The world view of the scientist, even the most atheistic scientist, is that essentially of monotheism. It is a belief which is accepted as an article of faith that the universe is ordered in an intelligible way. Now you couldnt be a scientist if you didnt believe these two things... that is a theological position; its absolutely clear when you look at history [that it] comes from that theological world view.
A worm brain has photoreceptors similar to those in humans. What does it mean? Elizabeth Pennisi in Science1 sets the stage, commenting on work by Arendt et al. in the same issue,2 Ciliary Photoreceptors with a Vertebrate-Type Opsin in an Invertebrate Brain. One might think this demonstrates common ancestry, but Pennisi explains that its not a simple evolutionary story:
Despite incredible variation in size and shape, eyes come in just two basic models. The vertebrates photoreceptor cells, typified by rods and cones, are quite distinctive from the invertebrates. And although both use light-sensing pigments called opsins, the opsins are quite different in their amino acid makeup.The research team thinks this sheds new light on vertebrate eye evolution, but the problem is that it pushes the origin of sight, a complex interaction of multiple functional parts, even farther back in time. Another problem is that the human-like opsin in the worm has been conserved (unevolved) for 500 million years, according to the standard evolutionary time scale:
Arendt and Wittbrodt jumped into the fray over eye evolution after Arendt noticed some odd cells in the brains of ragworms, a relic marine annelid species thats been relatively unchanged for the past 500 million years. We were surprised, Arendt recalls, as these cells looked very much like rods and cones.Further molecular and genetic studies showed that Not only the morphology [outward appearance] but also the molecular biology of the two types of receptors was already set in our common ancestor, according to a French biologist. To put this new discovery into an evolutionary context, Arendt et al. had to invent a hypothetical ancestor even further back in time from the hypothetical ancestor of vertebrates and invertebrates, dubbed Urbilateria:
They go further to suggest that the two types likely arose in a predecessor of Urbilateria. In that organism, they speculate, the gene for one opsin and the genes to build the one type of photoreceptor cell were duplicated. The extra set of genes might have evolved into a different visual system: We think both photoreceptor cells track back to one cell type, [Joachim] Wittbrodt [one of the authors of the paper] says.As the authors put it in conclusion, The vertebrate eye thus represents a composite structure, combining distinct types of light-sensitive cells with independent evolutionary histories. So although this proposal seems to favor those who argue for the single origin of eyes, it illustrates that evolution stories are subtle and complex.
1Elizabeth Pennisi, Worms Light-Sensing Proteins Suggest Eyes Single Origin, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5697, 796-797, 29 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5697.796a].
2Arendt et al., Ciliary Photoreceptors with a Vertebrate-Type Opsin in an Invertebrate Brain, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5697, 869-871, 29 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099955].
A likely story can have opposite meanings depending on the tone of voice. Is the phrase, subtle and complex descriptive of a truth, or a euphemism for a dodge? Suppose you were a teacher, and your students story about the origin of his term paper, which was clearly a hodgepodge of plagiarisms from several internet sources, he described as subtle and complex. Suppose a politician described his flipflops over the years as being subtle and complex. Suppose your husbands disastrous room addition project was defended with a story he said was subtle and complex. One thing is clear about this evolutionary story, as admitted by Pennisi: it is not simple and straightforward.Platypus Has 10 Sex Chromosomes 10/29/2004
The duck-billed platypus has thrown another curveball at evolutionary theory. Long puzzling to phylogenists for its mosaic of features that make it seem part mammal, bird and reptile, it has now revealed a genome with 10 sex chromosomes 10 X in the female, and 5 X plus 5 Y in the male. Moreover, the sequence of the X chromosomes differs in length and makeup. The purpose of this arrangement is unclear, but observations by Australian scientists showed that the chromosomes segregate faithfully during meiosis. Its hard to speculate on how that could have evolved, said one researcher, according to Nature Science Update. Whatever the reason, it works. Science Now says, the platypus manages to keep its reproduction from going awry.
For a creationist view on how this is problematic for evolution, see Brad Harrubs analysis on Apologetics Press.
Nature Science Update relates the Darwinian tale as, Monotremes were the first group to branch off after mammals evolved 210 million years ago. Their egg-laying shares a common origin with birds and reptiles, although the bill is thought to have evolved independently. Any proof? No. Any transitional forms? No.Will it Become Unlawful to Think Critically? 10/29/2004
The legality of disclaimers in biology textbooks will be decided by a U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Georgia. A judge will hear the case Nov. 8 about stickers the Cobb County school board put in the books that say, This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.
Lawyers who sued the school board over these stickers claim that the statement restricts the teaching of evolution, promotes and requires the teaching of creationism and discriminates against particular religions.
The claim that the sticker restricts the teaching of evolution, requires the teaching of creationism or discriminates against particular religions should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered, unless the courts make it against the law to do so, at which time all students must assimilate into the Charlie Borg.Cassini Eyes Titan at Close Range 10/28/2004
The Cassini spacecraft got its closest ever look at Titan on Oct. 26, and downloaded its cargo of precious bits in spite of the rain in Spain and California. This was the first of 45 targeted flybys of Titan planned during its four-year tour, and should prove one of the best. The raw and processed images can be viewed on the Cassini website.
The instrument-laden spaceship had been relatively quiet since its successful orbit insertion last June 30 (see 07/01/2004 headline) and distant untargeted pass of Titan the next day (see 07/06/2004 headline). Now, after the first of its long, elliptical orbits, it has returned, and what a comeback: passing less than 750 miles above Titans haze-shrouded surface, Cassini took unprecedented measurements of Titan and its atmosphere in a whole spectrum of wavelengths radio, infrared, visible and ultraviolet.
A press conference unveiling first processed images was held the morning after the flyby. At the second press conference on Oct. 28, JPL Director and Radar Scientist Dr. Charles Elachi unveiled the first of many radar tracks to come over the four-year mission. Over the next four years, Cassini radar should map about 25% of the globe at high resolution. The first radar track showed a complex terrain with possible evidence of lakes; visible-light photographs, however, have not yet seen the glint of reflected sunlight expected if large bodies of liquid were present. Other images showed streaks due possibly to winds, and organic patches with different thermal properties than those of ice. No impact craters have been found yet. The scientists are wondering if any are buried under organic deposits. Evidence suggests that acetylene, which would be solid at the surface temperatures, is as abundant as ethane. Some hydrocarbon surface deposits may be flaky, others sticky.
The ion and neutral mass spectrometer (INMS) found evidence of complex hydrocarbons high in the atmosphere, including diacetylene and benzene, much higher than expected. This suggests the atmosphere is well mixed. The INMS principal investigator estimated based on nitrogen isotope ratios that, despite a denser atmosphere than Earths on a body less than half its diameter, Titan has lost 3/4 of its atmosphere over geologic time. Surprisingly, the only methane clouds detected were around the south polar feature, although the report at Space.Com questions this. It may be too early to tell for sure.
Interdisciplinary scientist Jonathan Lunine, who has studied Titan for over 20 years, appeared happy to see evidence for a dynamic surface and active atmosphere. There are very complex geologic processes going on, he said, of enormously diverse types. All the scientists were baffled by long linear features. They might be ridges or cracks in a thin crust, like cracks in an eggshell. Mass/density measurements from orbit show that Titan is about half rock, half ice, with the rock presumably having settled at the core. This means that Titans bedrock, if visible, should consist of water ice. That leaves the possibility that some of the linear and streak features might be cryovolcanic in origin, or consist of ammonia-water flows. Microwave emissions suggest that some areas may be coated with complex hydrocarbons. How much is liquid and how much is solid is still unclear. The rich new data sets elicited new puzzles to investigate during future encounters.
The Huygens Probe scientists from the European Space Agency were excited to get their first high-resolution glimpses of the landing site: though fuzzy before processing, it looked tantalizing and even had a faint X to mark the spot. The Huygens team leader judged it an excellent site because of its diversity (a politically correct answer, some chuckled). Cassini had all its instruments aboard the ship turned on, and discoveries about surface features, temperatures, plasma characteristics, magnetic field effects, atmospheric and surface composition, and electrostatic effects should continue to get mined out of the treasure trove of new data.
Coming up: the Huygens Probe mission begins Christmas eve as the probe separates from the mother ship and begins its solo flight to Titan. On New Years Day 2005, Cassini flies by the enigmatic moon Iapetus at about 40,000 miles. On January 14, the Huygens Probe parachutes open for the historic two-hour descent and landing on the surface, where the world eagerly awaits the first-ever on-site views of this frigid, alien world soaking in hydrocarbons. Will it land in an ocean or on a solid surface? The close flyby today may give the best clues before touchdown in January.
Update 11/09/2004: A press release from JPL shows one of the radar images indicating something may be flowing on the surface. Titans surface is young, the report says, a growing opinion from the fresh-looking flows and lack of impact craters. Scientists are still unsure what to make of the dark and light markings.
As reported before, Titan is the moon to watch (see 10/16/2003 headline). It has many bizarre features that are sure to fascinate scientists and threaten pet theories. One of the scientists interviewed, who has been studying Titan for 23 years, said two of the biggest questions are, (1) why does Titan have an atmosphere, and (2) what is the source of its methane? We know that the methane in Titans upper atmosphere breaks down in the presence of sunlight and is lost to space, forming a large hydrogen cloud around the huge moon. Since it is being depleted, why is there any left, if the moon is over four billion years old? Is the methane resupplied by volcanic outgassing, are there methane lakes or oceans on the surface that evaporate, or was the current methane supply brought in recently by comets? Till these historic measurements are analyzed, this is a major puzzle on this alien world. The methane keeps the nitrogen in the atmosphere in a gaseous state, else the entire atmosphere would collapse to the surface in frozen nitrogen snow.Movie Sequel 10/27/2004
Exploration Films has done it again: it just released Part III of its popular documentary series on Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution. Former evolutionist Jobe Martin and narrator David Hames take viewers on a quest around the world for animals both ordinary and exotic that have design features that challenge evolutionary theory.
