No Other Explanation: Dinosaur DNA!

Cells In two different stages of mitosis. The dark areas represent DNA, which is most likely damaged but still at least partially arranged in chromosomes.
(image from paper being discussed)

Despite the overwhelming evidence, there are some who are skeptical that soft tissue can be found in dinosaur fossils. Even among those who think that there may be soft tissue in some dinosaur fossils, there are those who think that there is no way complex molecules like DNA could possibly be found in that tissue. Well, Dr. Mary Schweitzer and her colleagues have recently published a study that, as far as I am concerned, should put all doubts to rest. Yes, dinosaur fossils do contain soft tissue and original dinosaur biomolecules, including DNA.

The study involves a detailed investigation of fossils from duck-billed dinosaur (Hypacrosaurus stebingeri) nestlings that are supposed to be 75 million years old. The authors examined cartilage tissue under the microscope and found what were obviously cells. Of course, that’s nothing unusual. The Dinosaur Soft Tissue Research Institute has some really great examples of dinosaur cells and other delicate structures from dinosaur fossils. They also have evidence for RNA in the fossils (see here, here, and here).

What’s new (and in my mind definitive) about this study is that they applied two different DNA stains to the tissue. The stains are designed to bind only to DNA, and when you use two different stains and see them both bind to the same structures, you have doubly confirmed the presence of DNA. Of course, what they saw could be DNA stains binding to DNA that contaminated the fossil, right? Wrong! The image at the top of the post indicates why. If I ask anyone who has taken a good high school biology class what the red box is drawn around, he or she should be able to tell me.

When cells reproduce, they go through a process called mitosis. It progresses through different stages, each of which is recognizable by the arrangement of chromosomes. In the second stage, called metaphase, the chromosomes line up at the center of the cell so that half of them can be pulled to one side of the cell and half can be pulled to the other side. In any sample of reproducing cells treated with a DNA strain, metaphase shows up as dark lines across the center of the cell. That’s exactly what you see in the part of the image surrounded by the red box.

Now, by itself, that’s not a “smoking gun.” It’s possible that DNA just happened to contaminate the fossil in a way that looks like metaphase. However, look at the bottom center of the image. There are two white arrows pointing to two dark spots. Those dark spots are surrounded by overlapping circles. Once again, any student who took a good high-school biology course should be able to tell me what that is. It’s the final stage of mitosis, telophase. So what we have here are cells that died in two different stages of mitosis. The one in the red square died in metaphase, while the other died in telophase. The DNA stain shows up not only in the correct places in both stages, but also in the correct shape. In my mind, that confirmes there is real dinosaur DNA in the fossil.

Not surprisingly, the authors agree. To understand how they say it, please note that “condensed state” in DNA refers to the DNA being arranged in chromosomes:

Contamination is not a plausible explanation in this case, and to this date, the possible preservation of original proteins and DNA in deep time has not been convincingly eliminated with data. Although extensive research and sequencing is required to further understand DNA preservation in Mesozoic material, along with its chemical and molecular alterations, our data suggest the preserved nuclear material in Hypacrosaurus was in a condensed state at the time of the death of the organism, which may have contributed to its stability.

In other words, there is no way that contaminants could form chromosome-like structures of DNA right where they are supposed to be in cells that died in the process of going through mitosis! Please note that there is a lot more to the study, including the confirmation that the cells are real cartilage cells and that there are dinosaur protein structures right where they are supposed to be in the tissues. However, to me the DNA results are the most important.

Now please understand that the DNA is probably degraded, but it is not degraded beyond recognition, since the stain is able to bind to it. However, as the authors state, this is not expected. Based on many experiments and our knowledge of biochemistry:

A short temporal range is predicted for informative biomolecules (∼1 MA for proteins, and ∼100,000 years for DNA; with 700,000 years as the oldest genome report).

So their study indicates something is wrong with the prevailing wisdom. Of course, their explanation is that DNA obviously must be more stable than the evidence indicates. As a result, they hope that there is a previously unknown, unthoughtof, exotic chemical mechanism that can make DNA last 750 times longer than current biochemistry indicates.

