Soft Tissues: Hard to stretch over millions of years

When scientists step beyond the proper limits of science, such as the limit of time in which things  have been scientifically observed and recorded, something other than the method of repeatedly observing and testing things will dictate how data is explained. Supernatural events and explanations are by their nature not limited by the limits of nature, so naturally natural philosophers (now called scientists) tend to avoid them. So, whatever we find in nature, most scientists today have to explain without considering what the Bible (or other religious source) says that God (or other supernatural entity) did in the past that might throw off such explanations. Obviously, creating the heavens and the Earth in one swell foop of six days is going to produce things that would take billions of years to form, assuming that natural processes alone could somehow do it.

So there are some things that “Young Earth” scientists have struggled to explain, such as how we can see stars that are billions of light years away. I believe there’s a simple supernatural explanation, but there are a number of (more or less) natural explanations that have been proposed. There are other things that mainstream scientists are struggling to show nature can produce, such as the origin of life.  

So both sides end up looking at the other and saying, “How can you believe that?” Well, they don’t have any choice, apart from giving up their basic premise. We all want to believe that we believe what we believe because the evidence decides the matter for us, so we’re simply accepting what is true. Some don’t admit they believe or have faith in anything at all, even though they believe things that depend on believing (or being “agnostic” about, meaning they don’t want to think about something too much) things that they can’t show could and actually did happen.

So even if it turns out that something is true which “science said” couldn’t be true, that doesn’t mean that all scientists will consider something supernatural might have happened. No, most will maintain their commitment to finding a natural explanation, and given human intelligence and talent at rationalization, some natural explanation will be proposed and accepted, even if it seems unlikely and can’t be tested. If all else fails (as with attempts to produce life from scratch), it will be filed away as an isolated anomaly that scientists are “working on” and faith in the power of natural processes will be maintained.

All of that was just to introduce the latest news of something which doesn’t really fit with the standard view that the world is millions and billions of years old, and dinosaurs died out over 65 million years ago. I’m talking about organic material found in fossils, particularly soft tissues found in dinosaur bones.

The latest example was published in the Journal of Proteome Research: “Mass Spectrometry and Antibody-Based Characterization of Blood Vessels
from Brachylophosaurus Canadensis”  J. Proteome Res., Articles ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.5b00675, Publication Date (Web): November 23, 2015 (the abstract is available at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jproteome.5b00675). You can also read an article about it at: http://phys.org/news/2015-12-blood-vessels-million-year-old-fossil.html

That PhysOrg article is a perfect example of how something that was once thought impossible, then challenged, can finally be simply accepted, even without any good explanation for why something once not even conceived of is now not even controversial: “Their findings add to the growing body of evidence that structures like blood vessels and cells can persist over millions of years.” Mind you, it’s not just millions of years, but 80 million years! I don’t believe any scientist would have thought anything nearly like this was possible when I was young, or perhaps even just 10 years ago. We were taught that fossilization thoroughly permineralized, even petrified. How could large, complex, fragile molecules such as proteins survive burial for very long, especially with water with dissolved minerals constantly seeping down through the bones?

But now ten years have sufficed to go from the unthinkable to the completely accepted! It all began in 2005, with the report “Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex” published in Science (vol 307, p. 1952).  Well, there were earlier hints, particularly “Preservation of biomolecules in cancellous bone of Tyrannosaurus rex,” Mary H. Schweitzer, et al., Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology  (Impact Factor: 1.98). 06/1997; 17(2):349-359. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.1997.10010979. Years later, there was still controversy over just how much they had found.

In 1997 (and later), some evolutionists were comfortable with admitting that small fragments of hemoglobin had been detected, but little if anything more than that, although the paper stated there were indications of many biomolecules (“some…most likely contaminants”), including peptides, amino acids, nucleic acids and collagen. An anti-creationist* web page with a 2004-2006 copyright focuses entirely on faulting creationists for excitedly making the most of it, based on statements made in popular-level news reports.

In 2005, some allowed that the newer report described “dinosaur blood vessels–still flexible and elastic after 68 million years–and apparently intact cells” (“Tyrannosaurus rex Soft Tissue Raises Tantalizing Prospects” by Erik Stokstad, Science 25 March 2005: Vol. 307 no. 5717 p. 1852, DOI: 10.1126 / science.307.5717.1852b)  but the anti-creationist response didn’t include any acknowledgment that creationists had been on the right track, even if they had jumped the gun. In fact, it calls the findings merely “apparently preserved organic tissues.”

Reports in science journals are often simply accepted (why double check something that “everyone knows” is okay?), but controversial ones, especially those that pique the interest of creationists or otherwise threaten an established opinion, are dinner bells for  researchers hungry for publication. Even so, the next big development (in 2008) was published in the open-access (and author-pays) journal PLOS ONE (PLOS = Public Library of Science). “Dinosaurian Soft Tissues Interpreted as Bacterial Biofilms” by Thomas G. Kaye, et al., (PLoS ONE 3(7): e2808. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002808, July 30, 2008) offered “a more conservative explanation,” i.e. that not only were the “soft tissues” merely leftovers from colonies of bacteria, but even the apparent fragments of hemoglobin were nothing more than an “oxidized form of formerly pyritic framboids.”