These films are a lot of fun to watch. The producers have hit on a winning formula: amazing facts, a little humor, good visuals, and challenging thoughts. Jobe Martin bubbles with excitement at each creature: mussels, horses, ostriches and much more. He not only explains why evolutionary theory cannot account for these animal champs, he shows how their abilities enrich the world and our lives, and has a way to explain complex things in a way even kids can enjoy. This terrific family film is nearly twice the length of the original. Get the whole set and turn off the Charlie-worshipping science channels with their endless just-so stories. Youll learn facts with these films and have fun watching.Middle Earth in Indonesia? Fossil Hobbits Smash Evolutionary Ring 10/27/2004
Here we go again: another alleged human ancestor fossil that shakes up the evolutionary family tree. No sooner had Nature1 announced a little 1-meter tall fossil female hominin that the discoverers classified as Homo erectus, that the science news media like MSNBC and the BBC flew into action reporting it as fossil hobbits They seem to have all borrowed National Geographics artwork, which appeared so fast they must been tipped off. The drawing by Peter Schouten shows an upright-walking, naked, dark-skinned male with spear and prey over the shoulder.
The trouble with the fossil is that it was dated at only 18,000 years. The bones were soggy and unfossilized in the cave, and they were found on an island far from the Indonesian mainland, with stone tools apparently associated with them. Having a member of genus Homo so far to the East so late in the timeline is forcing a major revision of the idea that modern humans arrived in Europe much earlier. My jaw dropped to my knees said one researcher upon hearing the date. Homo erectus were long assumed too primitive to have migrated to an island as distant from the mainland as where the two partial skeletons were found. Yet surprisingly, local natives have legends about little people that lived in the jungle, and the BBC article says Henry Gee (editor of Nature) goes as far as to suggest that descendants of this tribe might be found alive today.
The small stature of these individuals was a big surprise. Skull capacity of Homo floresiensis, as it was named, is only 380cc yet evidence of stone tools, upright posture and other derived (i.e., advanced) characteristics seemingly contradicts the suggestion these were primitive. Maybe its not brain volume but complexity that matters; after all, DNA can store 1018> bits of information in one cubic millimeter. The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find, remarked Henry Gee. Everyone seems to be agreeing on one thing: this astonishing find is going to rewrite the textbooks on human evolution again.
Carl Wieland has written a creationist perspective on this find at Answers in Genesis.
Update 11/12/2004: Was so-called Homo florensiensis a small but modern human with a skull deformity called microcephaly? Michael Balter reported in Science3 that two prominent paleoanthropologists think so. Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson published an article on Apologetics Press that quotes one of them, and argues this skeleton cannot be anything but fully human. Balter, for now, leaves the controversy unresolved.
1Rex Dalton, Little lady of Flores forces rethinking of human evolution, Nature 431, 1029 (28 October 2004); doi:10.1038/4311029a.
2Mirazon and Foley, Paleoanthropology: Human evolution writ small, Nature 431, 1043 - 1044 (28 October 2004); doi:10.1038/4311043a.
3Michael Balter, Paleoanthropology: Skeptics Question Whether Flores Hominid Is a New Species, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5699, 1116, 12 November 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5699.1116a].
People dont have to be 5 to 6 feet tall to be people. There are little people and big people today, yet they show an uncanny commonality in average intelligence, sociability, language, and understanding that Francis Schaeffer used to call the mannishness of man (i.e., the set of universal distinctives that separate people from the animals). Calling something a hominid or hominin is just a word game to make scientists appear to know more than gullible reporters. Nothing primitive or transitional about these creatures was found; they have all the marks of full humanity.Bacterial Flagellum Reveals New Structural Complexity 10/27/2004
The bacterial flagellum, the unofficial mascot of the Intelligent Design movement, got more praise from the evolutionary journal Nature this week: Samatey et al.1 analyzed the hook region in detail and found that it is composed of 120 copies of a specialized protein that reveals the intricate molecular interactions and a plausible switching mechanism for the hook to be flexible in bending but rigid against twisting for its universal joint function.
Christopher Surridge, commenting on this paper in the same issue,2 adds that this joint must be able to bend up to 90 degrees in a millisecond or less while rotating at up to 300 times per second. He says that the researchers describe how they determined the atomic structure of this super-flexible universal joint, and thereby how it achieves such a feat of engineering.
1Samatey et al., Structure of the bacterial flagellar hook and implication for the molecular universal joint mechanism, Nature 431, 1062 - 1068 (28 October 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02997.
2Christopher Surridge, Molecular motors: Smooth coupling in Salmonella, Nature 431, 1047 (28 October 2004); doi:10.1038/4311047b.
The hook region surely appeared to be one of the simplest-looking parts of the complex molecular motor. Now, even that little item, something that just bends at an angle, is shown to be exquisitely designed, with exacting specifications to allow bending without twisting. If all the amino acids in this one protein element were not in the right places, the protein would not work. And if all 120 were not joined together, and were not assembled at the right time and in the right place, the flagellum would be useless. Inside that hook is an entire highway of molecular trucks that build the propeller (see 06/14/2004 headline). No wonder Jonathan Wells remarked, What we find is irreducible complexity all the way down.Adult Stem Cells Continue to Work Miracle Cures 10/27/2004
Chalk up two more amazing successes for adult stem cells (not derived from human embryos, like the controversial ES stem cells):
1. Blindness: The BBC News reported that stem cells from the back of the eyeball might be able to restore sight to those afflicted with macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.
2. Parkinsons Disease: EurekAlert reports that scientists at Thomas Jefferson University found a way to convert adult stem cells to dopamine-producing neurons. This could lead to treatments for Parkinsons disease and other diseases caused by a lack of dopamine.
Vote for what works: vote for adult stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research having no track record, no investors, and huge ethical concerns (see 10/21/2004 headline) makes this vote a no-brainer.How Plants Wax Their Leaves 10/27/2004
Plants have a waxy coating on their leaves, some more and some less, a fact many gardeners may notice without much thought. A recent paper by two plant biologists in Science1 reveals that even this seemingly ordinary feature comes about only through a complex process in plant cells. The waxy coating, called the cuticle, is composed of three distinct layers including water-resistant wax crystals that are synthesized by epidermal cells. Burkhard Schulz and Wolf B. Frommer, commenting on research on this subject, note that over 100 transporter genes of a class named ABC have been discovered in plants, some of which carefully move the insoluble wax molecules to the surface. They describe the process as major effort in transporting a multitude of large, complex molecules. Their diagram shows a multitude of molecular machines that take part in the construction of the elaborate structure of the cuticle. Yet they assume this cuticle, with its varied and essential functions, and all the machinery required to product it, arose through a sloppy evolutionary history:
When plants moved from water to land 450 million years ago, they needed to develop a sealed surface to protect themselves against water loss in the dry air environment. To solve this problem, plants invented an epicuticular wax layer that covers the entire surface of the plant that is exposed to air. This protective wax cuticle also serves a multitude of other functions. Its elaborate micro- and nanostructure prevents water and other particles from sticking to the surface of leaves, keeping them clean and so enhancing their ability to trap light for photosynthesis. Adhering water droplets and other particles are washed away in a self-cleaning process called the lotus effect. The wax layer also filters out damaging ultraviolet rays, prevents volatile chemicals and pollutants from sticking to leaves and stems, and protects plants against attack by microbes and herbivoresSchulz and Frommer want to know what were the evolutionary steps that led to this innovation? They figure that early plants somehow co-opted existing transporter machinery for this new function, because the plants needed it:
How did land plants invent wax secretion? The genomes of living land plants contain more than 100 ABC transporter genes. Because transporters seem to be sloppy with respect to their substrate specificity, it is feasible that when plants crept out of the water, they turned a member of the ABC transporter family into a lipid exporter by ensuring that it became localized to a different cellular compartment. Perhaps this is an example of an evolutionary principle in which sloppiness is transformed into flexibility.Its only a suggestion, they end; Obviously, there is more work to be done....
1Burkhard Schulz and Wolf B. Frommer, A Plant ABC Transporter Takes the Lotus Seat, Science, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 622-625, 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1105227].
Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week, easily. At the rate the Darwin Party is turning up the propaganda, were going to have to make this a daily award. So plants invented something because they needed it when they crawled out of the water onto the land, and used existing machinery that just happened to be in their toolbox. This is going to sound so stupid to everybody some day, just like it already does to anybody that cleans his ears of Charlie Ear Wax.DNA Coding Multiplies in Complexity 10/27/2004
As if the discovery that DNA is a language translation system was not enough to challenge evolutionary theories, it is becoming increasing clear that DNA is a code operated by another code. Science on Oct. 221 had a feature on gene regulation, which writer Elizabeth Pennisi termed Genomes Second Code. She began, The genome has more than one code for specifying life. The hunt for the various types of noncoding DNA that control gene expression is heating up. Her second article in the same issue2 describes the fast and furious hunt for gene regulators.
In a letter to Nature,3 a team found that some non-coding DNA is not essential to viability. They deleted megabases of genetic elements from the mouse genome and could not find anything wrong with the mice. Some of the deleted sequences might encode for functions unidentified in our screen, they suggested; nonetheless, these studies further support the existence of potentially disposable DNA in the genomes of mammals. Yet how such DNA would arise if it is not vital for survival, or why it would persist if not essential, seems to contradict the principles of Darwinian natural selection.
In yet another paper in Science,4 Kosak and Groudine argue that genes are organized in a way to take advantage of space. Thus, the very spacing and placement of genes with respect to one another and to regulatory elements provide a function: the clustering of coregulated, lineage-restricted genes indicates a functional organization of transcriptomes that define a given cell type. (Transcriptome refers to the body of DNA, regulators and enzymes that work together to transcribe a gene into a protein.)
