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Biosignatures: New data from old fossils (and the Tully Monster)

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Biochemical signature, researchers say, are not necessarily lost in the process of fossilization:

In a new study published in the journal Science Advances, Yale researchers outline a novel approach to finding biological signals long thought to be lost in the process of fossilization. The new approach has already yielded valuable information about the soft shells that encased the first dinosaur eggs and shown that an ancient creature known as the Tully Monster was a very unusual vertebrate.

“What we’re discovering is that molecular, carbonaceous residues almost always preserve a microscopic clue within fossils,” said Jasmina Wiemann, a graduate student in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at Yale and first author of the study. “Fossil organic matter is a wild mix of things, based on the chemical degradation products of original biomolecules.”

Working with Yale paleontologist Derek Briggs and Yale chemist Jason Crawford — both co-authors of the study — Wiemann analyzed the molecular composition of 113 animal fossils dating back 541 million years. It is the largest fossil data set to be analyzed by chemical means.

What they found was an abundance of soft tissues that fossilize into polymers. Recognizing these polymers and the soft tissues they represent may help researchers determine how various animals relate to each other in evolutionary history.

Yale University, “Biosignatures may reveal a wealth of new data locked inside old fossils” at ScienceDaily

Paper. (open access)

The big question is, will biosignatures just confirm the fossil record or bring Darwin’s house crashing down on his followers’ heads. The structure’s already wobbly.

The Tully Monster?

Every now and again, scientists discover fossils that are so bizarre they defy classification, their body plans unlike any other living animals or plants. Tullimonstrum (also known as the Tully Monster), a 300m-year-old fossil discovered in the Mazon Creek fossil beds in Illinois, US, is one such creature.

At first glance, Tully looks superficially slug-like. But where you would expect its mouth to be, the creature has a long thin appendage ending in what looks like a pair of grasping claws. Then there are its eyes, which protrude outward from its body on stalks.

Tully is so strange that scientists have even been unable to agree on whether it is a vertebrate (with a backbone, like mammals, birds, reptiles and fish) or an invertebrate (without a backbone, like insects, crustaceans, octopuses and all other animals). In 2016, a group of scientists claimed to have solved the mystery of Tully, providing the strongest evidence yet that it was a vertebrate. But my colleagues and I have conducted a new study that calls this conclusion into question, meaning this monster is as mysterious as ever.

Chris Rogers, The Conversation, “The mysterious ‘Tully Monster’ fossil just got more mysterious” at Phys.org

Apparently, the Yale conclusion that it is a vertebrate is disputed. The narrator of the video above tells us that the Tully Monster still has no fixed place in Darwin’s Tree of Life.

Hmm. Well, we’ll see what happens next with biosignatures.

13 Replies to “Biosignatures: New data from old fossils (and the Tully Monster)

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Interesting. For me, this is fascinating research as it offers the prospect of learning more about the life of the distant past then we knew before, For you, it is possibly just another tool for dismantling “Darwinism”. Is that really so important?

  2. 2
    ET says:

    Yes, seversky, if Darwinism and its bastard offspring are wrong then they must be dismantled. And in this case they aren’t even wrong. It is imperative that they are dismantled.

  3. 3
    Querius says:

    Seversky,
    I think you hit on a problem area squarely on the head! What it is might be described as filtering what we observe based on what we expect to observe or in support of what we believe.

    The result is ignoring some evidence while pounding some other evidence into a place where it shouldn’t go. Later, we frequently read headlines such as “Scientists shocked by new discovery.”

    Aside from the ubiquitous yellow press, what remains is the all-too-common revelation that previous information was only partial and force fit into existing theories. A better approach to clearly acknowledge what we don’t know and what we’re not still not sure of. In other words, a scientist should not lose respect for a highly informed “we really don’t know.”

    Jumping to conclusions and recognizing non-existent patterns is a natural failing for humans. It certainly applies to ID in some circumstances, but I’d suggest that the Darwinist paradigm often prematurely writes off things as vestigial organs, junk DNA, or convergent evolution, for example. It writes off the location of blood vessels in the retina as a mistake, when it’s later discovered that it’s not. In contrast, the ID paradigm assumes that some strange function, structure, or whatever has some design or purpose behind it.

    Finally, there should also be the freedom to let anomalous data “lie where it falls” rather than immediately rationalizing it. If an artifact or fossil is found or initially dated in a way that seems to contradict current theory, it shouldn’t be discounted as erroneous or an out-of-place fossil. Maybe there are other factors to be discovered. A good example is the eventual discovery of biofilms on artifacts that date something much younger than it should be (I don’t remember the details, but I think this was in relation to pre columbian artifacts).

    -Q

  4. 4
    Belfast says:

    @Sev
    “ For me, this is fascinating research …. For you, it is possibly just another tool.”
    Well, hoity toity, aren’t you the superior one?