However, a report in 2009 (“Reanalysis of Tyrannosaurus rex Mass Spectra” by Marshall Bern et al., J. Proteome Res., 2009, 8 (9), pp 4328–4332, DOI: 10.1021/pr900349r, Publication Date (Web): July 27, 2009) backed up a soft-tissue report published in 2007. Since then, the tide has turned. Another key report appeared in Bone near the end of 2012 (online, the print edition was January 2013), “Molecular analyses of dinosaur osteocytes support the presence of endogenous molecules,” Mary Schweitzer et al., Bone 52 (2013) 414-423, Available online 17 October 2012, Edited by J. Aubin. This confirmed that bone cell structure was present, with pictures of the cells and tests that indicated the presence of various biomolecules, including fragments of DNA.

A “Note added in proof” acknowledges that “A recent paper by Allentoft et al. (2012) hypoothesizes a half-life of DNA of ~521 years in an optimal depositional environment, suggesting that DNA should be degraded to single bases by a little under 7 million years,” hastening to add “even though they also state that ‘considerable sample-to-sample variance in DNA preservation could not be accounted for by geologic age’.” This degradation rate was not based on observing DNA decaying, but “Their half-life estimate was based upon extrapolations of data taken from >150 relatively recent Holocene bones (less than 10,000 years old). Fossils older than this were not examined for DNA.” Of course the authors of this report couldn’t consider that perhaps DNA deterioration sets a limit on how old bones with it could be, so they suggest instead that the DNA bits in their bones (supposedly more than 10 times older than the limit indicated by the other study) indicates the other study fell short: “All of our assays require at least 4 or more bases to generate reactivity… Therefore we suggest more rigorous testing of extrapolation models on actual fossil material from older specimens.” After all, if you “know” that bones are 80 million years old and have fragments of DNA, then that must mean that DNA can somehow or other last (at least as fragments) for that long, right? The report mentions a number of factors thought to contribute to such amazing preservation.

And that last bit is where we get to the acceptance stage. A key step was the publication, just a little less than a year later, of “A role for iron and oxygen chemistry in preserving soft tissues, cells and molecules from deep time” Mary H. Schweitzer, et al.,  Published 27 November 2013. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2741

Curiously, when I clicked on a link to jump to the section that normally would provide all the details for the preservation experiment, I found only this:
For details of actualistic experiments and additional figures (S1–S6), see the electronic  material.
 I haven’t been able to locate that material, but the Results section of the report noted that ostrich blood vessels “were incubated in a concentrated solution of red blood cell lysate (see the elctronic supplementary material) to approximate post-mortem erythrocyte lysis. … Haemoglobin was chosen to test its preservation properties for four reasons:” besides the known preservative qualities, “(iii) blood vessels fill with large amounts of HB after death as red cells begin to die and lyse, thus it is naturally present in large vertebrates.”

It seems to me that if “large amounts of” hemoglobin (HB) really do fill the vessels of large vertebrates “after death as red cells begin to die and lyse” (this is the meaning of “post-mortem erythrocyte lysis,” “lyse” meaning to break apart), then the most telling experiment would be to simply study the preservation of blood vessels actually in large dead vertebrates. It makes me wonder how valid it is to draw conclusions about preservation of vessels in nature from studying vessels removed from bodies and “incubated”(?) in a “concentrated solution.” Also, I have to wonder how comparable two years in a lab are to millions of years in nature.

I just checked and found an article on the ICR website, “Dinosaur Soft Tissue Preserved by Blood?” by Brian Thomas says about the same things, while also pointing out that the “controls” in the experiment were left soaking in water, the universal solvent, and that  some soft tissues supposedly millions of years old do not show the enhanced iron content.

Still, this new report apparently can simply concentrate on evidence that the soft tissues and biomolecules actually belonged to the dinosaur and not more recent contamination, and the question of how such things could last tens of millions of years never comes up. This is how what should be a house of cards has been ratcheted higher and higher and propped up beyond fear of challenge — although judging from the hyper reactions of evolutionists to almost everything said or done by the (in comparison) few creation scientists, it seems there is a good deal of fear it could all come crashing down after all.

*This site is full of obvious bias. According to those contributing to it, anyone who believes in active Divine creation and disagrees with the mainstream about evolution and such is just plain “anti-science” and must think that all of “science is nothing but a vast conspiracy.” Creating such demonization (or having a mindset that transforms people into such bogeymen) clearly shows a degree of bias and bigotry unbecoming anybody claiming to be objective and rational.