Table of Contents
- 1 Original Work of Mary Schweitzer:
- 2 Protein and DNA Decay Rates by Kinetic Chemistry:
- 3 Schweitzer’s Solution (Iron and Oxy Radicals):
- 4 Problems with Schweitzer’s Solution:
- 5 High Levels of Carbon-14 in Dinosaur Bones:
- 6 Conclusion:
Original Work of Mary Schweitzer:
Back in 2005, Dr. Mary Schweitzer absolutely shocked the scientific community when she published her discovery of exquisitely preserved soft tissues in dinosaur bones that even remained elastic (Link). There were also intact blood vessels and individual dinosaur cells. Beyond this, there were intact original dinosaur proteins as well as evidence of fragments of DNA that were discovered sometime later in 2013 (Link). The evidence of DNA fragments is particularly interesting.
“Furthermore, antibodies to DNA show localized binding to these microstructures, which also react positively with DNA intercalating stains propidium iodide (PI) and 4′,6′-diamidino-2-phenylindole dihydrochloride (DAPI). Each antibody binds dinosaur cells in patterns similar to extant cells. These data are the first to support preservation of multiple proteins and to present multiple lines of evidence for material consistent with DNA in dinosaurs, supporting the hypothesis that these structures were part of the once living animals.” (Link)
The minimum requirement for antibody binding to DNA is about 35-45 bp (Link). And, this isn’t really the first time that DNA fragments have been detected in dinosaur bones. In fact, according to Jack Horner back in 1995 (some ten years before Schweitzer’s discoveries) DNA fragments from dinosaur bones wasn’t exactly uncommon:
“Getting DNA out of [dinosaur] bones is easy. We have the same thing Woodward has [Link]–we have DNA [to include fragments up to 174bp, ironically, which were sequenced by Woodward in 1994 who still believes these fragments to be dinosaur DNA despite all the controversy], but we can’t prove that it’s from a dinosaur… If we find these proteins [which have been found and sequenced since this 1995 interview with Horner] it will be much more convincing that we have dinosaur DNA” (Link).
So, now there is clear evidence of not only intact dinosaur soft tissues and cellular structures, but subcellular structures, sequenceable proteins and even sizable fragments of DNA (see image below).
At first the scientific community was extremely incredulous and skeptical of Schweitzer’s claims – and rightly so. After all, there was very good scientific evidence in hand that soft tissues decay fairly rapidly over time so that protein and DNA sequences cannot remain intact, at ambient temperatures, longer than a few tens of thousands of years.
So, all kinds of alternative explanations were forwarded in literature as a possible explanation for Schweitzer’s findings. The argument of “biofilms” produced by bacteria was quite popular for a while as I recall. However, each counterargument failed to hold water as Schweitzer published more and more evidence as to the original nature of the soft tissues within the dinosaur bones she was studying. In fact, protein fragments were actually sequenced by Schweitzer (actin, tubulin and histone4 to be specific), leaving little doubt that these proteins were in fact original to the dinosaur in which they were found.
Protein and DNA Decay Rates by Kinetic Chemistry:
Since Schweitzer’s original discoveries in 2005, many such discoveries have been made to include studies that indicate that soft tissue is probably quite common in dinosaur fossils (Link). Yet, how could this be? It is obviously very hard to understand how such soft tissue could remain in a fossil for millions of years without complete decay. So, those who are forced to believe that these fossils are millions of years old have tried to find some reasonable chemical mechanism that would prevent the decay of tissue over such incredibly long periods of time – which appears to be a very daunting challenge indeed!
For example, as far as the various factors that might impact decay over time, certainly numerous studies have taken many of these into account – to include temperature (which seems to be the primary factor in setting the rate of decay), as well as pH, amino acid composition of the protein, water concentration of the environment, size of the macromolecule, ionic strength of the environment, cross linking or covalent bonding within the molecules (as in the case of formaldehyde or iron preservation), etc. Could there be other as yet unknown factors that might contribute to protein/DNA preservation? Certainly! However, these have yet to be found as far as I’m aware – at least not to the point of explaining how tens of millions of years of protein/DNA preservation could tenably be achieved.
