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How much bilirubin?

October 24, 2012

imageToday, Colin Berry, after citing a comment on this blog, asks a question (well, editorializes, really). Fair enough. It seems to be a valid point:

Well, we’d all like to solve the mystery of the Shroud, and if bilirubin has a part to play, then ought we not to know precisely how much was there, if only to be certain that SOME was there?

So what’s the answer. I’m happy to have the answer in old money (mg%) or in SI units, e.g mmoles /decilitre. But please don’t quote back Alan D Adler’s comment that there were “extraordinary levels of bilirubin”. I am already familiar with that quotation. However, there’s little prospect of “solving the mystery of the Shroud” (sic) when the amount of an allegedly crucial signature of trauma and crucifixion is reported as “extraordinary”, leaving one to speculate as to whether that is just 1 mg% or 20 mg%. That’s the difference between normal and highly jaundiced. Oh, and let’s not bother for now about the proportion of the bilirubin that was conjugated or unconjugated with glucuronic acid (which clinicians use an an aid to differential diagnosis, e.g whether the bilirubin was due to excessive haemolysis of red blood cells or due to liver or kidney impairment). Total bilirubin will do. If you can say how it was measured, so much the better.

Btw: there has to be lots of bilirubin according to Alan Adler, to explain why the blood looks permanently red. But that did not prevent him advising the Shroud’s custodians to instal extra light protection for the Shroud on the grounds that bilirubin was unstable to light. Yup, I’m confused too…

  1. Kelly Kearse
    October 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    The suggestion that the bloodstains on the Shroud contained a high amount of bilirubin (relative to normal blood) originated from Adler’s spectral analysis using FTIR & UV-VIS techniques. Such analysis measures absorbance at specific wavelengths of light and generates a graph, or profile, which is compared to those of various (known) blood clot controls. The Shroud spectrum did not completely match the control spectrum of old blood (which typically turns brown). Rather, certain peaks on the graph corresponded to another known group of compounds-the high-spin (high-iron) porphyrins: breakdown products of hemoglobin-bilirubin & biverdin. By creating simulated mixtures of blood exudates with additional bilirubin, Adler was able to create samples whose profiles matched those of the Shroud, hence the suggestion that elevated bilirubin was present. The spectral techniques that were used are semi-quantitative; they really only demonstrate that a particular compound (peak) is enhanced or decreased relative to a normal profile-the studies were not extended to a more quantitative analysis.

    Regarding “Adler’s advising the Shroud’s custodians to install extra light protection for the Shroud on the grounds that bilirubin was unstable to light”, this is only one of several factors that was mentioned, together with photochemical damage to the cloth and the images. A little context might help alleviate (Yup) some of the confusion…

    • David Mo
      October 25, 2012 at 3:01 am

      “Rather”, “suggestion”, “semi-quantitative”… All this seems a little vague. Why Mr. Adler had not made a more quantitative (i.e., scientific) study. Something similar to this: http://www.ijpbs.com/data/APRIL-JUNE%202011/74-81.pdf . Did he publish his work?

  2. Carlos Otal
    October 25, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Ya eran conocidos los efectos hemolíticos de los castigos severos, hoy día se conocen mucho mejor.

    En el Hombre de la Sábana se dan todas las circunstancias, politraumatismo severo de partes blandas, que hacen posible el desencadenamiento de una COAGULOPATÍA DE CONSUMO, un síndrome de coagulación intravascular diseminada (DIC en inglés), y a la luz de este mejor conocimiento deben revisarse los aspectos MACROSCÓPICOS de las manchas de sangre y los aspectos bioquímicos ya conocidos.

    Carlos Otal

  3. Kelly Kearse
    October 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm


    My apologies if my initial reply seemed rather vague. The intention was to be objective, not to play dodge ball. It is my understanding that the primary intent of the spectral analyses by Adler & colleagues was to determine if the samples were, in fact, blood as opposed to paint or pigments. These data along with numerous other chemical & immunological tests indicated that the samples consisted of real blood. In the course of these studies, certain regions of the spectral profiles became of interest. I used the phrase “semi-quantitative” because for the existing data, I don’t know if you can really take it much past that. Such spectral techniques could be relatively quantitative for fresh whole blood where protein concentration could be normalized to a particular blood volume as in the paper you referenced.-with tape lift samples of dried bloodstains, it might prove more challenging. It is possible to tell if a certain peak in the profile is increased/ decreased relative to a control (normal) profile, but I believe that generating a hard number in terms of specific amounts of blood proteins present would require further analysis.

    I don’t know why the studies weren’t extended and followed up on, but reason suggests that a limited amount of sample to work with would be a contributing factor. I never knew Alan Adler personally, but my guess is that he was not the type to shy away from a challenge. If solid quantitative analysis were possible with the samples in hand, I believe he would have mentioned it.

    A few references for Adler’s published findings, including spectral data are:
    Applied Optics, 19 (16) 1980.
    Canadian Society of Forensic Sciences Journal 14 (3), 1981.
    Archaeological Chemistry: Organic, Inorganic, and Biochemical Analysis, American Chemical Society Symposium Series, 625, Washington DC, 1996.
    Proceedings of 1998 Dallas Shroud Symposium, Michael Minor, ed. Dallas 2000.

    Many of Adler’s papers are also collected in a single volume “The Orphaned Manuscript”, Dorothy Crispino Editor, 2002

    • David Mo
      October 26, 2012 at 2:49 am

      thank you Kelly. I wasn’t asking about articles in general, but about the concret item of bilirrubin.

  1. October 25, 2012 at 4:52 am
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