Edible Eggs?

LufengosaurusWhat with all the genetics articles lately we haven’t seen a soft tissue DpSU from the ICR in a while. For today, Brian Thomas writes The Incredible, Edible ‘190 Million-Year-Old Egg’. To nitpick, these eggs are 190-197 million years old, fairly unusual if not necessarily “incredible,” and almost certainly not edible. I cannot determine the origin of the image Thomas has put at the top of his article, but I doubt that it is of this find.

Their age places them in the “Lower Jurassic,” giving them the position of first-equal for oldest known dinosaur eggs with a South African find, and were found in China. It’s difficult to match fossils of the bones of adults with other fossils like eggs and tracks, but these eggs were probably of the early Jurassic sauropodomorph Lufengosaurus. Thomas claims that there is evidence that they are not 190 million years old, but instead were fossilised as a result of the Global Flood:

First, the find’s context fits a watery cataclysm. Science NOW covered this story [link], describing the fossils as, “one nest after another destroyed by floods.” Of course, Noah’s year-long Flood strung together many disastrous tsunami-like flood events, each one covering a broad swath, sometimes blanketing areas the size of whole continents.

Leaving aside Thomas’ brazen “Of course,” asserting a claim supported by neither scientific nor even biblical evidence, his Science Now quote doesn’t mean quite what he thinks it does. From the paper itself:

We interpret the bone bed as a para-autochthonous assemblage, formed by low-energy flooding and slow inundation of a colonial nesting site. The host sediment is a heavily bioturbated, massive siltstone, throughout which are dispersed isolated skeletal elements, eggshell fragments and the small, fossil-rich nodules of calcium carbonate. There are no preserved nest structures or uncrushed eggs. The lack of coarse-grained sediment, coupled with the apparent sorting and concentration of bones that are at various developmental stages, and hence from different nests, indicates that the bone bed is not an in situ nest or catastrophic death assemblage. We believe that inundation and ponding, followed by weak currents and simple wave action, explain the hydrodynamic sorting and non-random orientation of the disarticulated embryonic elements. Transport must have been minimal given the high preservational quality of the delicate, poorly ossified embryonic bones and <100-µm-thick eggshell. The embryonic bones and eggshell fragments were eventually buried and subjected to pedogenic processes, including precipitation of carbonate nodules that encase the bones.

The bones found are not from a “catastrophic death assemblage,” but were instead “formed by low-energy flooding and slow inundation.” The eggs are simply too fragile to have been carried by Thomas’ “tsunami.”

Suspending his flood argument for a paragraph, Thomas says:

The study authors published in the journal Nature, explained why their fossils are so unique. One reason is that they occur in rock layers far below those containing most other sauropod egg fossils. To evolutionists, this represents a time long before later sauropods had evolved, thus providing a supposed window into some distant eon wherein these long-necked dinosaurs were still evolving. But they did not find any “half-baked” critters inside the eggs. The nascent sauropods displayed well-designed, fully-formed, fast-growth construction—as though they had been created on purpose.

He really thinks that evolution produces “half-baked” animals. As I already mentioned, Lufengosaurus was a sauropodomorph (but not a sauropod – sauropodomorpha is a broader group). It may possibly have been an ancestor to sauropods but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a creature in its own right – if it wasn’t it couldn’t have survived, could it? You don’t dispute your parenthood on the grounds that your father doesn’t look exactly half like you and half like your grandparents, after all.

Thomas continues:

To creationists, the egg-containing rock layer represents evidence of a wave-like pulse that occurred earlier during the same Flood year that inundated other equally well-designed sauropods whose egg fossils occur in higher strata.

The Nature authors wrote that the Lufeng Formation in China “is comparable temporally, environmentally and in faunal content to the Upper Elliot Formation of southern Africa.” Could the Flood have deposited the Lufeng Formation as well as its apparent counterpart in Africa at the same time—before the continents separated?

He does not elaborate, but gives a footnote to the “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics” paper (which he doesn’t link to). A continent-spanning wave would really be much too powerful to have allowed the preservation that we observe. Also, from a tectonic perspective, Africa and Asia have if anything been getting closer together since the days of the Pangea supercontinent – “before the continents separated” might apply if this find was instead from South America not China, but it is a little irrelevant here.

The second mark of recent flooding comes from the direct detection of protein remnants within the embryonic sauropod bones themselves. The Nature study authors used a state-of-the-art technique called FTIR to directly identify protein chemical signatures. [Footnote: “More specifically, SR-FTIR is “synchrotron radiation-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy.””] FTIR does not destroy the sample, and does not require pre-processing that would risk exposing the sample to bacteria or other contaminants.

According to the research team, “Our results clearly indicate the presence of both apatite and amide peaks within woven embryonic bone tissue, which should not be susceptible to microbial contamination or other post-mortem artefacts.”

The significance of these results may not be directly apparent. Apatite is the mineral component of bone. Vertebrate bone cells manufacture it, but bacteria do not. The FTIR amide “peaks” graph protein-specific signatures. Both bacteria and vertebrates like dinosaurs manufacture protein. Therefore, finding apatite “woven” together with protein, as in actual bone, refutes the notion that bacteria might have made the proteins.

So we have preserved protein – or rather traces of protein.