For example, Allentoft, M.E. et al. (2012) argued that no intact DNA bonds can be expected at 22,000 years at 25°C, 131,000 years at 15°C, 882,000 years at 5°C; and even if it could somehow be kept continually below freezing point at –5°C, it could survive only 6.83 Ma. Basically, DNA has about a “521 year half-life” (Link). To determine this rate, an international team of paleo-geneticists examined DNA samples from 158 well preserved leg bones of Moas (an extinct giant birds from New Zealand). The bones ranged from “600 to 8,000 years old,” but all had been preserved in almost identical conditions, which meant the researchers could make comparisons between the ages of the specimens and the state of the DNA.
“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.”
And, this statement was published well after Schweitzer made her discoveries of sequenceable proteins and shortly before her discovery of fragments of DNA within dinosaur soft tissues. This statement is also interesting because dinosaur bones are generally believed to have experienced greater than 20°C temperatures for tens of millions of years (Buckley, et al., 2008). And, the higher the temperature, the more molecules like proteins and DNA vibrate and move and fall apart over time.
Other features, such as rapid desiccation and high salt concentrations, may prolong DNA survival (Lindahl 1993). However, kinetic calculations still predict that small fragments of DNA (100–500 bp) will survive for no more than 10,000 years in temperate regions and for a maximum of 100,000 years at colder latitudes (Poinar et al. 1996; Smith et al. 2001).
And, the half-life for the average protein is similar since the “peptide bond has a half-life of 400 years” (Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009; 611: xci–xcviii). However, some proteins, such as collagen in particular, appear to have somewhat longer half-lives of ~2,000 years at ambient temperatures (Buckley, et al., 2008). Of course, this is nowhere close to the required half-life time needed to preserve proteins and/or DNA fragments for tens of millions of years.
Schweitzer’s Solution (Iron and Oxy Radicals):
So, what is the solution to this seemingly difficult problem for the entire neo-Darwinian perspective? Well, again it’s Mary Schweitzer to the rescue. In November, 2013 she published a paper (Link) showing that iron from hemoglobin can increase the preservation time of soft tissues more than 200 fold at ambient temperatures. What happens is that iron facilitates the production of highly reactive “oxy radicals” which “facilitate protein cross-linking in a manner analogous to the actions of tissue fixatives (e.g. formaldehyde), thus increasing resistance of these ‘fixed’ biomolecules to enzymatic or microbial digestion.”
So, there we have it. The problem has been solved! Unfortunately, however, there are just a few fundamental problems with extrapolating these findings to soft tissue preservation for millions of years.
Problems with Schweitzer’s Solution:
Preservation by a Formaldehyde-like Process is Limited:
To start with, even formalin-preserved tissue, even in paraffin-embedded blocks, is known decay over time. As with formaldehyde-based embalming, preservation is not permanent. It is also known that the decay rate for formalin-fixed tissues is primarily influenced by both temperature and humidity, with both acting independent of the other (Xie, 2012; Broek, 2000; and Cronin, 2007). In fact, tissue sections from paraffin blocks may show a considerable diminution of antigenicity, even after a short time (i.e., a few months). Degradation of RNA within paraffin blocks over periods of months to years is well documented (Cronin et al. 2004; Hewitt et al. 2008).
In short, the fundamental decay problems that kinetic chemistry highlights so clearly are not resolved to any significant degree by Schweitzer’s experiments with oxy-radical producing iron molecules.
Oxy-Radicals would have Destroyed Existing Molecules:
Another problem is that the mechanism proposed by Schweitzer (iron-generated oxy-radicals for producing protein cross links) would have destroyed some of the chemicals that Schweitzer’s team found intact within their samples. For example, in some of the fossils analyzed by Schweitzer, chemical analysis revealed fragments of proteins that included an amino acid known as asparagine (known to be unstable in water). However, in order for Schweitzer’s proposed mechanism to work, water must deliver the iron and other key ingredients to the dinosaur tissues after death. If that had actually occurred, asparagine would not have survived within the same tissues. In short, one can’t have it both ways. If water is needed for the preservation of the tissue (and her mechanism does require water), then chemicals that are unstable in water cannot be preserved at the same time.
In addition, there are three additional amino acids in Schweitzer’s samples that should have been altered in the presence of the proposed free radicals as part of the protein cross-linking process – in order for Schweitzer’s proposed mechanism to work. Yet, they are found intact and unaltered in the tissue samples.