Yet another paper in Current Biology5 has complexified the story of telomeres, those end caps on DNA strands that keeps them from unraveling. Another protein regulator has been found to be essential, and it adds even more complexity to telomere protein interactions, a subject already more complex than initially thought.
In short, it is no longer possible to predict gene expression by just looking at the DNA. Much more is going on to control what genes get turned on and off and in what order. The controls are appearing more and more like a super-code behind the genetic code. Pennisi quotes one geneticist who sighs, The complexity of the genome is much higher than we have defined for the past 20 years. We have to change our way of thinking.
1Elizabeth Pennisi, Searching for the Genomes Second Code, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 632-635, 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5696.632].
2Elizabeth Pennisi, A Fast and Furious Hunt for Gene Regulators, Science, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 635 , 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5696.635].
3Nobrega et al., Megabase deletions of gene deserts result in viable mice, Nature 431, 988 - 993 (21 October 2004); doi:10.1038/nature03022.
4Kosak and Groudine, Gene Order and Dynamic Domains, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 644-647 , 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1103864].
5Lorel Colgin and Roger Reddel, Telomere Biology: A New Player in the End Zone, Current Biology, Vol 14, R901-R902, 26 October 2004.
Yes, Darwinites, change your way of thinking. Think intelligent design. Thinking itself is not even possible without it. As could be expected, this section is a treasure trove of juicy quotes and findings of design that leave the Darwinites squirming in their naturalistic straitjackets. They only have themselves to blame. They were the ones who said they had to be worn.Did Language Evolve by Natural Selection? 10/27/2004
In the Oct 14 issue of Nature,1 Gary Marcus (Dept. of Psychology, New York University) appears conflicted about how human language arose. He wants to attribute it to a Darwinian process:
If, as François Jacob famously argued, evolution is like a tinkerer who builds something new by using whatever is close at hand, then from what is the human capacity for language made?Yet in the last sentence, after considering several options of how language might have arisen and developed by natural processes, he cannot help but wonder at the result:
To the extent that the neural or genetic substrates of language and cognition overlap, language should be understood not just as an adaptation selected for effective communication, but also as a darwinian descendant with modification from pre-existing cognitive systems. Studying how linguistic systems may have descended with modification from cognitive precursors could in turn elucidate the oft-noted (but never satisfactorily explained) co-morbidity between language disorders and other cognitive impairments, in terms of overlap in genetic and neural machinery. At the same time, by highlighting how new mechanisms can be built on top of old, we may be able to make better sense of the mystery of how, within a relatively short period of time, with just a relatively small amount of genetic change, humans evolved the amazing gift of speech.
1Gary Marcus, Concepts: Before the Word, Nature 431, 745 (14 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431745a.
Can a schizophrenic psychologist understand human language? He sees the amazing gift of speech, with all its mystery and wonder, but wants to attribute it to a goddess tinkering with parts cobbled from whatever is at hand (shall we name the evolutionary goddess Charlotte, the fairy godmother of Charles Darwin)? He cant have it both ways. Either language is an amazing gift, designed by intelligence, or it is a meaningless end product of a mindless, undirected natural process. How much evidence does Mr. Marcus have for his speculation about language arising by evolution? (Dead silence.)Dinosaurs Survived Cold Arctic 10/27/2004
Dinosaurs, ferns and trees grew in Canadas far north provinces, according to EurekAlert report from McGill University. You wouldnt expect it, yet dinosaurs and a great variety of plants lived in the High Arctic 240 to 65 million years ago, said Hans Larsson, leader of research over two years.
Who wouldnt expect it? Evolutionists.Disembodied Brain Flies Jet Aircraft 10/25/2004
Researchers at University of Florida claim to have connected rat brains neurons in a dish to electrodes, which learned to run an F22 flight simulator.
We cant speak to the validity of this claim or its interpretation, but what stands out in the article is the awe over the computational abilities of the human brain:Was Darwin Wrong? 10/24/2004Were interested in studying how brains compute, said Thomas DeMarse, the UF professor of biomedical engineering who designed the study. If you think about your brain, and learning and the memory process, I can ask you questions about when you were 5 years old and you can retrieve information. Thats a tremendous capacity for memory. In fact, you perform fairly simple tasks that you would think a computer would easily be able to accomplish, but in fact it cant.Hmmmmm... think about your brain. The brain is thinking about me, and Im thinking about it. Ill have to think about that one for awhile.
One would think National Geographic wants to know, judging from the cover of the November 2004 issue: Was Darwin Wrong? A reader might think the magazine editors, in light of the controversy about evolution sweeping the country, thought it would be timely to engage in a scientific debate about Darwins 19th-century theory. The reader might anticipate seeing an article quoting experts from both sides. Flip ahead to page 3, and a double-page photo of a fancy pigeon again frames the question, Was Darwin Wrong? Now turn the page, and the debate is over. The answer, in 250-point bold type, screams: NO. The subtitle, in 72-point bold type, declares, The evidence for Evolution [capitalized] is overwhelming.
The remainder is mop-up work: photos of naked mole rats, Galápagos finches, skeletons of giraffes and whales and flightless birds and orang-utans, an orchid and its pollinating moth, a bulldog, salmon fry, a Cambrian fossil, a Venus flytrap, ants in amber, DNA, bacteria, a chest X-ray and 18 pages of text by David Quammen. After rehashing a bit of Darwin-Wallace history, he highlights evolutionary evidences from biogeography, paleontology, embryology and morphology. The story in a nutshell: Evolutionary theory... is... such a dangerously wonderful and far-reaching view of life that some people find it unacceptable, despite the vast body of supporting evidence (p. 6).
And who would these people be? Fundamentalist Christians, ultra-orthodox Jews, Islamic creationists, Hare Krishnas and millions of adult Americans suffering from honest confusion and ignorance. To this group, 45% of whom think God created mankind sometime within the last 10,000 years, and another 37% who mix God and Darwin, this article appears targeted. (Only 12% believe humans evolved from other life-forms without any involvement of a god.) To these unenlightened 82%, many who have never taken a biology course that dealt with evolution nor read a book in which the theory was lucidly explained, Quammen writes to fill in the gaps in their knowledge and alleviate their fears. Evolution is not dangerous, he explains. On the contrary, Evolution is a both a beautiful concept and an important one, more crucial nowadays to human welfare, to medical science, and to our understanding of the world than ever before (p. 8).
Perhaps this targeted message is best illustrated on the last page by a picture of a Russian ex-convict who carries two enduring remnants from his prison time: a Crucifixion tattoo and drug-resistant TB. He hopes God will help him, but evolution-based science is what guides the truth for an earthly cure.
The article refers to anti-evolutionists as Creationist proselytizers and political activists, working hard to interfere with the teaching of evolutionary biology in public schools (p. 6), for example, an unnamed traveling lecturer from something called the Origins Research Association, whose dinosaur-illustrated flyer offered free pizza following the evening service at a local Baptist church. Quammen smirks, Dinosaurs, biblical truth, and pizza: something for everybody. Presumably, evolutionists will take the pizza.
No mention was made of the intelligent design movement, nor any living scientist with a Ph.D. who might whisper yes to Was Darwin wrong?
Update Jonathan Wells published a critique of the issue for the Discovery Institute, and Terry Mortenson issued another rebuttal on Answers in Genesis.
NG has provided a valuable article. For historians, it will illustrate the desperation of the Darwin Party right before their buddha collapsed. For logicians, it will provide a classic case study on how to promote a failed theory with logical fallacies, selective evidence, spin doctoring and propaganda. Thank you, National Geographic, for providing this documentation for future researchers.Scientific Supporters of ES Stem Cell Research Fear Future Abuses 10/21/2004
How would you know if a human brain was trapped in a mouses body? This frightful and intriguing question opened an article in Nature this week.1 More on that in a minute.
Last week, in the Oct. 14 issue,2 a Nature editorial on Californias Stem Cell Proposition 71 stated that the proposal is less of an unalloyed blessing than it seems. Though most professional scientists are eager for funds to test embryonic stem cells, Nature feared that the proposition goes overboard. It amends the state constitution, threatens a state economy that is near insolvency, and promises it will pay for itself, But it is not clear that these analyses hold water. Worst of all, it prevents oversight by the state legislature, expecting the researchers to police themselves. Surprisingly, Nature supports government oversight of scientific funding. The NIH and NSF at the federal level, which operate under the scrutiny of Congress, perform a healthy role: At these agencies, scientific merit is judged almost entirely by the community itself, but Congress ultimately ensures that the public good is paramount. No such policing comes with Prop. 71, however, and the money trail looks too tempting:
Proposition 71, in contrast, would introduce a new model for the support of scientific research at the state level that would rely on mere transparency as a guarantee against abuse. Although public meetings are promised, the oversight committee would consist mainly of people with close ties to the universities, institutes and companies that stand to benefit from the money spent. Most of the rest are representatives of disease groups. The committee makes the ultimate funding decisions and will be allowed to modify NIH rules of informed consent and human-subject protection as it sees fit.Yet how effective can self-policing by researchers be, when the temptations for grant money, prizes and lucrative pharmaceutical contracts threaten to make ethics take a back seat? This was the subject of the editorials this week in Nature1 and Science3 about feeble first attempts in Washington to decide what is right or wrong. The lack of clear guidelines on stem cell research occasioned the question about human brain cells in mice: how would anyone know? If the researcher feels he has to experiment with chimeras (see BreakPoint commentary) to find a cure, on what basis will the scientific community claim it is unethical, and how could they stop it?
