Exploring chronic disease
26 Aug 2008
The year was 2005. Under the guidance of Mary H. Schweitzer, researchers from North Carolina State University reported a groundbreaking finding. The team had, according to its members, discovered bona-fide dinosaur tissue inside a femur bone that had once belonged to Tyrannosaurus Rex. The discovery was reported after Schweitzer’s team, working at a remote dig site in Montana, was forced to break the femur into chunks small enough to be transported by helicopter. Inside were pieces of rubbery material that looked like blood vessels and bone marrow. Eureka?
Although several scientists voiced skepticism of the possibility that what appeared to be soft, organic matter could have survived intact for over 70 million years, such concerns were set aside and the find was received as one of the year’s most stunning scientific discoveries.
Schweitzer and team continued to receive accolades from the scientific community until a team of scientists at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington decided to examine a fossilized turtle toe in the hopes of finding even more dinosaur tissue.
They cracked open the bone, put it under an electron microscope, and within minutes saw spheres reminiscent of blood cells, like those reported by Schweitzer’s group.
“We did the happy dance,” said Thomas Kaye, an associate researcher at the museum and the leader of the group.
At first, the findings were similar to those of Schweitzer’s group. Subsequent analysis showed that proteins in the material resembled those found in birds, long thought to be close relatives of dinosaurs. Furthermore, when the team proceeded to dissolve the bone in mild acid, hidden tissue that resembled vessels and bone-forming cells seemed to form.
But as Kaye examined more fossils, he was puzzled to find similar materials in nearly every bone. Unable to reconcile the notion that so much tissue could have survived for millions of years, he turned to Zbigniew Sawlowicz of Jagiellonian University in Poland. Sawlowicz identified the small spheres resembling blood cells as framboids, or iron-containing structures known to form in the presence of bacteria. The researchers also reported the presence of pockets of microbe-like shapes and tiny furrows that seemed to have been bacteria-blazed trails through the slimy substance.
At that point Kaye realized that evidence — and common sense — clearly pointed to the fact that he was not examining dinosaur tissue but rather simple bacterial leftovers. In fact, examination with light and electron microscopy led the team to conclude that the substances were most likely remnants of biofilms, or a structured community of bacteria contained within a self-made matrix. According to Kaye, bacterial biofilm colonies infiltrating tiny cavities in the bones long after the dinosaurs died may have naturally molded into shapes resembling the tissues they replaced. His theory is also backed by evidence derived from carbon dating which showed that the tissue-like material in one of the samples had formed around 1960 rather than during prehistoric times. Kaye published his findings in the online journal PLoS ONE two weeks ago.
The finding sparked a strong response from the researchers who originally claimed to have found ancient dinosaur tissue. Schweitzer argues that there are significant holes in Kaye’s study, namely an explanation for why the protein in the tissue looks like that expected for a dinosaur. She added that her group has considered biofilms but has found no evidence for their presence. Errors in the current study “seem to underlie a fundamental misunderstanding of our work, our data and our interpretations,” Schweitzer commented to the press.
Kaye disagrees, claiming that between the carbon dating and electron microscopy there is little doubt that the “tissue” is nothing but biofilm sludge. “Believe me, I didn’t want it to be this explanation,” he said. “I would much rather have it be dinosaurian tissue.”
Other researchers seem hesitant to make a definitive statement about the controversy. “It’s actually quite common to find biofilms in areas where fossils would be formed,” said Frank Corsetti, an earth scientist at USC who was not involved in the research. “It’s an interesting idea, but the jury is still out.”
Is the jury still out? If it is, I’m not sure it should be. Consider the fact that Kaye found tissue-like substances in a number of fossilized bones. Now consider that biofilms and their remnants are being found in an increasing number of remote places, ranging from the human body, to oceans, even volcanic rock and glaciers. I think it’s pretty clear that Kaye’s explanation has the ring of truth.
This may be a case of Schweitzer letting her scientific judgment be clouded by the esteem accorded her. If so, this wouldn’t be the first time a researcher regarded as an expert has failed to admit error. There is a whole camp of researchers, including Dr. Michael Holick and Dr. Reinhold Vieth, who have built their reputations on a spurious premise: vitamin D is a near-miracle substance capable of curbing the incidence of an array of chronic diseases. Does this really make sense that a steroid-like substance could reduce chronic disease over the long term?
That vitamin D can only help chronic disease is one theory which hasn’t aged well. In fact, a growing balance of evidence says the opposite is true. Ingested vitamin D has been shown to deactivate the vitamin D receptor and suppress the innate immune system, and rates of chronic diseases are increasing even as we consume historically high levels of vitamin D. How has the pro-vitamin D camp responded to such contrary evidence?
Certainly not as well as one might hope. We continue to see papers, which go to extraordinary lengths to distort the evidence. Stephen Strauss deconstructs one such paper – Exhibit A in a long and uninterrupted pattern of denial.
The next time you are asked how the Marshall Protocol can hold water when the world’s top vitamin D “experts” still clamor for vitamin D supplementation, you may want to think of Dr. Schweitzer. Some things are simply too good to be true, and that goes for dinosaur tissue and vitamin D.
Amy Proal graduated from Georgetown University in 2005 with a degree in biology. While at Georgetown, she wrote her senior thesis on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Marshall Protocol.