For the past two decades, paleontologist Mary Schweitzer has been at the cutting edge of research demonstrating that certain dinosaur remains contain original soft tissue. Of course, since this material should have completely decomposed after only thousands of years, none should be left after the millions of years assigned to these remains. And this is why scientists who have chosen to investigate soft tissue remain divided over the issue.
Schweitzer’s latest technical report attempts to justify that in-bone collagen recovered from dinosaur remains is original to the dinosaur—and not a bacterial or lab-bench contaminant—on the basis of the peculiarities of the collagen protein’s three-dimensional structure. Collagen is a tough structural protein that bacteria do not manufacture. It forms long strands and acts like molecular strings that tie or connect other tissues such as skin and bones.
In order for collagen to form long strands, the molecule has specific patches along its surface that cross-link to one another. This way, four or five individual collagen protein strands are bound and coiled together at any given point along the string. The study, published in the online journal PLoS ONE, argued that these connection patches along the molecule are not as exposed as other regions.1 The authors presented evidence that the more exposed regions of their T. rex collagen had experienced more degradation than the less exposed regions.
But in an exercise in circular reasoning, this insight was erroneously applied to justify the claim that the collagen is actually millions of years old. The study authors wrote:….
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