Erika Check wrote about prominent biologists debating such questions just in the last few days at the US National Academies, now that Californias Prop. 71 is already on the ballot and appears poised for an easy win, especially since the states popular governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has endorsed it along with Michael J. Fox and other celebrities. Since no clear guidelines exist, and no federal policies have the force of law, the scientists have a free rein to create their own consensus about what is ethical. The vacuum has allowed some already to charge ahead into areas that are blurring the line between human and animal:
Researchers at the meeting agreed on a lot: that the use of human embryonic stem cells to produce a baby should be banned, for example, and that stem-cell researchers should adopt guidelines to reassure the public that their work is ethically sound. But they differed on how to handle chimaeras, which mix cells and DNA from different species....The article quotes Irving Weissman of Stanford who is already creating human-mouse chimeras with private funds. Weissman claims the yuck factor is no reason to ban such research. The fact that the government so far has not taken the lead in establishing guidelines puts the burden on the scientists themselves, but is this the fox guarding the henhouse? That leaves a hole for scientists, who are not sure what the law permits them to do, and lack guidance on their works impact on public opinion. How, then, can they reassure the public that their work is ethically sound?
Speaking for Science,3 Constance Holden provided more details on the meeting of scientists last week in Washington, DC. The scientists seemed to agree on little more than the need for guidelines. They admitted that there is no clear distinction between stem cell research and cloning even among biotech investors, though the public is usually reassured that cloning is bad. And they could not answer such basic questions as, what does it mean to accord an early embryo respect? It didnt help to hear a legal expert confide, much assisted reproduction is human experimentation in the name of treatment. The potential for deceiving a gullible public appears more powerful than ethical concerns, especially from the so-called religious right (see 09/27/2004 headline).
EurekAlert reported that the UN is also considering talks about the ethics of therapeutic cloning, as ES stem cell research is called. Dr. Gerald Schatten (U. of Pittsburgh) argues research first, ethics later as he admits that ES stem cells have no track record: Will therapeutic cloning create immune matching? Its unclear. At this point, we dont even know if human embryonic stem cells are safe, let alone effective. Whats important is that research be allowed to continue so we can find out.
The bottom line: the race toward this potentially lucrative technology by states and other countries seems to be outpacing concerns about ethics, even though there is no evidence ES stem cells will cure anything (while adult stem cells already have plenty). Now that they are on the verge of getting their way, the scientists are having one last twinge of conscience before charging full steam ahead.
1Erica Check, Biologists seek consensus on guidelines for stem-cell research, Nature 431, 885 (21 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431885a.
2Editorials: California dreaming, Nature 431, 723 (14 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431723a
3Constance Holden, Bioethics: Stem Cell Researchers Mull Ideas for Self-Regulation, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5696, 586, 22 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5696.586].
If anyone should have a voice in the ethics of stem cell research, it should be Joni Eareckson Tada, the advocate for the disabled who has spent the last 37 years in a wheelchair herself. She has done far more than the TV celebrities to help the afflicted. Her organization Joni and Friends has supplied over 25,000 wheelchairs to the disabled poor in Africa and other third world countries. Moreover, she could certainly be expected to look with hope over any therapies that might allow her to walk again. Yet she remains a staunch opponent of embryonic stem cell research, for good reasons, as explained on the bioethics page of her website JoniAndFrends.org.Neo-Darwinism Falsified in the Lab 10/19/2004
Will the Spaniards be noted in history books as the ones who falsified neo-Darwinism? Not likely; no one experiment would bring down a biological paradigm with such international and historical momentum behind it. Nevertheless, looking at the results and conclusions of experiments by three evolutionary biologists at the Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva, Universitat de Valencia in Spain, published in PNAS this week,1 it would be hard to find any support for the central tenets of neo-Darwinian theory: namely, that evolutionary adaptations arise by natural selection acting on beneficial mutations. Instead, this paper shows experimental evidence that it doesnt work.
Neo-Darwinism, also termed the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology, was formulated in the 1940s to rescue Darwins views on natural selection from growing theoretical problems (see 07/02/2004 headline). It incorporated the necessity of genetic mutations to provide the raw material for variation on which natural selection acts. This revision was necessary when the rediscovery of Mendels laws of inheritance ruled out ideas of blending inheritance, showing instead that inherited characters were based on discrete entities (genes) that were passed on unaltered to the offspring.
To test neo-Darwinian evolution in a microcosm, Rafael Sanjuán, Andrés Moya, and Santiago F. Elena worked with RNA viruses: organisms with a small, compact genomes that should respond quickly and noticeably to mutations. The team was looking for epistatic interactions: i.e., the effects of multiple independent (non-allelic) mutations on each other, rather than the effects of single mutations alone. These interactions can be antagonistic or synergistic: they can work against one another or with one another. Epistasis is defined as any interaction of nonallelic genes, especially the suppression by one gene of the effect of a nonallelic gene. Of note in this paper are the opening lines in the abstract that tell how rarely this important concept has been studied before (read: never):
The tendency for genetic architectures to exhibit epistasis among mutations plays a central role in the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology and in theoretical descriptions of many evolutionary processes. Nevertheless, few studies unquestionably show whether, and how, mutations typically interact. Beneficial mutations are especially difficult to identify because of their scarcity. Consequently, epistasis among pairs of this important class of mutations has, to our knowledge, never before been explored.Lets picture a 2x2 grid. On the left side, label the rows beneficial and deleterious. On the top, label the columns synergistic and antagonistic. Now put two dots in each box, with the dots representing mutations that will interact with one another. Quiz question: which box represents the only hope for evolutionary advancement? Well, the bottom and right boxes are clearly not any help. If the mutations are both deleterious and both antagonistic, at least they might turn each other off to stop the damage, like two criminals fighting each other instead of you. If the mutations are both deleterious but synergistic, they will multiply each others damage, like two criminals ganging up on you. If they are both beneficial but antagonistic, that wont help, either, because it would be like two guardian angels having a squabble instead of helping you. In short, neo-Darwinisms only hope is to find mutations in the top left box: two good mutations that work synergistically, increasing your fitness in the evolutionary world of competition. So how did the experiments go in the lab?
They performed two classes of experiments to measure the effects of epistasis on mutations. Continuing with the abstract, here is what they found:
Interactions among genome components should be of special relevance in compacted genomes such as those of RNA viruses. To tackle these issues, we first generated 47 genotypes of vesicular stomatitis virus carrying pairs of nucleotide substitution mutations whose separated and combined deleterious effects on fitness were determined. Several pairs exhibited significant interactions for fitness, including antagonistic and synergistic epistasis. Synthetic lethals represented 50% of the latter. In a second set of experiments, 15 genotypes carrying pairs of beneficial mutations were also created. In this case, all significant interactions were antagonistic. Our results show that the architecture of the fitness depends on complex interactions among genome components.In other words, none of their pairs of mutations occupied the necessary box labeled beneficial and synergistic. Half of the synergistic (working-together) actions they measured were synthetic lethals which is like the two criminals both shooting the victim simultaneously. The other 50% maybe didnt kill the organisms but still decreased fitness overall. The second experiment was all the more depressing: given two beneficial mutations in the same organism, all significant interactions were antagonistic. This means the guardian angels were preventing each other from helping. It recalls another paper in PNAS in March 2003 (see 03/17/2003 headline) that took into account indirect genetic effects, noting that increases in fitness do not act in isolation; they often counteract one another, creating slippage on the treadmill.
In the current paper, the researchers found that beneficial mutations do not add up, even in the best of circumstances. Neo-Darwinian theory assumes that beneficial mutations act independently, but the team found that of the eight actual best-case scenarios (two beneficial mutations working antagonistically, since none worked synergistically) over half decreased the total fitness of the result from what would be expected if the beneficial mutations acted alone. They called this decompensatory epistasis if you need a new phrase to impress your friends at the water cooler. What does this mean to neo-Darwinian theory? Indeed, when epistasis is decompensatory, both beneficial alleles involved in the interaction cannot spread to fixation in the population, because the double mutant is less fit than each single mutant. This drastically undercuts any hope for evolutionary progress. Beneficial mutations are scarce to begin with, but more is not better its worse. Like adding hot sauce to ice cream, the benefits of each counteract one another when combined. As a consequence, they continue, describing the only hope left, lineages bearing alternative beneficial mutations should compete with each other on their way to fixation and, as a consequence of asexuality and clonal interference, only the best competitor will eventually become fixed in the population. That is, only one beneficial mutation can become fixed at a time, even in the best case scenario.
The discussion of results in the paper by Sanjuán et al. hammers neo-Darwinian theory with additional gentle, but effective, blows. First, they restate the basic finding: Among pairs of deleterious mutations, although both synergistic and antagonistic epistases have been detected, interactions were predominantly antagonistic, such that their combined effect is significantly smaller than expected under a multiplicative model. And in the best-case scenario of artificially-induced beneficial mutations, antagonistic epistasis represents the most abundant type of interaction among beneficial mutations, with several cases showing decompensatory epistasis.
How should these experiments impact evolutionary theory, including the queen of evolutionary problems, the origin of sex? (see 04/14/2003 headline). Neo-Darwinists may well wish to run and hide:
The results reported here have two important implications for theories seeking explanations for the evolutionary advantage of recombination and sexual reproduction. First, according to the Fisher–Muller argument, sex and recombination are advantageous because they combine into a common genotype beneficial mutations that arose in different ones, speeding up the rate of adaptation. However, if the genetic architecture of RNA viruses determines that, in general, antagonistic epistasis and, in particular, decompensatory epistasis among beneficial mutations is the norm, then recombination would not necessarily imply a benefit in terms of adaptive evolution. Second, sex might still be beneficial for RNA viruses as an efficient mechanism for purging deleterious mutations. However, according with the Mutational Deterministic Hypothesis [i.e., the suggestion that sex enables a population to purge deleterious mutations from the genome], if this is the case, an excess of synergistic epistasis among deleterious mutations is required to compensate the 2-fold advantage of clonal reproduction [i.e., asexual reproduction]. Our first data set shows that synergistic interactions among random mutations are neither stronger nor more common than antagonistic interactions. Indeed, the existence of variability among loci in the sign and strength of epistasis, and especially the dominance of antagonistic epistasis, decreases the parameter space over which sex may evolve.Since the parameter space was small to begin with, their words sound euphemistic, as if to cheer up a prisoner facing a hanging at dawn that maybe someone will find an alibi: Like who? Like what? the prisoner asks. I dunno; just supposin, the friend replies. How sex may evolve: thats somebody elses problem.
