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Author Topic:   Soft Tissue Surviving 65 Million Years?
RDK
Junior Member (Idle past 2831 days)
Posts: 26
From: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Joined: 11-23-2008


Message 1 of 77 (508728)
05-15-2009 8:20 PM


Recently I came across a Smithsonian article about a paleontologist team finding soft tissue and blood cells in T. Rex bone:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur.html

Of course, almost as if on cue, creationists pounce on this finding and declare it a victory for their side. "There's no way soft tissue could have survived for 65 million years!" they joyously proclaim.

In standard creationist fashion they completely ignore the details. For one thing, the article states that the bones are dated to be circa 65 million years, so if it's the age that's tripping them up, then they have a problem with the bones themselves as well as the general Hell Creek region, not the tissue. And just because soft tissue happened to survive for that long a time period doesn't mean the entire field of evolutionary biology is wrong; it means that paleontologists have made some incorrect assumptions about how fossilization and decay works. Fossilization isn't an easily occurring process by any stretch of the imagination; it's relatively rare and we know very little about all the details of fossil formation. The specific situation with the T. Rex skeleton could have been a special case, something to do with how it died or how the body was preserved.

Even so, soft tissue occurring in fossil findings is nothing new to anyone familiar with paleontology. Entire mammoths that have been preserved almost perfectly have been found, and the earliest mammoths go back to about 4.8 million years. Even if soft tissue did imply an earlier date, there's no good reason for creationists to jump to 4,000-6,000 years. And they bash us for making unfounded assumptions?

Oddly enough, the article states that the nature of the soft tissue found in the bone cells points to the female T. Rex having formed a medullary layer in the femur that is common in many species of bird when they become pregnant. The medullary is used to draw calcium that forms the eggshells used to develop their young in. On top of this, the cell specimens found in the fossil have been closely compared with similar cells found in modern day ostriches, and bear many structural and functional resemblances.

Dinosaurs related to birds? How inconvenient for creationists.

In any case, there is nothing whatsoever in this research that suggests either that man and dinosaurs coexisted or that the fossilized remains studied are younger than believed. If anything, Schweitzer's find gave us an opportunity to look deeper into something we may need to have a deeper understanding of in the future: fossilization and tissue decay.


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AdminNosy
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From: Vancouver, BC, Canada
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Message 2 of 77 (508738)
05-15-2009 9:07 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.
  
slevesque
Member (Idle past 2202 days)
Posts: 1456
Joined: 05-14-2009


Message 3 of 77 (508763)
05-16-2009 2:25 AM


I'll start it off :)

I do think the real issue about this is not so much about the soft tissues, but instead about the proteins (collagen I think) found inside the fossils.

Preservation of sequences of proteins is not relevant to fossilization or tissue decay, but to thermodynamics. Eventually, only by the movement at the atomic level, proteins break down. Lab experiments with the best possible preservation conditions (no oxygen, no bacteria, etc.) have come with maximum ages of 3 millions years at 0C, less then 200 000 years at 10C and less then 15 000 years at 20C. Even in temparatures much lower then any found on earth, it does not come close to 65 millions years.

And so to resume it up, the degree of fossilization, preservation of the fossil, conditions of burial etc. do not affect the thermodynamic decay of such proteins. They can only prevent the decay to be accelerated by oxygen, bacteria, etc.

EDIT: note that creationist have not excluded that an unknown process could be at hand and would have a dramatic effect on the thermodynamic decay of such molecules. But up until such a process is found, evoquing it's existence is special pleading.

Edited by slevesque, : No reason given.


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Percy
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Posts: 16038
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.0


Message 4 of 77 (508789)
05-16-2009 7:26 AM
Reply to: Message 3 by slevesque
05-16-2009 2:25 AM


slevesque writes:

Lab experiments with the best possible preservation conditions (no oxygen, no bacteria, etc.) have come with maximum ages of 3 millions years at 0C, less then 200 000 years at 10C and less then 15 000 years at 20C.

Where does this information come from?

--Percy


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cavediver
Member (Idle past 1205 days)
Posts: 4129
From: UK
Joined: 06-16-2005


Message 5 of 77 (508816)
05-16-2009 11:48 AM
Reply to: Message 3 by slevesque
05-16-2009 2:25 AM


I do think the real issue about this is not so much about the soft tissues, but instead about the proteins (collagen I think) found inside the fossils.

Yes, it is collagen.

Lab experiments with the best possible preservation conditions (no oxygen, no bacteria, etc.) have come with maximum ages of 3 millions years at 0C, less then 200 000 years at 10C and less then 15 000 years at 20C. Even in temparatures much lower then any found on earth, it does not come close to 65 millions years.

