Chitin is a biological material found in the cuttlebones, or internal shells, of cuttlefish. It has a maximum shelf life of thousands of years, and yet researchers recently verified—using three separate techniques, multiple laboratories, and careful material handling—that samples of chitin from fossils had the same basic chemistry as modern chitin.
The question they did not answer, however, is why the original organic chitin had not completely fallen apart, which it would have if the fossils with it were 34 million years old, as claimed.
In modern ecosystems, chitin-eating bacteria rapidly recycle the atoms that comprise chitin. So, fossilized chitin must have been quickly isolated from bacteria and water. But how?
Publishing in the online journal PLoS ONE, researchers speculated that the chitin was buried in mud where there was no oxygen and perhaps very few bacteria.1 But multiple experiments have shown that bacteria living in deep mud and without oxygen readily use organic molecules as food sources. For example, one investigator sealed modern lobsters—which have an exoskeleton made of chitin—into jars of water and mud. The result:
Decay processes were active in the experimental conditions despite anoxia [lack of oxygen] and had virtually destroyed the carcasses within 25 weeks.…The results clearly show that anoxia is ineffective as a long-term conservation medium in the preservation of soft-bodied fossils.2
The lobster experiments were performed in fresh water, salt water, and brackish water. And yet despite the lack of oxygen, the lobsters’ bodies had decayed in just weeks….
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