The study did not identify the protein by name, but verified that the materials are “probably direct products of the decay of complex proteins” In other words, the protein remnants were not mineralized over eons, but derive from organic material original to the dinosaurs. These results mirror the discovery of ovalbumin protein in sauropod eggshell fossils from Argentina.

They conclude that the proteins are decayed, in which case it would be difficult to “identify the protein by name.” Despite the proteins not being intact, Thomas still concludes that:

Of course, that should be impossible if the dinosaur egg fossils are as old as standard secular geology demands—in this case, 190 million years! Decay studies demonstrate that even those proteins locked in bone tissue have a shelf life that does not exceed hundreds of thousands of years. This discovery, like so many similar finds, truly embarrasses evolutionist’s age assignments.

That’s cited to this paper, which is only talking about collagen. They say:

The extremely hierarchical structure of collagen results in unusual, catastrophic degradation as a consequence of fibril collapse. The rate of collagen degradation in bone is slow because the mineral “locks” the components of the matrix together, preventing helical expansion, which is a prerequisite of fibril collapse. The packing that stabilizes collagen fibrils also increases the temperature sensitivity of degradation (Ea 173 kJ mol–1). Collagen decomposition would be much faster in the T. rex buried in the then-megathermal (>20°C) environment of the Hell Creek formation [collagen half-life (T½) = ∼ 2 thousand years (ky] than it would have been in the mastodon lying within the Doeden Gravel Beds (present-day mean temperature, 7.5°C; collagen T½ = 130 ky) (Fig. 1).

In other words, preservation of collagen depends highly on temperature, and while when buried in 20+°C temperatures it has a half-life of around two thousand years, in an animal buried at around 7.5°C the half-life is up to 130 thousand years. The figure mentioned includes a graph showing how the carbon-14 dates of most old collagen finds generally fall neatly below the age predicted from the temperature they would have experienced while buried (which is not at all what you would expect from the YEC position, I might add). Whether or not this conclusion is directly applicable to an unknown bone protein that has already degraded is unclear, but I have to say that doubt it. I have to conclude instead that we don’t have the evidence (or Thomas has not provided it) that these eggs cannot be 190 million years old. Nor will this be the last word on whether or not the protein remnant is real or not, I’m sure.

These tiny sauropod bones bear two clear marks from the Genesis Flood that buried them. They occur in flood-deposited rock layers, and their original proteins reflect thousands, not millions, of years’ worth of aging.

Thomas’ idea of Noah’s flood – any idea, in fact, aside perhaps from the dreaded “placid flood” – would be unable to preserve these eggs. Meanwhile the idea that the protein evidence means that the eggs cannot be millions of years old is inadequately supported. Finally, the detection of the faint traces of what were once protein does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make these fossil eggs “edible.” Not unless you’re also capable of turning stones into loaves of bread.

5 thoughts on “Edible Eggs?

  1. http://www.icr.org/article/7415/
    Brian knows the flooding was ‘very recent’ and that the scientists have got it wrong. It stands to reason – there are soft tissues including apatite, and the formation in China where the egg shells and embryo parts were found “is comparable temporally, environmentally and in faunal content to the Upper Elliot Formation of southern Africa” (those clever YECs have ‘discovered’ that a supercontinent that included modern Asia and Africa broke apart just 4,300 years’ ago during Noah’s Flood). I was expecting him to add that the creature seen by Job in Job 40 and named behemoth (translations saying it had a navel must be wrong) was a sauropod dinosaur similar or perhaps even identical to Lufengosaurus.

    But what is a ‘half-baked’ critter (I know Brian hasn’t seen such, but he must have an idea of what one would look like)?

    Nothing to do with Brian’s scientific claims, I trust.

    It seems these eggs must have been pretty large.

  2. Your article:
    “He does not elaborate, but gives a footnote to the “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics” paper (which he doesn’t link to).”
    When I looked up the original paper the reference is a superscript 3 in the list of references at the bottom:
    “Austin, S.A. 1994. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History. Presented at the Third International Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 18–23, 1994. Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism. R. E. Walsh Ed. 609–621”

    I found the paper as a pdf by searching Google Scholar with the title – first result on the list.
    Whether or not it contains any information related to the ICR article (other than an introduction to “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics”) is another matter.

    I have a few comments of my own, mainly concerning the style of the ICR article:

    1) The banner over the article is grossly misleading – it has nothing to do with the paper being discussed and, at best, seems to be an artistic invention. It suggests that such well-preserved fossils have been found (which is blatantly untrue).

    2) The title is ridiculous. To get a catchy rhyme they did a play on words which was an out and out lie. There is no “edibility”. Note, the author might not have been responsible – there may well have been a sub-title editor as in many/all newspapers.

    3) The misuse of “unique”. I may be a pedant (my few friends say I am) but “unique” means there’s only 1. “So unique” as used by the ICR author is nonsense. It is like an orator with a weak argument shouting and waving his hands. Incidentally, the Nature article (or Letter) is avaiable as a pdf (Google Scholar) and does not use the pharse “so unique”. Indeed the word “unique” is not present.

    4) Ditto with “very”. The word should be banned in all science writing – of course, this does not really apply here because it is not science!

    All the points (and I could make more) are directed to mislead the reader and to paint a picture which is not supported by the evidence.

    Thank you for YOUR interesting and well-reasoned post!



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