Archive for March, 2018

Recent Dinosaurs?

March 8, 2018

Genesis and Genes is mostly about how intelligent, educated and well-informed laymen should assess the claims made by science, especially in controversial areas like biological evolution. In the book, I only briefly touched on paleontology. Here is one of the passages in the book that is relevant to that issue.

[Excerpt from Genesis and Genes]

In 2005, a remarkable study appeared in the journal Science.[1] Mary H. Schweitzer of North Carolina State University reported the discovery of flexible blood vessels inside the fossilized thighbone of a “68-70 million year old” Tyrannosaurus rex from the Hell Creek formation in eastern Montana. Previous studies indicated that the upper limit to the preservation of a stable protein such as collagen was only 15 thousand years at 20°C.[2] Dr. Schweitzer commented, “I am quite aware that according to conventional wisdom and models of fossilization, these structures aren’t supposed to be there, but there they are. I was pretty shocked.”

[END of Excerpt]

A friend has now kindly sent me a fascinating video clip that is directly relevant to the above passage from Genesis and Genes. It includes an interview with Dr Schweitzer.

Let it be noted that I disagree with many of the points made in the clip, including the one about the alleged ancestor-descendant relationship between dinosaurs and modern birds (about which I wrote a lot in Genesis and Genes). Still, it is fascinating to see the soft tissue extracted from a fossil which is supposedly about 70 million years old.

Here is the link to the video clip (it is about 15 minutes long):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJOQiyLFMNY

A few more fascinating details that are not mentioned in the video clip emerge in an interesting article about Schweitzer and her work.[3] Here is a short excerpt:

She had already seen signs of exceptional preservation in the early 1990s, while she was studying the technical aspects of adhering fossil slices to microscope slides. One day a collaborator brought a T. rex slide to a conference and showed it to a pathologist, who examined it under a microscope. “The guy looked at it and said, ‘Do you realize you’ve got red blood cells in that bone?’” Schweitzer remembers. “My colleague brought it back and showed me, and I just got goose bumps, because everyone knows these things don’t last for 65 million years.”

When Schweitzer showed Horner the slide, she recalls, “Jack said, ‘Prove to me they’re not red blood cells.’ That was what I got my Ph.D. doing.” She first ruled out contaminants and mineral structures. Then she analyzed the putative cells using a half-dozen techniques involving chemical analysis and immunology. In one test, a colleague injected rats with the dinosaur fossil extract; the rodents produced antibodies that responded to turkey and rabbit hemoglobins. All the data supported the conclusion that the T. rex fossil contained fragments of hemoglobin molecules. “The most likely source of these proteins is the once-living cells of the dinosaur,” she wrote in a 1997 paper.

SOURCES:

  1. Schweitzer, M.H., Wittmeyer, J.L., Horner, J.R., and Toporski, J.K. 2005., Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex, Science 307(5717): 1952–1955.
  1. Nielsen-Marsh, C., Biomolecules in fossil remains: A multidisciplinary approach to endurance, The Biochemist June 2002 pages 12–14. Available online [Last retrieved 11th September 2011] at http://www.biochemist.org/bio/02403/0012/024030012.pdf.
  1. http://barryyeoman.com/2006/04/schweitzers-dangerous-discovery/

Last retrieved 8th March 2018.

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