In 2005 a group of researchers, led by Dr. Mary Schweitzer, reported extracting pliable pieces of tissue from a T. rex fossil.1 Within this tissue they observed osteocytes, common cells found inside the matrix of bone. Even more surprising, they detected fragments of collagen (a common animal protein). Follow-up studies presented additional support for this discovery. However, the presence of tissue and protein fragments still remaining in dinosaur fossils poses a direct biochemical challenge to the standard geologic dating paradigm. If dinosaur fossils are at least 65 million years old, how has this biological material survived? How could these bones not yet be fully fossilized even after millions of years? These questions raise significant issues about contemporary dating methods.
Not surprisingly, this discovery was widely challenged. Tissue containing proteins were certainly unexpected and should not have survived millions of years of decay and fossilization. Thus, alternate ideas were offered in attempts to dismiss the tissue as “fake.” These alternatives included the suggestion that the material was from a bird carcass mixed with the fossil, laboratory contamination, and even microbial biofilm. While the evidence for such claims proved weak, it does reveal an eagerness to show the extracted material was anything other than authentic dinosaur tissue.
Subsequent studies found tissue and cells in other dinosaur and reptile fossils. Besides collagen, proteins such as actin and myosin were also found. These additional discoveries helped verify the authenticity of the dinosaur tissue, and undercut the arguments of contamination. In fact, dinosaur tissue is now recognized as a “common phenomenon.”
As additional evidence, blood vessels were carefully isolated from the femur of a duckbill dinosaur.11 They retained many physical characteristics of living animal blood vessels — pliable, translucent, and reacting to immunological based stains. The extracted vessels also contained fragments of a wide array of proteins, which is consistent with the types of proteins present in animal blood vessels. This work further confirms that the tissue is authentic and not biofilm or other forms of contamination.