These particular problems were highlighted in a 2015 paper (Link) by Dr. John M. DeMassa (Ph.D. in organic chemistry with a full-time job designing antioxidants) and Dr. Edward Boudreaux (Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry). Their conclusion is also quite interesting as well:
“We lastly note perhaps the most disappointing absence in Dr. Schweitzer’s analysis. Assuming that the protein substances discussed are indeed dinosaurian soft tissue, it is also true that the C,H,N,O elemental makeup of the proteins are endogenous [they come from the dinosaur itself]. As such, the samples are highly qualified for a carbon-14 analysis. C-14 should help further the discussion on the possible age of the organic material. If this genuine protein matter is 68 million years old, C-14 should be absent. If the tissue is 50,000 years or younger, C-14 will be detected. We also note in passing that C-14 presence if found and not interpreted as a young age must be interpreted as contamination making unreliable the mass spec data presented by Schweitzer.”
(See also the relevant thoughts of Jay L. Wile, Ph.D. in Chemistry: Link)
Iron non-existent in various soft tissue samples:
Another problem is that many of the soft tissue remains are not associated with significant if any hemoglobin or iron – examples to include original dinosaur biological material in skin and eggshells, the horn of a Triceratops., and even in Archaeopteryx feathers. Clearly then, Schweitzer’s iron-solution cannot be a true solution to the problem of well preserved dinosaur soft tissues, cells, proteins, and DNA fragments.
High Levels of Carbon-14 in Dinosaur Bones:
Carbon-14 Half Life:
The observations of Drs. DeMassa and Boudreaux bring up another interesting problem. If dinosaur bones really are many tens of millions of years old, there should be absolutely no residual carbon-14 (14C) remaining within these bones since 14C has a half-life of just 5,730 years. That means, of course, that if 14C is found within these dinosaur proteins that either the bones are young, or the soft tissues really aren’t from the dinosaur after all (i.e., they are contaminant proteins). And, since it seems quite clear at this point that these soft tissues really are original to the dinosaur bones, the finding of significant levels of 14C within these tissues should leave one with the conclusion that they are in fact quite young.
Carbon-14 has been Found in Dinosaur Bones:
Surprisingly then, 14C has actually been discovered in the soft tissues of all dinosaur bones examined thus far, producing ages ranging from 16,000 to 41,000 years before present – essentially the same as the radiocarbon ages reported for large Pleistocene mammals such as mammoths, mastodons, dire wolves, etc. (Link, Link, Link). Also, as an interesting aside, all organically-derived coal samples contain fairly significant quantities of radiocarbon.
“Recently Triceratops and Hadrosaur femur bones in excellent condition were discovered in Glendive Montana and our group received permission to saw them in half and collect samples for Carbon 14 testing. Both bones were tested by a licensed lab for presence of collagen. Both bones did in fact contain some collagen! The best process ( Accelerator Mass Spectrometry ) was used. Total organic carbon and dinosaur bio-apatite was then extracted and pretreated to remove potential contaminants and concordant radiocarbon dates were obtained, all of which were similar to radiocarbon dates for ice age megafauna such as Siberian mammoths, saber tooth tigers of the Los Angeles LaBrea Tarpits, sloth dung and giant bison.” (Link)
So far, every dinosaur bone tested, as far as I’m aware, has yielded radiocarbon ages in the range of 16,000 to 41,000 years before present (BP) – with most dating less than 30,000 years BP. This degree of consistency for significant levels of 14C seems at leas somewhat problematic for the argument of “contamination”. Even so, Schweitzer and her colleagues have consistently refused to subject their own specimens to radiocarbon testing by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry techniques (AMS). What is there to be afraid of? – having to publish results that completely counter the Darwinian notion of the origin of life on this planet? – or at the very least evidence that the dinosaur tissues that they claim are original to the dinosaur are possibly contaminated by more modern organic material? Either way, its only good science to investigate and get as much data as possible from every means possible. It seems strange, then, for certain popular scientists to avoid doing certain scientific tests for fear of what the tests might show…
Production and Incorporation of Carbon-14:
What is especially interesting about carbon-14 is that, once an organism dies, the 14C that was in that creature at the time of dead does not leave. It stays there until it decays back into 14N. This is a distinct advantage over many of the other radiometric dating techniques where parent and/or daughter elements can escape into the surrounding environment over time (Link). Also, there is no good way to incorporate 14C into the tissues of a dead organism – outside of bringing in foreign organic material or producing 14C in situ from the radioactive decay of closely associated radioactive materials (such as uranium).
