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Monday, January 26, 2015

New Record Set for Soft Tissue in Fossils

Posted by jlwile on May 22, 2014

This is an example of a Sabellidites cambriensis fossil. (click for credit)

This is an example of a Sabellidites cambriensis fossil. (click for credit)

Sabellidites cambriensis is an animal that we know only from the fossil record. It is thought to be a worm-like creature that built its own tube in which to live. Its fossils are found in Ediacaran rock, which is supposed to be on the order of 550 million years old. Evolutionists are interested in studying organisms from this rock, because they are thought to be the oldest multicelled animals. The problem is that there are other fossils of tube-forming animals in the same rock, so it is difficult for evolutionists to tease out the supposed relationships that exist between S. cambriensis and similar animals that are alive today.

In order to better understand S. cambriensis, a group of paleontologists examined several fossils using electron microscopes, X-rays, and spectrometers. Their analysis indicates that the structure and layering of the fossils’ tubes are similar to that of an existing group of animals known as beard worms,1 an example of which is shown below:

These are beard worms.  They live on the ocean floor, typically near hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, or the carcasses of whales.  (public domain image)

These are beard worms. They live on the ocean floor, typically near hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, or the carcasses of whales. (public domain image)

As a result, the authors conclude that the S. cambriensis fossils represent ancient forerunners of the beard worms. This presents a bit of a problem for evolutionists, however. As the authors note, using molecular clock estimates, it was thought that beard worms didn’t evolve until about 126 million years ago. Since the fossils the authors studied are supposed to be about 550 million years old, their analysis says that the molecular clock estimate is off by almost a factor of four! However, I personally think these fossils represent an even bigger problem for evolutionists.

In the paper, the authors note that portions of the fossil are not mineralized. In other words, they are still soft. As the authors report:

The Sabellidites organic body is preserved without permineralization. Minerals have not replicated any part of the soft tissue and the carbonaceous material of the wall is primary, preserving the original layering of the wall, its texture, and fabrics. Moreover, the fabrics, observed in STEM/SEM/TEM (see below), are fibers composed of resilient organic matter embedded in a less resilient organic matrix (Fig. 2.2) that may be dissolved thereby exposing fibers on fractured surfaces (Fig. 2.3-2.6). [NOTE: "STEM/SEM/TEM" refers to different electron microscope techniques.]

In the figures to which the quote refers, you can see fibers that are less than 0.5 millionths of a meter wide! So these delicate fibers have supposedly stayed soft for 550 million years! As far as I know, this sets the record for how long you have to believe soft tissue can survive if you want to hold to the standard geological timeline. It’s staggering enough to think that soft tissue can survive for 50-80 million years, as other fossils have demonstrated (see here, here, here, and here, for example). Now that’s not enough. To believe the standard geological timescale, you now have to believe that delicate strands of it can survive nearly ten times longer!

That’s not the end of the story, however. The authors were able to identify chitin in one of the fossils. This molecule is made by many living organisms today, and it has been found in other fossils as well. More than three years ago, I discussed the fact that it had been found in a scorpion fossil that is supposed to be 417 million years old. Well, the fact that it has been found in one of the S. cambriensis sets yet another record. As the authors state:

The S. cambriensis example extends the record of chitin preservation (Cody et. al., 2011) by some 130 Ma.

As a chemist, it is hard for me to understand how soft tissue and modified polysaccharides like chitin can survive for hundreds of millions of years. It is much easier for me to believe that these fossils aren’t nearly as old as the standard geological timescale indicates.


1. Moczydlowska, M., F. Estall, and F. Foucher, “Microstructure and Biogeochemistry of the Organically Preserved Ediacaran Metazoan Sabellidites,” Journal of Paleontology 88(2):224-239, 2014..
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52 Responses to “New Record Set for Soft Tissue in Fossils”
  1. Daren H says:

    Sigh, you are twisting my words again. I already explained…..the original phosphodiester bonds and possibly dexoyribose sugars broke down leaving only the base pairs. this by far is NOT intact DNA. This is not even an intact nucleotide!

    Even Dr Schweitzer acknowledges the DNA test is inconclusive. Only you are twisting her results to to make it appear like the dinosaur is so much younger. Whats your estimate for the rate of degradation if this dinosaur is only 4300 years old then?

    You use the Eemian interglacial,from 130000 to 114000 years ago, the second to last one, why? the paper only indicates one interglacial, they dont even know which one it was. Bear in mind the horse is at least 560000-780000 years old, how do you know it thawed during the Eemian, after 400000-500000 years of glacial deposits were now on top of it? And how would you know the freeze/thaw cycle would have induced massive DNA degradation? Bear in mind my original assumption was that the horse DIED during an interglacial.

    My calculations were being EXTREMELY modest. If the half life of DNA was 1000 years at 4-5C does it sound better?

  2. jlwile says:

    I am not twisting your words, Daren. I am trying to explain to you how PI and DAPI stains work. They are both intercalating stains, which means (as I have explained again and again) that the DNA must be intact for them to bind. Here, for example, is an illustration of how DAPI binds to DNA:

    As you can see, the DNA must be intact. Once again, then, since PI worked, there must have been segments of at least 4-5 base pairs intact in order for it to bind to DNA.

    I am not twisting Schweitzer’s words, either. I am simply discussing the most obvious conclusion that her data indicate. I am sure that she doesn’t agree with my conclusion, but it is the most obvious one.

    You ask what my estimate for the rate of degradation is. Since I follow the evidence, I will take (as an estimate) the measured half-life of DNA in bones, which is 521 years. Obviously, this is just a ballpark figure, but nevertheless, it gives us some idea. If that’s the case and the bone is under 5,000 years old, then that means less than 10 half-lives have passed, and the fact that the DNA is still in segments that are at least 4-5 bp long is not surprising at all. In order for this to be the case with the bone being 65+ million years old, the half-life of DNA would have to be on the order of 2 million years. That clearly makes no sense.

    I used the Eemian interglacial to indicate that your idea of an interglacial lasting 10,000 years max is simply not true, at least not if you buy into the old-earth paradigm. The freeze/thaw cycle creates ice crystals, which shear the the strands of DNA. Clearly, then, the freeze/thaw cycle will severely degrade the DNA. This is why, once again, your calculations are not modest. They are simply not realistic.

    I understand you are trying to force these results into an old-earth framework, but you can’t just pull numbers out of the air. The only measured number we have is 521 years. Certainly, the cooler the temperatures, the longer the half-life, but we have no idea what the actual effect is. In addition, you are neglecting the real-world issues, such as the freeze/thaw cycle.

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