Also, they note, their results impose a strong burden on the often invoked limitless adaptability of RNA viruses. Citing another paper, they quote, RNA viruses might be more at the mercy of their mutation rates than we think. If decompensatory epistasis and antagonistic interactions are the general rules for mutations in all organisms, any hope for variability and adaptability due to mutation and selection has been severely limited, if not falsified, by these experiments. On the contrary, they say their experiments demonstrate a mechanism for stability of the genome: In this sense, because it involves masking the interaction among deleterious alleles, antagonistic epistasis might be seen as a sort of genetic mutational robustness. (See 09/22/2004 headline on robustness as a design constraint in the living cell.)
In conclusion, they caution evolutionary modelers to realize that they can no longer merely assume fitness gains (if any) add up. Mercifully, they use the words hint and suggest: Finally, we would like to hint that the above findings prompt the necessity of considering nonmultiplicative fitness effects in mathematical descriptions of viral evolution. Indeed, the results we present here suggest that more realistic models must incorporate variance in the type and strength of epistasis among mutations. But did they themselves find any synergistic, beneficial epistatic effects by experiment? None. Maybe neo-Darwinism is like the businessman who lost money on every sale but thought he could make it up in volume.
1Rafael Sanjuán, Andrés Moya, and Santiago F. Elena, Evolution: The contribution of epistasis to the architecture of fitness in an RNA virus, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0404125101, Published online before print October 18, 2004.
Any scientific hypothesis must be testable and subject to falsification by experiment. It is not enough to tell just-so stories, and describe things in glittering generalities with armchair scenarios. Neo-Darwinian theory, the idea that natural selection acting on scarce beneficial mutations can produce all the diversity of life, from diving cormorants to catapulting chameleon tongues to sponge fiber optics to high-tech fruit fly aircraft to supersonic high-jumping froghoppers to efficient penguin, whale and dolphin flippers to fish physics students to glass-sculpturing diatoms to self-propelled motors, must be testable if it is to be declared scientific.National Geographic Faces Fact that Darwinism Is Minority View 10/18/2004
The cover of the November issue of National Geographic is asking the question, Was Darwin Wrong? The work of the 19th-century English naturalist shocked society and revolutionized science. How well has it withstood the test of time? The lead article by David Quammen notes that for decades, though evolution is supported by overwhelming evidence, 45% of Americans believe Darwinism had nothing to do with the origin of man, while an additional large share, about 37%, allow for theistic evolution. This statistic has remained constant for two decades. The creationist convictionthat God alone, and not evolution, produced humanshas never drawn less than 44 percent, Quammen notes with some surprise. In other words, nearly half the American populace prefers to believe that Charles Darwin was wrong where it mattered most.
Yet NG is not quite ready to capitulate; Stefan Lovgren writes for National Geographic News that evolution and religion can coexist, provided people are willing to give up a literal reading of the Bible. The Bible must be wrong, because Scientific evidence shows that the universe was actually formed about 13.7 billion years ago [see 01/02/2004 and 10/06/2004 headlines], while the Earth was formed around 4.5 billion years ago, Lovgren asserts [see 10/06/2004 and 09/20/2004 headlines]. The first humans date back only a hundred thousand years or so [see 09/29/2004 and 09/23/2004 headlines]. Both sides in the war of worldviews can get along, suggest some scientists, if religious people can just view evolution as Gods tool.
Sorry, appeasement will not work. The King will not negotiate with unrepentant mythmakers. He demands unconditional surrender.Darwinian Dogma Doubted: Cave Fish Go Blind on Purpose 10/18/2004
Contrary to previous belief, blind cave fish have the genes to build eyes but turn them off during development, reports Science Now.
When a body part is no longer needed, scientists usually assume that mutations accumulate in the genes controlling the structure, eventually preventing it from working or being made. That was the dogma, says Stephen Ekker of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. But because the cave fish eyes are actively killed, natural selection is probably doing its thing, says Jeffery. And that, he adds, might come as a surprise even to Darwin, who thought the cave fishes loss of sight might be an exception to the rules of natural selection. The next step, of course, will be to figure out what the fish gain by losing their sight.So its not simply an issue of use it or lose it, the article states; new research suggests that for some cave-dwelling fishes, blindness results from the careful coordination of gene expression, not simply from lack of use.
Science News also reported this story, describing how the researchers could induce blindness in sighted fish by controlling the expression of a gene, and could partially restore sight in blind fish with different gene regulation. The article ends, Because the genes orchestrate both mouth and eye development, the blind fish may have lost their eyes as t hey gained a more effective moutha useful feature for catching food in the dark.
Creationists have argued that natural selection eliminates things, rather than constructing them, so this is no surprise. What is surprising is that the eyes did not merely degenerate through disuse, and that the response could have occurred quickly through changes in the regulation of one gene during development. Maybe there is a functional reason why this gene is being switched off in the darkness of the cave environment. Maybe with eyes not in the way, it helps enhance the other senses the fish will need when sight is not possible. Whatever the reason, natural selection cannot be credited with creating new function, because both eyes and mouths already functioned well.Planet-Building a Mess, or Theories a Mess? 10/18/2004
A news release from the Spitzer Space Telescope operated by JPL says, Astronomers Discover Planet Building is Big Mess. Data from the orbiting infrared observatory indicates that dust disks around stars appear to be dominated by collisions of large bodies. Surprisingly, the dust disks do not correlate with the stars ages. A study of 266 stars showed 71 with disks. Contrary to the belief that disks condense into planets over time, some young stars showed no disks, and some old stars showed massive ones. The disks appear to be subject to violent, swirling activity, if infrared signatures from these disks can be taken to indicate that collisions between large bodies are taking place now. Prior to these new results, astronomers thought planets were formed under less chaotic circumstances.
The project scientists are not worried, though, putting a positive spin on the messy findings: Spitzer has opened a new door to the study of discs and planetary evolution, said one, and another beamed, These exciting new findings give us new insights into the process of planetary formation, a process that led to the birth of planet Earth and to life.
Astronomy Picture of the Day highlighted this story on October 19, stating that scientists expected to find dust disks depleting over time, but found the opposite.
Anyone see a solar system or planet or organism forming in the data? The only thing Spitzer sees is heat from crashing bodies, not a process leading to planets and life. When embryonic planets, the rocky cores of planets like Earth and Mars, crash together, they are believed to either merge into a bigger planet or splinter into pieces. There is indirect evidence for the latter, but the former is merely a belief.If Mars Had Water, It Wasnt for Long 10/18/2004According to the most popular theory, rocky planets form somewhat like snowmen. They start out around young stars as tiny balls in a disc-shaped field of thick dust. Then, through sticky interactions with other dust grains, they gradually accumulate more mass. Eventually, mountain-sized bodies take shape, which further collide to make planets.Most people make snowmen by intelligent design. When they have snowball fights, nothing creative emerges out of the mess only pain for the impactee. None of this evidence matched the evolutionary expectations: not the dates, not the timeline, not the formation of planets. All Spitzer sees is colliding projectiles no snowmen, no planets, no life. Whaddya say we stick to the evidence, OK?
The Mars Exploration Rovers found evidence for the minerals jarosite and gypsum. Jarosite has been found on earth in connection with lava and acidic, sulfur-rich fluids, but usually only persists in an arid environment, says a press release from Virginia Tech based on a paper in Nature last week.1 Consequently, jarosite might be an indicator of a water-limited environment, and liquid water may have been on Mars briefly.
As to how much water was on Mars, the researchers do not know if there was a great deal for a short time or a little for a longer period. However, they can say there was a geologically short window in which liquid water was present, suggesting there also was a limited time period when conditions may have been hospitable for life, [Donald] Rimstidt said.
1Madden, Bodnar and Rimstidt, Jarosite as an indicator of water-limited chemical weathering on Mars, Nature 431, 821 - 823 (14 October 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02971.
The wet-Marsers are losing, and the Mars-lifers are down for the count. The place reeks with sulfur and is bombarded by death rays. The solar wind is dehydrating the whole planet. Sorry, Percival.Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week 10/18/2004
This weeks entry has a little jargon in it, but if you remember what weve said about the tRNA synthetase family of proteins (see 05/26/2004, 07/21/2003 and 06/09/2003 headlines), youll get it. Paul Schimmel and Karla Ewalt comment in Cell1 on new discoveries by Sampath et al.2 that two of these synthetases fuse together to regulate the inflammation reaction:
Aminoacyl tRNA synthetases are ancient proteins that appeared before the split of the tree of life into its three great kingdomsarchae [sic], eukarya, and bacteria. The 20 enzymesone for each amino acidcatalyze aminoacylation of tRNAs and thereby establish the rules of the genetic code by associating each amino acid with a nucleotide triplet (the anticodon of the tRNA). The transition from the RNA world to the theater of proteins was thus made possible by the development of specific aminoacylation reactions. While the central connection between synthetases and the code has long been recognized, the modern enzymes have surprised us with novel functions beyond aminoacylation. They are key regulators and active components in a wide range of cellular functions from RNA splicing and transcription to apoptosis and angiogenesis....