The most common counterarguments of either contamination or in situ production don’t hold water when it comes to explaining the very high levels of radiocarbon so consistently and generally found throughout the fossil record (Link, Link, Link).
Of course very small amounts of 14C can be produced by the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium in rocks close by. That’s not the problem or the relevant question. The real question is, how much 14C can be produced by this method? And, why would this source of 14C production be so uniform throughout the world? – high enough to explain very high 14C levels within dinosaur bones equivalent to ages of 15-35 kyrs? Is there remotely enough uranium and thorium scattered in a fairly uniform manner all over the world to generate that much 14C underground?
The clear answer is “No”, there isn’t – especially given that a level of less than 20 parts per million of uranium and thorium was detected in the dinosaur bones that contain large quantities of radiocarbon (Link). Beyond this, turning 13C into 14C by neutron capture isn’t very easy to do. In fact, 14N captures neutrons 110,000 times more easily than does 13C. This dramatically increases the amount of uranium and thorium that would be needed to produce all the necessary 14C via this particular mechanism (Link).
For example, to produce a 14C age of 40,000 years we need a ratio of 14C/12C equal to about 1e-14. As best as I can tell, producing this ratio would require 125 atoms of uranium per carbon atom, which is a concentration by weight of 99.96% uranium (Link).
Also, according to these arguments, 14C dating would be pretty much worthless beyond about 10,000 years due to all the extra 14C being produced by uranium and thorium underground. No one believes that. So, how then can 14C be used on the one hand to “reliably” date mammoths and mastodons and the like as living some 10-35 kyrs ago, but when these same levels of 14C are discovered uniformly throughout thick coal beds or all dinosaur bones examined thus far it must have been the result of non-atmospheric 14C production? A 14C/12C ratio of only 1e-15 corresponds to a ~60,000 yr age for a specimen. We’re talking about less than half that age or more than twice as much 14C.
In short, it seems like these arguments are rather self-defeating – even without knowing how much uranium and thorium would be needed. We aren’t talking about 14C dating beyond 80,000 years here. We’re talking 14C dates that are well within the detection spectrum of AMS techniques.
And, as Dr. Giem noted back in 2010:
“It is difficult to imagine a nature process contaminating wood, whale bone, petroleum and coal, all roughly to the same extent. It is especially difficult to imagine all parts of a coal seam being contaminated equally.” (Link)
(See also my 2010 discussion with Dr. Erv Taylor on the potential and limitations of radiocarbon dating here: Link).
It seems undeniable, at this point, that non-fossilized soft tissue remains are quite common within dinosaur bones. These soft tissue remains include remains of collagen, blood vessels, cellular structures, subcellular structures, sequenceable proteins, and even fragments of recognizable antigenically active DNA. Given the strong evidence of rapid decay rates of such structures through the mechanism of kinetic chemistry (well less than 100k years at ambient temperatures) how can the existence of such soft tissue remains be explained from the neo-Darwinian perspective where tens of millions of years are required? Mary Schweitzer arguments for the potential of iron-generated oxy-radical protein crosslinking fall significantly short with soft tissue preservation improvements measured in the thousands, not tens of thousands much less millions of years (even when iron-produced oxy-radicals are produced – which isn’t consistently the case). Add to this the current evidence of levels of in situ radiocarbon within dinosaur tissues at very similar levels to those found in Pleistocene animal remains (mammoths, sabre-tooth tigers, etc), and neo-Darwinists appear to have a fairly significant problem on their hands. After all, how can radiocarbon dating techniques be considered reliable on the one hand (i.e., when dating Pleistocene remains) while judged to be completely meaningless on the other (i.e., when the same levels are found in dinosaur remains)? It’s like trying to have your cake and eat it too… on the back of an ardent belief that much less reliable radiometric dating techniques must trump everything else (Link)?
So, given the weight of the empirical evidence that is currently in hand, the most rational conclusion is that the dinosaur remains that we have today are in fact quite young – well less than 50,000 years old. For many, especially neo-Darwinists, this concept is completely unthinkable – beyond any serious consideration. However, the scientific evidence is piling up and all true scientists should work to prevent their pre-established biases from completely blinding them to where the current weight of evidence appears to be leading…