On March 25, 2005, Science magazine reported the discovery of soft tissue in the leg bone of a Tyrannosaurus rex.1 The study was conducted by a team of paleontologists led by Dr. Mary Schweitzer, the scientist who found blood cell remnants in a T. rex bone in 1997. According to the research paper, the soft tissue contains morphological objects that appear to be blood vessels, blood cells, and bone cells.
This study has generated much excitement in the young-earth community. Young-earth creationists claim the discovery of dinosaur soft tissue is a stunning rebuttal to the old-earth paradigm. For example, in an article titled “Still Soft and Stretchy,”2 Carl Wieland, formerly of Answers in Genesis, states:
It is inconceivable such things could be preserved for (in this case) “70 million years”…This discovery gives immensely powerful support to the proposition that dinosaur fossils are not millions of years old at all, but were mostly fossilized under catastrophic conditions a few thousand years ago at most.
They also claim this discovery vindicates their long standing contention that Schweitzer found actual dinosaur blood in 1997.3 In the same article, Wieland comments:
Not only have more blood cells been found, but also soft, fibrous tissue, and complete blood vessels. The fact that this really is unfossilized soft tissue from a dinosaur is in this instance so obvious to the naked eye that any skepticism directed at the previous discovery is completely “history.”
Unfortunately, these young-earth claims are based on several distortions about this latest discovery.
Young-earth creationists maintain the T. rex bone contained fresh, pliable tissue. That is, when the bone was cracked open, the researchers found soft tissue. This is certainly the impression one gets from Wieland’s article. Beneath photos of the bone tissue from the actual study, he wrote, “The arrow points to a tissue fragment that is still elastic [emphasis added]. It beggars belief [sic] that elastic tissue like this could have lasted for 65 million years.” Under a second photo he identifies “Another instance of ‘fresh appearance,’ which similarly makes it hard to believe in the ‘millions of years.’”
Elsewhere in the article he comments:
One description of a portion of the tissue was that it is “flexible and resilient and when stretched returns to its original shape.”
The research paper states when the investigators cracked open the bone, they noticed the hollow interior had not been filled with minerals so they took samples from the core of the bone. Schweitzer then soaked the samples in a solution of dilute acid for seven days to dissolve away the mineral component of the bone. Thus, the tissue was not soft originally, but after the soaking process the tissue exhibited “great elasticity and resilience upon manipulation.”4
Wieland does briefly mention the fact that the bone material was processed, although later in his article. He asserts, “Dr. Schweitzer used chemicals to dissolve the bony matrix, revealing the soft tissue still present” [emphasis added].
However, the clear implication of Wieland’s statement is that the material from the T. rex bone contained soft tissue but the researchers did not see it until the bony matrix was removed. This is not true. The soft tissue was a result of the demineralization and hydration process.
It is also useful to add that Wieland’s descriptions of the two photos (mentioned above) are strikingly different from Schweitzer’s. She refers to the material in one photo as a “demineralized fragment” and the material in the other photo as “demineralized bone.”5 Thus, unlike Wieland, Schweitzer is careful to point out that the tissue in the photos had been processed and was not the original bone material.
The impression given by Wieland is that researchers discovered actual blood vessels and cells in the T. rex tissue. For example, Wieland states, “Not only have more blood cells been found, but also…complete blood vessels.”
In fairness, the researchers do state in the research paper that they believe the T. rex tissue contains blood vessels and cells. However, a careful reading of the paper reveals that this is hopeful speculation, not a statement of fact.
The paper states complete demineralization of the T. rex material released vessels from some regions of the bone matrix that floated to the surface of the flask. Many of these vessels contained round microstructures that resembled blood cells and inside these they observed smaller objects that resembled nuclei. The researchers then subjected ostrich bones to the same process and, when viewed with scanning electron microscopy (SEM), the resulting vessels and contents were virtually identical to the T. rex specimen.6
However, since no molecular studies have yet been done with the tissue, it is uncertain if it contains original organic material or if the material was replaced by mineralization or some other chemical process.7 Therefore, it is very possible that the objects are not intact blood vessels and cells but blood vessel and cell remnants—the degradation products of vessels and cells that have undergone chemical transformation.8 In fact, Schweitzer admits as much in the closing paragraph of the paper:
Whether preservation is strictly morphological and the result of some kind of unknown geochemical replacement process or whether it extends to the subcellular and molecular levels is uncertain.9
In an accompanying article in the same issue of Science, “Tyrannosaurus rex Soft Tissue Raises Tantalizing Prospects,”10 Erik Stokstad makes this very point, “Experts, and the team itself, say they won’t be convinced that the original material has survived unaltered until further test results come in.”
Stokstad also notes there are known instances where reworked material can have the appearance and resilience of the T. rex “tissues.” Therefore, until more research is conducted, it is premature and misleading to claim the structures in the tissue are blood vessels and cells. They may be and they do resemble vessels and cells, but it is an open question at this time.
RTB apologist Greg Moore received his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from Washington State University in 1975, and currently serves as a program manager for the City of Everett in Everett, Washington.
This article is Part 1 (of 2) of "Dinosaur Blood Revisited".
To access Part 2, please click the link below:
Dinosaur Blood Revisited (Part 2)