Like Percy, I would like to know the source of this information. But more specifically, what proteins are we talking about here? I'm no bio-chemist, but even I know that collagen forms the structural strength in living organisms, and is unsurprisingly robust compared to most other proteins. I would pause for thought before throwing around accusations of special pleading...

Edited by cavediver, : No reason given.


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Coragyps
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Posts: 5293
From: Snyder, Texas, USA
Joined: 11-12-2002
Member Rating: 3.3


Message 6 of 77 (508823)
05-16-2009 12:59 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by RDK
05-15-2009 8:20 PM


Schweitzer's group has just published on some further work where they found remnants of collagen in an 80Ma hadrosaur, too. There's nothing wrong with the dates: there just appears to be something about preservation inside a bone that we don't know the details of yet. Plenty of palaeontologists are skeptical of her work, too, though this replication of the tyrannosaur find sure seems to help her case a great deal.

Science, v324, pp626-631, 1 May 2009 - and I can email you a pdf if you want one - see my profile.


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Meddle
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Posts: 163
From: Scotland
Joined: 05-08-2006


Message 7 of 77 (508843)
05-16-2009 2:59 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by Percy
05-16-2009 7:26 AM


The only place I could find it was here. As far as I can tell it is simply calculation of the rate constant of collagen degradation using the Arrhenius equation.
However, the actual chemical reaction used for the collagen degradation seems to be hydrolysis. But since the collagen proteins involved are embedded in the calcium matrix of bone, I don't see how water would be present for such a reaction. The article also doesn't state the actual variables that were plugged into the Arrhenius equation, and I'm fairly useless at maths so don't know how valid their method was.
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Coragyps
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Posts: 5293
From: Snyder, Texas, USA
Joined: 11-12-2002
Member Rating: 3.3


Message 8 of 77 (508845)
05-16-2009 4:56 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by Meddle
05-16-2009 2:59 PM


Malcolm: you have the point exactly. Without knowing, for instance, how much water was present in the bones and whether the minerals of the bone offer some hindrance to water attack, calculation means nothing.
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slevesque
Member (Idle past 2202 days)
Posts: 1456
Joined: 05-14-2009


Message 9 of 77 (508900)
05-17-2009 4:25 AM


Sorry I forgot I involved myself in this debate.

Yeah that's where I got the numbers. We could send a message to CMI about their use of that equation. It takes them about 2-3 weeks to answer. Anyone wants to compose a text to send them, we could then post their answer on here and discuss it.

I'm not real familiar quite bio-chemistry either.

Pretty much every macro-molecules such as DNA and proteins degrade with hydrolysis. But I do think that they degrade with thermodynamics alone (2nd law probably).

Edited by slevesque, : No reason given.

Edited by slevesque, : No reason given.


  
slevesque
Member (Idle past 2202 days)
Posts: 1456
Joined: 05-14-2009


Message 10 of 77 (508901)
05-17-2009 4:31 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by cavediver
05-16-2009 11:48 AM


Like Percy, I would like to know the source of this information. But more specifically, what proteins are we talking about here? I'm no bio-chemist, but even I know that collagen forms the structural strength in living organisms, and is unsurprisingly robust compared to most other proteins. I would pause for thought before throwing around accusations of special pleading...

I view special pleading as somehow part of the reality of scientific reasoning and I certainly didn't intend it as negative or anything. It is just natural to invoke an unknown cause before throwing your previous theory down. Creationist do it to, even more then others probably.

So I don't see it as something negative to identify special pleading when it is, as long as it doesn't stay that way forever lol

Edited by slevesque, : No reason given.


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Dr Jack
Member
Posts: 3506
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 11 of 77 (508906)
05-17-2009 6:01 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Meddle
05-16-2009 2:59 PM


You can actually follow through from your links to their source, which gives the values on p.13 (2 of the pdf) as coming from "Estimated based upon laboratory measured rates of gelatinization (M. Collins et al., unpublished work)".
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Percy
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From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.0


Message 12 of 77 (508914)
05-17-2009 7:34 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by slevesque
05-17-2009 4:31 AM


I'm not sure you understand what the replies are saying. There's no special pleading in science. The result is unexpected, that's why it's being treated skeptically. You're claiming that the result contradicts what we currently know about the survivability of protein. We're wondering where your information comes from, specifically this:

slevesque in Message 1 writes:

Lab experiments with the best possible preservation conditions (no oxygen, no bacteria, etc.) have come with maximum ages of 3 millions years at 0C, less then 200 000 years at 10C and less then 15 000 years at 20C.