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    Not superior but maybe more honest and I haven’t heard “hoity-toity” used in quite a while.

  6. 6
    Belfast says:

    Keep talking, you keep proving the point.

  7. 7
    BobRyan says:

    Seversky:

    Those who ask questions, such as has macro-evolution ever been observed, already know there is no evidence to support what Darwin believed. If something is not witnessed and cannot be replicated, it cannot move from hypothesis to theory. Calling something a fact does not make it so.

    Darwin is the father of eugenics. He believed that the civilized races of man were being weakened by the savage races, which he made clear in Descent of Man. Darwin believed that human were nothing more than just another animal who had developed some poor habits, such as charity to the weaker of the species. Charity enabled the weaker to survive and weaken the species as a whole. If you believe in charity, you are in violation of evolution as Darwin saw it.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    seversky:

    Not superior but maybe more honest …

    Definitely more deluded. Your willful ignorance does not translate into honesty, seversky

  9. 9
    Querius says:

    Sorry, I don’t get it.

    Seversky: “I think the sky is blue.”
    Others: “Coming from you, this is dishonest.”

    Ok, I don’t have time to read all Seversky’s comments. Maybe he’d always been insisting that the sky is green, so it’s ironic that he suddenly says the sky is blue. But why not take someone at their word?

    -Q

  10. 10
    AaronS1978 says:

    @ Querius
    @3
    That was a refreshingly rational and well thought out post

    And in regards to seversky
    Thank you for not immediately attacking religion Or referencing the god of Gaps argument

    And I’m not being sarcastic on that

  11. 11
    Seversky says:

    BobRyan @ 7

    Those who ask questions, such as has macro-evolution ever been observed, already know there is no evidence to support what Darwin believed.

    Those who study the subject professionally disagree. They find plenty of evidence for evolution above the species level in the fossil record.

    If something is not witnessed and cannot be replicated, it cannot move from hypothesis to theory.

    Did you or anyone else alive today witness the Battle of Gettysburg? Could you replicate it? If not then the occurrence of this alleged battle is only an hypothesis by your argument.

    Evidence in science as in the law is not limited to eyewitness accounts. Observations in science are not restricted to only those things seen with the naked eye.

    Calling something a fact does not make it so.

    True. According to Stephen Jay Gould a fact in science does not mean absolute certainty but something which is “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent”.

    In other words, we have enough eyewitness, documentary and archaeological data supporting the hypothesis of a battle near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the American Civil War for it to be accepted as an historical fact.

    Darwin is the father of eugenics.

    No, it is his half-cousin Francis Galton who is regarded as the founder of the eugenics movement. There is also evidence that selective breeding as applied to human beings was practiced by various cultures a least as far back as the ancient Greeks.

    He believed that the civilized races of man were being weakened by the savage races, which he made clear in Descent of Man.

    No, he believed the “savage” races were doomed to be exterminated by the so-called more civilized races of Europe and North America. Given what he saw and knew about the atrocious ways in which indigenous peoples were being treated by the colonial powers it was a not unreasonable assumption. That did not mean he approved of it.

    Darwin believed that human were nothing more than just another animal who had developed some poor habits, such as charity to the weaker of the species.

    Darwin’s theory argued that environmental pressures tended to weed out animals that were less well-fitted to surviving in that environment than others. Usually, that would mean eliminating the weak and infirm leaving healthier individuals to survive. The same would apply to human beings if no other action were taken. Darwin wrote that people could not allow that to happen without abandoning the nobler part of human nature. Observing something to happen in nature does not mean it is morally right for human beings to do to each other.

    If you believe in charity, you are in violation of evolution as Darwin saw it.

    Evolution is essentially a process that happens over time and arises from a number of causes. It is a misconception to think of it as a law that can be violated.

    In my view, the point that Darwin missed was that if you care for the weak and infirm rather than allowing them to die you will eventually come to understand what causes that weakness and infirmity and that knowledge will make all better able to survive. Far from weakening a society charity will, given time, actually strengthen it.

  12. 12
    Querius says:

    Thank you, AaronS1978.

    Perhaps Seversky should also consider what I wrote. Seversky’s unsupported assertion that Darwin disapproved the treatment of other races doesn’t seem plausible given the title of his book: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. He might also want to review the following paper titled “Darwin, race and gender”

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672903/

    -Q

  13. 13
    tjguy says:

    “The big question is, will biosignatures just confirm the fossil record or bring Darwin’s house crashing down on his followers’ heads. The structure’s already wobbly.”

    That will be interesting to see. It could also bring the Old Age paradigm crashing down as well. 500 million year old biosignatures and it’s a common thing? Come on now! Let’s be rational!

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