Since 2005, there have been several discoveries of soft tissue in fossils that are supposedly millions of years old (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). From a young-earth perspective, this is interesting, because it is hard to understand how soft tissue could be preserved for millions and millions of years. Dr. Mary Schweitzer has attempted to provide a mechanism for such preservation, but it isn’t applicable in the real world. If nothing else, I can safely say that finding such tissue was surprising to those who believe the fossils are millions of years old, but it wasn’t surprising to those of us who think the fossils are only thousands of years old.
Recently, I ran across a very interesting study that adds to the list of surprises for those who think that some fossils are millions of years old. The authors were analyzing the fossilized shells of an extinct group of marine mollusks from the genus Ecphora. Unlike many mollusk groups, the fossilized shells of the Ecphora are colored reddish-brown. The authors decided to find out what produces this colorization, so they soaked the fossils in weak acid to remove the minerals. What remained were thin sheets of organic residue that had all the characteristics one would expect if they were made of proteins.
When the authors examined the sheets chemically, they found all the hallmarks of proteins. For example, they put the sheets through hydrolysis, a process that living organisms use to break proteins down into their component chemicals, which are amino acids. When the sheets were hydrolyzed, they broke down into amino acids, exactly as you would expect a sheet of proteins to do. They also measured the percent carbon in the sheets as well as the ratio of carbon to nitrogen. In the end, they concluded:1
…the organic matter elemental and isotopic compositions are very similar to those from modern marine invertebrates. We conclude, therefore, that essentially intact shell-binding proteins have been preserved for up to 18 Ma.