If it's what Malcolm and Mr Jack tracked down (Table 1 in Biomolecules in fossil remains: Multidisciplinary approach to endurance), then the source is unpublished, which means it not only hasn't been replicated, it hasn't even been peer reviewed for suitability for publication. Plus the degree to which their laboratory conditions match actual fossil conditions has to be assessed.

As suspected, research into the survivability of soft tissue is in its infancy. If research eventually indicates its impossible then the claims of intact dinosaur protein will have to be discarded. If not then we learn more about dinosaurs.

--Percy


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 Message 10 by slevesque, posted 05-17-2009 4:31 AM slevesque has not yet responded

    
slevesque
Member (Idle past 2202 days)
Posts: 1456
Joined: 05-14-2009


Message 13 of 77 (509007)
05-18-2009 1:52 AM


I went to see the wikipedia definition of special pleading since it seemed to me we didn't have the same definition lol, probably because of the language barrier.(me=french) I viewed it more as simply speculating the existence of an unknown thing (in this case, conditions which would make the proteins survive 65 millions years)to explain results which do not fit with previous data.

I'll go ask CMI if they have a peer-reviewed reference article about the decay time of such molecules, we'll have to wait their answer (unless someone here can find one in that time)

As suspected, research into the survivability of soft tissue is in its infancy. If research eventually indicates its impossible then the claims of intact dinosaur protein will have to be discarded. If not then we learn more about dinosaurs.

The proteins are not 100% intact obviously, since thermodynamics alone already had started to break it up. But they are intact enough to have sequenced it and compared it to bird proteins, so in any case, their actual presence cannot really be discarded. If research really does prove this to be impossible, then we will have to learn more about dinosaurs.


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Coragyps
Member
Posts: 5293
From: Snyder, Texas, USA
Joined: 11-12-2002
Member Rating: 3.3


Message 14 of 77 (509035)
05-18-2009 7:10 AM
Reply to: Message 13 by slevesque
05-18-2009 1:52 AM


If research really does prove this to be impossible,

Schweitzer's research appears to have proved it can happen already. The question now is how collagen bits get preserved for 80 million years.

Edited by Coragyps, : No reason given.


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Percy
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Posts: 16038
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.0


Message 15 of 77 (509038)
05-18-2009 8:09 AM
Reply to: Message 13 by slevesque
05-18-2009 1:52 AM


slevesque writes:

But they are intact enough to have sequenced it and compared it to bird proteins, so in any case, their actual presence cannot really be discarded.

And Coragyps appears to agree with you when he says research proves protein can survive for millions of years but that we don't yet understand how this could happen. But the replication requirement of science tells us to await confirmation by other labs before accepting an unusual and/or unexpected finding.

What I was actually trying to communicate to you is that it isn't a matter of significance to most of us which way this goes. If the research holds up then that's great, because it provides another avenue to knowledge of long extinct life. And if it doesn't hold up then while it would be disappointing, all it would mean is what we thought might be a route to greater knowledge doesn't exist. There are no large implications.

This contrasts with your own view, where you view ancient protein from dinosaurs as the loose thread that unravels views that underpin an ancient earth and a long evolutionary history for life. The implications loom much larger for you and evangelical Christianity in general than for science.

The best example that illustrates the cheek and chutzpah of the evangelical position is radiometric dating. If the dinosaurs actually lived up until a few thousand years ago then radiometric dating is wrong. If radiometric dating is wrong then what we know of radioactive decay is wrong. If radioactive decay is wrong, then much of atomic theory is wrong. If atomic theory is wrong, then much of physics is wrong.

Another example is geology. If the dinosaurs actually lived up until a few thousand years ago then much of what we know about sedimentology is wrong. If sedimentology is wrong then much of what we know about how the earth formed is wrong, which means we're also wrong about sea floor striping and magnetic reversals and plate tectonics and ancient asteroid strikes.

I could go on about cosmology, but I think you get the point, which is that the fabric of science has great strength and resilience because the threads of many different fields run everywhere, interweaving every field of science with every other field. One tiny "How in the world could this have ever happened?" is just an opportunity to increase our understanding. Puzzles, mysteries and problems are science's greatest resource, and the universe appears to provide us with an unending supply. In other words, dinosaur protein is unlikely to provide the evidence that will finally legitimize the young Earth wishes of evangelical Christians.

--Percy

Edited by Percy, : Fix grammatical error.


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