1Paul Schimmel and Karla Ewalt, Translation Silenced by Fused Pair of tRNA Synthetases, Cell, Volume 119, Issue 2, 15 October 2004, Pages 147-148, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.10.001.
2Sampath et al., Noncanonical Function of Glutamyl-Prolyl-tRNA Synthetase Gene-Specific Silencing of Translation, Cell, Volume 119, Issue 2, 15 October 2004, Pages 195-208, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.09.030.
To be an evolutionist, you have to take the Crick brainwashing class. This involves repeating the following quote by Francis Crick over and over until it is engraved on the heart with an iron stylus: Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but evolved. Next headline on:Ghost of Hitler Still Haunts Western Medicine 10/18/2004
During the 1930s, the German medical establishment was admired as a world leader in innovative public health and medical research. The question we want to examine is: How could science be co-opted in such a way that doctors as healers evolved into killers and medical research became torture? The question was posed by Dr. Alan Wells, medical ethics expert with the AMA, at a conference in Washington D.C. last week sponsored in conjunction with the Holocaust Museum, reports EurekAlert. He continued:
Many of the most important issues in medical ethics today from genetic testing and stem cell research to caring for prisoners of war are directly affected by the experiences of medicine leading up to and during the Holocaust. Physicians need to explore these issues without getting caught up in political agendas or the results can be something we never intended and cause great harm.He recounts that German doctors were considered leaders in medical innovation in the years leading up to the Holocaust. Yet their efforts were aimed by the Reich at improving the purity of the Aryan race. This meant the unfit or non-Aryan were viewed as threats to health:
Adolf Hitler spoke of Germany as a body with himself as the doctor. He wanted to make Germany healthy by eliminating diseased, unhealthy parts of the body. At first this meant killing the disabled. But because the Nazis also believed that Jews possessed bad genes, they, too, came to be portrayed by public health experts and scientists as a threat to racial purity and a healthy nation.According to Dr. Patricia Heberer of the Holocaust Museum, the evil actions grew out of eugenics, a distortion of Charles Darwins theories of survival of the fittest. The abuses in Nazi Germany continue to influence medical practice today, the article states. For instance, Dr. Wells says, our codes of ethics demand that we treat every person equally, without regard to race or ethnic background. This ethical obligation is a direct outgrowth of the horrors of Nazi medicine. He cautions that even though these horrors seem so long ago, we can never forget this history. See also the 07/30/2001 and 04/22/2004 headlines.
A grave cause for alarm is that people are forgetting. First of all, lets clear up the distortion that eugenics was a distortion of Darwins theories. The subtitle of Charlies book was the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. What does favoured races mean when speaking of the human race? In later editions of his book, Darwin moved from the term natural selection to Herbert Spencers phrase survival of the fittest. The Victorian British were caught up in the myth of progress, and many, including Darwin and his friends, held racist beliefs, some of them radical. The success of their empire surely proved they were the fittest, did it not? The father of eugenics was Darwins own cousin, Francis Galton. Ernst Haeckel took the core beliefs of survival of the fittest and eugenics to Germany, where they were taking hold before Hitler came to power. Hitler merely lifted constraints on trends that were already established, the article says:Grand Canyon Creation Book Stays on Shelves 10/14/2004Some eugenics programs, such as laws sanctioning the sterilization of the feeble minded initially met with resistance throughout the world, including in Germany. But when the Nazis came to power, and particularly during World War II, these constraints disappeared as the Nazi regime was able to implement its radical version of medicine.Lest anyone think the evil was constrained to the German borders, eugenics and anti-Semitism was widespread throughout Europe and America at the time; America itself had a pre-Hitlerian forced sterilization program (see 10/21/2001 headline). There is a direct line philosophically from the ideas of Darwin to the actions of Nazi Germany, as historian Richard Weikart has documented.
The ruckus over a creation-oriented geology book on Grand Canyon at the Visitor Center (see 01/18/2004 headline) is back in the news. The Environmental Media Services reports that plans for a review have been shelved by the park:
Despite telling members of Congress and the public that the legality and appropriateness of the National Park Service offering a creationist book for sale at Grand Canyon museums and bookstores was under review at the national level by several offices, no such review took place, according to materials obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act. Instead, the real agency position was expressed by NPS spokesperson Elaine Sevy as quoted in the Baptist Press News:The group calling itself Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) complains that the Bush Administration has a Faith-Based Parks agenda:
Promoting creationism in our national parks is just as wrong as promoting it in our public schools, stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, If the Bush Administration is using public resources for pandering to Christian fundamentalists, it should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it.This reporter found copies on the bottom row of the North Rim Visitor Center in August. The Ranger on duty indicated that people seem to like the book and want it, so they keep it on hand.
Update On Oct. 19, World Net Daily posted an article on the controversy. A National Park Service official said the review has not been shelved, but is being looked at very carefully because it could be precedent-setting throughout the Park Service.
The Darwin Party can only thrive in a totalitarian regime. They are so threatened by other interpretations of the scientific evidence, they must resort to intimidation, the courts, and lies to try to stop the other side from being heard. The book in question is not a flaky mythology like some native American stories that get evangelistic support at many national parks. Grand Canyon: A Different View was written by scientists (at least 13 with PhDs) and canyon explorers with a lot of experience studying the canyon. They just dont subscribe to the reigning uniformitarian myth, but neither do some non-creationist geologists (see 07/22/2002 headline). Many of the evidences supporting the Flood model are well known within the scientific community. The secularists have no explanation for these things, such as 160 million years of missing strata with no evidence of erosion, and all they can offer is just-so stories that assume the ages anyway. It is perfectly legal for any scientific viewpoint to be heard, especially one that explains these things in a superior fashion. Why should it be legal and appropriate for the Bush Administration to pander to the atheists? Promoting atheism in our national parks is just as wrong as promoting it in our public schools. PEER should at least have the decency to tell the truth about it. Buy the book AT the Grand Canyon visitor center if you can. Its not only a vote for fairness, its a worthwhile book to read and enjoy.How a Darwinist Explains Living Fossils 10/13/2004
Darwinism is a flexible concept that must embrace a wide variety of observations, from apparently fast-evolving plants (see 10/12/2004 item on maize) to organisms that seem to remain unevolved for eons.2 Darwin himself saw this flexibility as a strength for his unifying concept of common descent; others criticized it as rationalization (i.e., a concept that can explain anything explains nothing). Take the case of so-called living fossils, organisms whose modern counterparts are virtually identical to fossils sometimes hundreds of millions of years old. If a land animal could evolve into a whale in 50 million years, for instance, why would a horseshoe crab show no change at all for 10 times as long, 500 million years? (see 06/21/2002 headline). How can the fluidity of constant evolutionary change over time be reconciled with observations that many different kinds of creatures trees, salamanders, ostracods, reptiles, insects and fish have apparently not evolved at all?
This subject was recently tackled by Lee Hsiang Liow of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. Examining fossil crinoids (branch-like echinoderms that attach to the seafloor, also called sea lilies and feather stars), Liow tested Simpsons Rule of the survival of the relatively unspecialized, a rule George Gaylord Simpson proposed in 1944 as an explanation for living fossils and long-lived taxa. Basically, it suggests that specialists evolve, but generalists persist. Liow applied the rule to crinoids and published the results in American Naturalist.1 She studied 1,195 species, representing 752 genera, and concluded that long-lived crinoid genera seem relatively unspecialized, in accordance with Simpsons Rule, but the reverse is true for higher taxa. The conclusion seems to raise doubts about the utility of Darwinian explanations.
Prolonged stasis in a world of change is a puzzling biological phenomenon. Extremely long-lived or geologically long-ranging taxa have been a popular subject of discussion for paleontologists and neontologists alike ever since Darwin ( 1964) coined the term living fossils.....Whether it is called bradytely, arrested evolution, morphological stasis, long-lived taxa or something else, or whether living fossils are dubbed paradoxical, relictual, primitive or specialized, the phenomenon of stasis has rarely been studied in a quantitative manner. This Liow set out to correct, at least in the case of crinoid evolution. The crinoid class is ideal for study because it span much of the geological column and contains many well-characterized examples, both fossil and living. She compared samples and deduced a morphological average, then tried to determine if longevity was a function of bizarreness.
Simpson implicitly took a comparative approach when he wrote about the rule of the survival of the relatively unspecialized (1944, p. 143). He thought that unspecialized subgroups of a clade seem to persist for longer periods of geologic time but did not explicitly define specialization. Here, I quantify specialization by comparing individual morphologies to a group mean; the closer a morphology is to a group mean, the less specialized it is. I ask whether long-lived genera ... in any given crinoid order occupy regions of morphospace that are random with respect to the mean morphology of that order. Could survival be correlated with morphological bizarreness or a deviant morphology ...? Or would long-lived genera have morphologies close to the mean morphology...?The short answer is: Simpson seems to be right on one level. I find that the morphologies of long-lived crinoid genera are, in general, closer to mean morphologies than shorter-lived genera in the same order. But when higher taxonomic categories are examined, the rule fails:
Similarly, but from a completely different conceptual perspective, I ask whether long-lived crinoid genera in any given crinoid higher taxon (e.g., suborder, order) occupy regions of morphospace that are random with respect to a basal morphology of that higher taxon. I find that mean morphological distances of long-lived genera from basal morphologies are seldom distinct from those of their shorter-lived relatives.In other words, she found a contradiction in the trend between lower and higher taxonomic groups. Part of the problem is the fuzziness of the evolutionary record:
There is no available phylogenetic framework for comparing rates of character transformation in the global pool of fossil crinoids. Likewise, there are no detailed samples of crinoid lineages in a stratigraphic column for investigating character reversals, convergence, or the lack thereof.Nevertheless, she found a way to compare features: The morphological characters used here are not assumed to be strictly homologous but are assumed to reflect only general fossilizable morphology determined consistently within the crinoid bauplan [body plan]. Also, the fossil history was determined from location in the geological column, both first and last appearance (see 05/21/2004 headline), and when dealing with fossils, the classification into genus and species is not always clear cut. Geological history adds to the confusion:
Just as in previous analyses when genera are grouped according to orders, genera in each period are mostly short lived. However, rarefied samples of shorter-lived genera through each period inform us that the long-lived taxa can be more, less, or equally deviant compared with shorter-lived taxa of an equivalent sample size (table C2).I.e., the longer you live, the more dangers you have faced, but facing dangers doesnt make you Supercrinoid. She claims, nevertheless, that the likelihood of the occurrence of living fossils or long-lived taxa increases with time, a truism given the evolutionary and geological-time assumptions.
