dangerous Discovery’, creation.com/schweit, 19 July 2006. A fideist is one who believes by ‘blind faith’ regardless of evidence, often disparaging those who seek to use evidence in showing that Christianity is reasonable. Return to text.
- Yeoman, B., Schweitzer’s Dangerous Discovery, Discover 27(4):37–41, 77, April 2006. Return to text.
- Kaye, T.G. et al., Dinosaurian soft tissues interpreted as bacterial biofilms, PLoS ONE 3(7):e2808, 2008 | doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002808. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Dinosaur soft tissue and protein—even more confirmation! J. Creation 23(3):10–11, 2009; creation.com/schweit2. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Doubting doubts about the Squishosaur, creation.com/squishosaur-doubts. Return to text.
- Schweitzer, Ref. 5. Return to text.
- Iron preserves, hides ancient tissues in fossilized remains, NC State University, November 26, 2013, news.ncsu.edu/2013/11/schweitzer-iron. Return to text.
- These are atoms, molecules or ions with unpaired outer electrons, which makes them highly chemically reactive. Return to text.
- Pappas. Ref. 7. Return to text.
- Her technical paper is Schweitzer, M.H. et al., A role for iron and oxygen chemistry in preserving soft tissues, cells and molecules from deep time, Proceedings of the Royal Society, B: Biological Sciences 281(1775):20132741, 27 November 2013 | doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2741. Return to text.
- Pappas. Ref. 7. Return to text.
- Jerlström, P. and Elliot, B., Letting rotting sharks lie: Further evidence that the Zuiyo-maru carcass was a basking shark, not a plesiosaur, J. Creation 13(2):83–87, 1999; creation.com/plesiosaurs2. Return to text.
- Kaplan, M., DNA has a 521-year half-life [at 13.1°C]: Genetic material can’t be recovered from dinosaurs—but it lasts longer than thought, Nature News, 10 October 2012, doi:10.1038/nature.2012.11555 (Comment on Allentoft et al. Ref. 25). Return to text.
- Iron preserves, hides ancient tissues in fossilized remains, NC State University, November 26, 2013, news.ncsu.edu/releases/schweitzer-iron. Return to text.
- Pappas. Ref. 7. Return to text.
- Allentoft, M.E. et al., The half-life of DNA in bone: measuring decay kinetics in 158 dated fossils, Proc. Royal Society B 279(1748):4724–4733, 7 December 2012 | doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.1745. Return to text.
- Nova Science Now: T. rex blood? Preserved soft tissue, including possible blood vessels and red blood cells, are turning up in dinosaur fossils, PBS, 24 July 2007, www.cross.tv/21726. Return to text.
- Compare Sarfati, J., Origin of life: the polymerization problem, J. Creation 12(3):281–284, 1998; creation.com/polymer. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., DNA and bone cells found in dinosaur bone, J. Creation 27(1):10–12, 2013; creation.com/dino-dna. Return to text.
- DeMassa, J.M. and Boudreaux, E., Dinosaur peptide preservation and degradation, Creation Research Society Quarterly 51:268–285, 2015. Return to text.
- Thomas, B., Does the toast model explain fossil protein persistence? Acts & Facts (Impact), 48(3) March 2019. Return to text.