Scales, Colors, Proteins in Dinosaur Skin | The Institute for Creation Research

Scales, Colors, Proteins in Dinosaur Skin

Scientists mapped the color shading of a particularly well-preserved Chinese fossil—a Psittacosaurus [sit uh kuh SAWR us]—onto several three-dimensional, lifelike models of the dinosaur. They discovered that the extent of lighter areas on its belly matched that of today's animals that live in shaded areas, like beneath trees, as opposed to open plains. In the process, the researchers confirmed pigment and protein remnants in the fossil skin that should have decayed long ago if they were really millions of years old.

This pristine, small dinosaur fossil came from China's Jehol Biota, fossil beds to which secular geologists attach an age of over 120 million years based on when they believe some of its now-fossilized creatures were alive and evolving. But if that many years actually elapsed since sediments suddenly buried this entire animal, then how could it still contain the short-lived biochemicals that made its skin color darker on its back? How could it still have what appear to be remnants of the proteins that make its reptilian scales still bumpy?

The scientists who worked out the dinosaur's color-shading scheme published their results in the journal Current Biology.1 In the Supplementary Information section, the authors noted that other studies have confirmed pigments like melanin within fossils, as well as the proteins collagen and keratin in such fossils as bird feathers and reptile skin. They wrote, "While few studies have investigated the effect of melanin to observed colours in animal skin, the clear colour patterns and evidence for embedding within keratinised scales suggest that the organic imprints are a reliable proxy for the original relative colour patterns across the body."1

"Keratinised scales" refer to reptile skin. In reptiles like lizards, keratin bumps within their collagen-containing hides form tough, but flexible, tiny armored plates like tiny, flat fingernails embedded in thickened skin. Keratin forms fingernails, feathers, and horns.

The authors' phrase "organic imprints" is rather non-committal. It leaves a door cracked open to the possibility that this Psittacosaurus skin merely looks and feels like partly decayed dinosaur skin, yet no original skin proteins remain. But they suggested no possible scenarios about how minerals could duplicate the look and feel of skin scales and yet not replace its original pigments and pigment-containing cell structures called melanosomes.2

The team published images using laser stimulated fluorescence of the skin. It responded to the light like actual skin and bone typically do—but not bright and shiny like minerals.

The researchers could have conducted the same kinds of tests that other authors did to firmly identify proteins in their fossils. Why didn't they?

They have a powerful reason to omit running these tests, but it's not a scientific reason. To firmly identify proteins in a fossil would expose a big problem. They believe this dinosaur was fossilized millions of years ago, but the longstanding science of protein decay has established that skin should never last that long.3 This fossil, like countless others, appears to have been buried only thousands of years ago.

References

  1. Vinther, J., et al. 2016. 3D Camouflage in an Ornithischian Dinosaur. Current Biology. 26 (18): 1-7. 
  2. Vinther, J. 2015. Fossil melanosomes or bacteria? A wealth of findings favours melanosomes: Melanin fossilises relatively readily, bacteria rarely, hence the need for clarification in the debate over the identity of microbodies in fossil animal specimens. BioEssays. 38 (3): 220-225.
  3. Collins, M. J., et al. 1995. A Basic Mathematical Simulation of the Chemical Degradation of Ancient Collagen. Journal of Archaeological Science. 22: 175-183.

Image credit: 2016 © J. Vinther. Adapted for use in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holders.

*Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on September 29, 2016.

The Latest
CREATION.LIVE PODCAST
Can Scripture Be Trusted? | Creation.Live Podcast: Episode 8
Both believers and skeptics can find themselves asking if Scripture can be taken at its word. Is it scientifically accurate? Can its history be trusted?...

NEWS
Cambrian Soft Tissue Defies Evolution
Paleontologists have discovered “early fossils [of] simple hollow tubes ranging from a few millimetres to many centimetres in length.”1...

NEWS
Fruit Fly Jitters
Researchers working with fruit flies–the ubiquitous lab animal–have discovered the flies are able to undergo an amazing ocular process called...

CREATION PODCAST
Can Radioisotope Dating Be Trusted? | The Creation Podcast: Episode...
Carbon dating is a common method used to determine the ages of fossils and other materials, but carbon14 deteriorates quite quickly. How can it still...

NEWS
Prepare for the Big Non-Event!
In 1950 the famed Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked his coworkers at the lunch table the simple metaphysical question in regard to possible aliens...

NEWS
Move Toward the Enemy: Fighting for Truth in Science
Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the...

NEWS
Evolving Mammals?
The evolution of mammals from non-mammals, like the evolution of all other animal groups, has been, and will always be, problematic. English paleontologist...

NEWS
Butterfly Variation
Butterflies have made science news again, this time in regard to a master gene called WntA: “a combined team of researchers from Cornell University...

CREATION PODCAST
How Old Is The Universe? | The Creation Podcast: Episode 35
Many scientists claim that the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old by reverse-engineering the Big Bang with the assumption that this theory...

NEWS
Massive Tsunamis Generated by the Flood, Not an Asteroid
Two separate studies claim massive tsunamis and earthquakes from an asteroid impact profoundly affected the rock record. One research team modeled a...