Liow addresses more factors that confuse the picture and could bias the results, such as taxonomic lumping, limited range of some species, the tendency for long-lived species to swamp short-lived ones, issues of stratigraphic resolution of age dating, and disagreement over how to define a long-lived taxon. This discussion seems intended to cushion the next paragraph, the conclusions. Before opening the curtain, she cautions, In summary, longevity is relative and dependent on taxonomic inclusiveness. These important axioms are often neglected in articles that address extreme persistence or morphological conservatism.
Conclusion time. What can be claimed based on this detailed analysis of crinoids?
What are more instructive in this paper are the zingers in the last paragraph:
There are of course many unanswered questions. This study focused on persistence, but there is no available information on actual rate of character evolution. Do long-lived taxa experience rapid rates of character reversals or zig-zag evolution (Henningsmoen 1957), such that apparent persistence is only a sampling artifact, or does persistence necessarily mean slow change or cryptic change (Knowlton 2000)? .... To remain similar enough to an ancestor so a lineage retains a single taxonomic identity requires whole chains of more or less identical events (Gingerich 2001), but what causes these identical developmental events to occur generation after generation? What relative proportions do ecology, biogeography, morphology, and phylogenetic inertia contribute to longevity? Patterns and statistical correlations do not imply causation; tests using techniques from fields ranging from paleontology and phylogenetics to molecular biology and genetics need to be designed to investigate the existence and workings of mechanisms that promote longevity.Go to the top of the paper. Infinite loop.
1Lee Hsiang Liow, A Test of Simpsons Rule of the Survival of the Relatively Unspecialized Using Fossil Crinoids, The American Naturalist 2004, Vol. 164, pp. 431-443, University of Chicago, 0003-0147/2004/16404-40222.
2For examples, see previous headlines about coelacanth fish, pine trees, horseshoe crabs, tuatara reptiles, salamanders, bacteria, protozoa and termites, and butterflies.
Every word of this long paper was scrutinized for a hint, somewhere, of an explanation for living fossils. It was like taking a long, hard hike with a confused guide and at the end of the day finding yourself right back where you started, and on top of that, finding out that your destination was much farther off than you first expected. Nothing in this paper was any help to the Darwinites. Simpsons Rule was tested and found wanting. The number of variables outnumbered the constants, and the validity of any formula was questionable to begin with. There is no reason to suspect that fragile little sea lilies would outlive dinosaurs through mass extinctions, and there was nothing within the known diversity of crinoid classes to predict why some would last long and others would disappear quickly.News Nuggets 10/12/2004
Heres a collection of news items that deserve quick notice:
Another Thing to Worry About: Synthetic Biology
They didnt ask the ferrets how they liked the movie. Sounds like good material for a cartoon here. Seriously, the brain is a marvel hopelessly beyond our measuring instruments or our comprehension (and think about the conundrum of using the very thing you are trying to comprehend to do the work of comprehending). Imagine the subconscious, like an unseen processing center, doing all the background research while your eyes are focusing on the immediate situation. Some of the brains most vital activity is filtering out useless information which would overwhelm us, like the feel of your socks or the hum of an electronic device nearby, but any one of those sensory inputs must be able to trigger the conscious mind if it becomes important, like if the device catches fire or a spider crawls into your sock. The storage and retrieval of information in the brain is also staggering. Have you ever tried to remember something, only to recall it later after thinking about something else? It seems your brain was running its search engine in the background, ferreting out (sorry) the desired information from a vast array of interconnected memories. All this takes place continuously in a little three-pound, jelly-like mass that is the most complex organization of matter in the universe. And it runs on potatoes! as Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith used to exclaim. So dont pass on the myth about only using 10% of our brains. Some of us use more, some less, particularly members of the [insert name of political party here].Do ES Stem Cells Prevent Heart Disease? 10/08/2004
The promise of stem cells, whether embryonic or adult, is in their power to differentiate into any type of somatic cell. Although adult stem cells have racked up an impressive number of therapeutic successes,* embryonic (ES) stem cells have only been promised to do so until now. In Science Oct. 8,1 Cornell scientists coaxed embryonic stem cells to prevent a fatal heart defect in mouse embryos, but in an unusual way: they did not differentiate into heart tissues at all, but locally (in the blastocyst) and from a distance (via the mothers circulatory system) secreted factors that stimulated the embryo to trigger the formation of its own cardiac cells. Three UC San Diego scientists, in the same issue,2 explain:
Unlocking the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem (ES) cells has remained a tantalizing but elusive goal. In this new era of regenerative medicine, the central experimental game plan has been predicated on driving the differentiation of ES cells along specific cell lineages (for example, neural, cardiac, endocrine), expansion and purification of the cell type of interest, and in vivo repopulation of damaged or degenerating organs by ES cell-derived differentiated cells. However, there are numerous hurdles to using ES cells as therapeutic tools. These include the need for reliable ES cell differentiation protocols for different cell lineages, purification techniques for the differentiated progeny, as well as ways to circumvent the immunological rejection of transplanted cells. Given the complexity of these multiple steps, it is not surprising that there are few clear examples of in vivo ES cell therapy for treating disease-related phenotypes. On page 247 of this issue, an exciting new study by Fraidenraich and co-workers1 expands the potential therapeutic repertoire of ES cells. These investigators provide direct evidence that ES cells can rescue otherwise lethal cardiac defects in mouse embryos. Intriguingly, the rescue effect is not subject to the differentiation of ES cells into the cardiac cell lineages that are normally associated with heart regeneration. Rather, the therapeutic effect of the transplanted ES cells depends on their secretion of defined factors that act either locally within the embryonic heart, or at a distance via the maternal circulation, to trigger fetal myocyte proliferation in utero.Stem cells from an embryo face rejection because they do not belong to the individual being treated and are seen as invaders. In addition, they have a tendency to produce deformed embryos when injected into a blastocyst. Adult stem cells from the patients own tissues do not have the rejection problem, and undergo differentiation as expected. So while adult stem cell therapies have already demonstrated the differentiation of cells into other types, these ES cells in this study did not they merely secreted substances that caused a mutated mouse embryo, which otherwise would have died before birth, to grow its own cardiac cells. In essence, the secreted factors only stimulated the mouses own genes to supply missing ingredients caused by the mutation. Since stem cell differentiation was not involved, and the stem cells did not get incorporated into the mouse tissues, what kind of benefit does this study promise for human therapies?
Given the potential of ES cells to induce the formation of teratomas (defective embryonic tissue), these findings do not necessarily suggest that administering ES cells to pregnant mothers will become a new therapeutic approach for treating congenital heart disease. However, given that a subset of maternal factors can cross the placenta, there remains a possibility that a subset of embryonic cardiac defects could be partially corrected by the careful delivery of the necessary proteins in the maternal circulation. Increasingly, congenital heart defects can be diagnosed accurately in utero with noninvasive imaging technology. In addition, ES cell-based assay systems may ultimately allow for the identification of likely candidate maternal factors that could correct a subset of severe human congenital heart defects.The potential benefits of this study, therefore, appear tentative at best, while adult stem cells have a proven track record without ethical concerns.
*For examples, use the Search box with the phrase adult stem cells.
1Fraidenraich et al., Rescue of Cardiac Defects in Id Knockout Embryos by Injection of Embryonic Stem Cells, Science, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5694, 247-252, 8 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1102612].
2Chien, Moretti and Laugwitz, ES Cells to the Rescue, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5694, 239-240, 8 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1104769].
Big Science wants ES stem cell funding, and they jump on any tentative success with excitement unwarranted by the facts. If the ES cells do not differentiate, and only treat an prenatal condition that otherwise would be fatal, then they not only hold promise for living children or adults, but instead provide a reason for not aborting the embryo, because the stem cells might save it. Would the political liberals who support ES stem cell research want that?Volcanic Gas Helps Link Up the Building Blocks of Life 10/08/2004
A gas emitted by volcanoes, carbonyl sulfide (COS), enables amino acid molecules to form peptide bonds. Thats what long-time origin-of-life researcher Leslie Orgel and colleagues at Scripps Institute have found. The reaction is especially productive in the presence of metal ions that act as catalysts, and even better in the presence of oxidizing agents. Moreover, the bonds form at ambient temperatures, and are not hindered by salty seawater, they state in their paper published in Science.1
Science news outlets like EurekAlert are claiming this indicates that volcanic gas may have played a significant role in the origins of life on Earth, and that the discovery bridges an important missing link in studies of pre-biotic chemistry (National Geographic News. Reza Ghadiri, one of the team, does not think life began at volcanoes, of course, but said, It puts the whole idea of pre-biotic speculation on sure footing. Its something that could have happened. Amino acids have been produced in previous origin of life experiments (see 05/02/2003 headline), but, critics of chemical evolution have often claimed that peptide bonds between amino acids do not form readily in water (in fact, water hastens their dissolution).