However, I have a much simpler explanation. There is no new chemistry here. As the current data and our understanding of biochemistry indicate, DNA cannot last anywhere close to millions of years. Indeed, even at temperatures well below freezing, it would be completely unrecognizable in about 1.5 million years. The reason we can find DNA in dinosaur fossils is because they are only thousands of years old.

9 thoughts on “No Other Explanation: Dinosaur DNA!”

  1. The natural conclusion secular science will take is that the longevity of DNA has been severely underestimated. Do you think they will look for an enabling mechanism to explain this? Also, is Schweitzers team still suggesting that iron is responsible for the presence of soft tissue in these fossils or did they abandon that idea yet?

    1. Yes, they should. If they really think DNA can last that long, there needs to be new chemistry to explain it, so someone needs to go searching. They are continuing their work with iron as a preservative. In a more recent paper, they discuss how this could stabilize proteins via the Fenton Reaction. However, that same process would damage the DNA, so I am not sure how they try to justify the Fenton Reaction stabilizing tissues but allowing DNA preservation.

  2. “Although osteocytes have previously been isolated from dinosaur bone [19,20], here, we show the first isolated dinosaur chondrocytes (Fig. 4). Unlike dinosaur osteocytes that often present a reddish hue due to iron inclusions [21], Hypacrosaurus chondrocytes are transparent (Fig. 4A and B), suggesting a different preservation mode.”

    This is a quote from the study referenced by Dr. Wile. If I understand the researchers correctly, they are stating that the iron preservation hypothesis won’t work for chondrocytes because they are transparent … meaning they contain no iron. If Dr. Wile thinks an additional preservation method is needed for DNA, that could mean at least two and as many as three explanations for preservation are needed to support the millions of years age position the researchers think is correct.

    It makes more sense to me to think that the most reasonable explanation is that the tissues are younger than the researchers think that they are. The requirement for an additional one or two methods of preservation in addition to the existing iron preservation hypothesis suggests to me that the researchers may be missing the most obvious solution to the presence of dinosaur soft tissue. A much younger age than has been traditionally proposed for the samples being evaluated.

    1. Thank you for pulling that quote Bill. Very very interesting. Sounds to me like some complex scaffolding needs to be imagined to make these ages viable!

  3. Thanks for the comment John. I agree.

    I just viewed a more recent (posted January 2020) YouTube video lecture by James Tour. The video is titled Expert Witness: Dr. James Tour. I will link it below.

    Starting at about the 58:38 mark, Dr. Tour begins commenting about dinosaur soft tissue. A quote from that portion of his lecture follows.

    “I can tell you, all of the proposals I have read where people are suggesting how collagen could be remaining for 75 million years are ridiculous to me … ridiculous. As an organic chemist, it is making no sense to me.”

  4. Hello Dr.Jay(and everyone)! How are you?

    I recently made a very quick overlook at the first article(at least at the mainstream studies publishers like Nature, Plosone, etc.) about soft tissues. My question is actually why when we talk about the first paper, the only person that is credited with that discovery is Mary Schweitzer, though it wasn’t only her involved in that paper?

    God enlighten you!

    1. In academic research, the first author of the paper is usually the one who did the actual work. The other authors helped, but in a more peripheral way. For example, I am known in nuclear chemistry for discovering radial energy scaling in damped nuclear collisions. However, if you look at the paper where I publish the results, there are several authors. I couldn’t have done the experiment without them, because these experiments are large and require several people. However, I designed the experiment and did the data analysis. That’s why I am the first author and why I am known for the discovery. At the same time, of course, I helped many others with their experiments, so I am listed as an author on their papers (see here for example), but I was not the main person, so I am not credited with their discoveries.

      Dr. Schweitzer is the first author on the landmark paper that reported on the discovery of soft tissue in a dinosaur fossil. As a result, she was the one who did the majority of the scientific work and therefore gets the credit. The others helped, but were not responsible for the majority of the work. Jack Horner (Horner, JL), for example, was the head of the museum to which the fossil belongs. Without him, the research wouldn’t have taken place, but he didn’t do a lot of the scientific work.

      1. Thanks for the answer! I believe that is why Dr. Tour is, nowadays, in the last position in the paper which has his name; he is more a supervisor now than one that get his hands dirty(and because his name gives more credibility to the paper)

  5. Don’t expect evolutionists to ever abandon old earth, that would threaten to upend their anti-supernatural biases.

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