The teams experiments began using one amino acid, phenylalanine, in only the left-handed form. Several intermediates were produced in the reaction with COS, one of which was reasonably stable against hydrolysis with a half-life of up to 20 hours. That intermediate was concentrated with more L-phenylalanine at alkaline pH 9.0 plus or minus 1.4 in anaerobic conditions, and yielded 6-7% dipeptide in 40-60 hours. The step from the intermediate to the peptide bond is the slowest. The team found, however, that metal ions (doubly-ionized lead, iron or cadmium) produced dramatic rate accelerations up to fourfold. Even more effective, oxidizing agents (including oxygen, although not expected to be present on the early earth) produced 63% yield of dipeptide in just 5 minutes, 13% tripeptide, and 3% quadrapeptide and traces of longer chains of 5 or 6 amino acid residues.
The team also succeed getting chains of another amino acid, serine (left-handed only) and mixtures of serine and phenylalanine. They then generalized the experiment to others, including L-tyrosine, L-leucine, and L-alanine, in the presence of the lead ion catalyst. In all reactions, they reported, efficient production of mixed dipeptides and tripeptides was observed.
How realistic is the presence of COS in early earth scenarios? Orgel et al. claim that COS is present in 0.09% of volcanic emissions, but hydrolyzes rapidly on a geological time scale, so is unlikely to have accumulated to a high concentration in the atmosphere. A prebiotic soup or enriched atmosphere of peptides by the tons is not envisioned, therefore, but rather enrichment at localized regions close to its volcanic sources. Because of the relatively short half-life of the intermediate, it may be unlikely that a substantial proportion of any amino acids present would have been converted to the necessary intermediates. The team suggests a polymerization on the rocks scenario, in which peptides long enough to be irreversibly adsorbed near the source of the COS were subject to slow chain elongation, especially if metal ions or oxidizing agents were also present.
The direct elongation of peptide chains using COS as a condensing agent and the condensations catalyzed by Fe2+ or Pb2+ ions seem plausible as prebiotic reactions, they claim. And who knows; maybe COS was the effective ingredient to speed up other prebiotic reactions, too. It remains to be determined whether COS could have participated in prebiotic chemistry in other waysfor example, as an intermediate in the reduction of CO2 and as a condensing agent in phosphate chemistry.
1Leman, Orgel and Ghadiri, Carbonyl Sulfide-Mediated Prebiotic Formation of Peptides, Science, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5694, 283-286, 8 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1102722].
Theres the plausibility criterion again (see 12/22/2003 and 01/15/2004 commentaries). But how plausible is this series of ad-hoc scenarios? First, the amino acids (however they got there, from meteorites or wherever) need to find themselves near a volcanic source with all the expected heat and commotion going on, to breathe in that 0.09% COS without getting destroyed in the process. Then they need some handy doubly-ionized lead, iron or cadmium ions, or oxidizing agents, nearby to speed up the slow reaction before the COS or intermediates get hydrolyzed (i.e., split by the very water they are presumably soaking in). But simultaneously, the other prebiotic molecules need to be shielded from the salts and oxidizing agents that would destroy them. Then the lucky dipeptides or tripeptides need to find a handy rock to get adsorbed onto before they fall apart in the water, which hopefully was within the right pH range to begin with. Good luck.Great Telescopes Converge on Keplers Supernova 10/08/2004
The last supernova in our galaxy seen from earth was described October 9, 1604, by Johannes Kepler, a few years before the invention of the telescope. Now, on the 400th anniversary of that observation, three of NASAs Great Observatory orbiting telescopes the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope have joined forces to produce a combined image of the expanding shell of this exploded star. The supernova remnant is now spread out 14 light-years wide and is still expanding at 4 million miles per hour, according to the press release at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The press release has links to the telescope sites.
Like fireworks, supernovae are fun to watch from a safe distance. Michael Shirber in an article on Space.Com confirms a claim in the new film The Privileged Planet that certain parts of the galaxy are dangerous (see 09/01/2004 headline). He mentions a study that shows the galactic center is subject to deadly radiation from exploding giant stars. Anyone looking for signs of extraterrestrial life, he says, need not look in the center of our galaxy. Fortunately, earth is situated about 25,000 light-years away, where starbursts are rare.Preventing Bird Divorce: Mates Take Different Flights, Arrive Together 10/07/2004
A shorebird named the black-tailed godwit presents a puzzle to biologists: arrival synchrony (leave it to scientists to give big names to simple concepts). The males and females of this bird mate for life, but like some humans, live apart for months at a time. This presents two puzzles: how do they stay apart without getting divorced, and how do they arrive together for the summer fling when they take different routes to the destination? Some birds migrate together; others stagger their take-off and landing. But the faithful black-tailed godwits winter in different areas averaging 955 km apart, yet somehow find a way synchronize their migrations to arrive within 3 days of one another. This remarkable synchronization shows that The mechanisms required to achieve this synchrony and prevent divorce illustrate the complexity of migratory systems, write four UK biologists publishing in Nature:1
Long-lived migratory birds generally show high degrees of mate fidelity, and divorce is often followed by a decrease in reproductive success. Synchrony in timing of arrival on the breeding grounds is thought to be crucial for retaining a mate from the previous year and avoiding a costly divorce....Thus they leave it an unsolved puzzle, and offer no explanation for how the chicks learn this by their first anniversary, or what form the genetic or physiological determinant might take that could explain another wonder of nature.
1Gunnarsson et al., Pair bonds: Arrival synchrony in migratory birds, Brief communications, Nature 431, 646 (07 October 2004); doi:10.1038/431646a.
Humans can learn some things from birds. Does absence make the heart grow fonder, or does absence make the heart go wander? Somehow these godwits are able to maintain remote relationships and stay faithful (although faithful has no moral meaning to a bird). (Notice that divorce is costly to birds, too, even without lawyers.) More amazing is how they can synchronize their arrivals without a long-distance phone call and Priceline.com. Do they plan ahead and communicate their schedules with loving chirps? How can they even find one another after landing, among all the other couples, when they all look alike? There are still lots of puzzles out there for naturalists. Just dont bore us with another evolutionary just-so story. This bird apparently was given some kind of God wit.Modern Cosmology Is Clueless, Astronomy Columnist Says 10/06/2004
A letter to the editor in the latest (November) issue of Astronomy tipped us off to something we missed in the July issue. The subscriber wrote,
Kudos to Bob Berman for bringing up the slipperiness of modern cosmology in Theory chaotic (July 2004). He must be one of the first to do so. As he makes clear, a healthy skepticism can and should be a necessary part of the scientific method.This we had to see, and Bermans editorial surpassed expectations. In his monthly column Bob Bermans Strange Universe, he was ruthless. After detailing the flip flops of cosmologists over the last ten years, and their parade of wacko pronouncements (see 07/27/2004, 02/10/2004, 01/23/2004, 06/20/2003 and 06/18/2003 headlines, for instance), he has had enough. Wit meets dead seriousness:
Suddenly, were imbedded in a frothy quantum foam of unlimited possibilities. Its a free-for-all where each solemnly presented theory is soon changed or rebutted.Berman distances real astronomy, the kind that deals with optics, gadgets, software, planets and nebulae, observations, beauty, and real science from the fantasyland that he feels modern cosmology has become. He suggests the following disclaimer before any cosmology articles in Astronomy: Warning: The following contains contemporary cosmology. Reading it can produce disorientation and confusion. Nobody knows whats going on and nothing you read here is likely to be true.
This is a howler; read the whole thing if you can get it. It encapsulates all you need to know about modern cosmology, because why study it in detail when it is like the weather in Cleveland if you dont like it, wait 5 minutes. Such bold honesty is refreshing. Dear Mr. Berman: would you like a side job as a guest columnist for Creation-Evolution Headlines?Little Tyrannosaur with Proto-Feathers Found 10/06/2004
National Geographic News wasted no time; a day before a report of another Chinese dinosaur with feathery-like structures was published in Nature,1 they already had color artwork on their news page, trumpeting the title, T. Rex Cousin Had Feathers. Yet Nature itself seemed ho-hum about the announcement. It was neither the cover story, nor mentioned in any news briefs in the journal. Though Nature Science Update was proud of the find, it hastened to add that the proto-feathers, as some are calling them, are not what we would recognise as feathers today, but are their evolutionary precursors. Rather than having a central shaft and barbs, they are single flexible filaments that would have covered the dinosaurs body like hair. Next day, Science2 was more interested in its advanced cranium than its fuzz, and mentioned nothing about it being an ancestor of feathers or flight.
A look at the illustrations in the scientific paper confirms the impression that calling these proto-feathers is a stretch. Any suggestion that these integumentary structures even had branches at all is unclear; they look like narrow, overlapping stripes on the rock, and there is no way to tell how they were attached to the skin. The filaments are only about 2 cm long and were found related to the tail and jaw bones. The team that discovered Sinornithosaurus, another feathered dinosaur, admitted in 2001 that Despite these similarities, homology between the integumental filaments of Sinornithosaurus and avian feathers has been questioned. The team that reported this new find, named Dilong paradoxus, only referred back to that paper with a cautious statement that such filamentous integumentary structures in Jehol theropods have been interpreted as protofeathers.
They suggest that these structures might have provided thermal insulation. These beasts, about the size of large dogs, may have had trouble storing heat. Big animals, like teenage T. rex monsters (see 08/11/2004 headline), have trouble getting rid of it thats why elephants lose their baby hair as they grow. They did not give any indication the filaments were related to the origin of flight in any way. Another problem is that Dilong is classified as early in the evolution of dinosaurs, and it already had some derived features (i.e., fully evolved, similar to those of later descendants), while other contemporaneous groups lacked them. The distribution of postcranial pneumatization [hollowness in skeletal bones], for instance, is thus very complex among coelurosaurians, rather than displaying a continuous evolutionary trend along the line to birds.
The bottom line: strange filaments apparently associated with a small, new kind of tyrannosaurid dinosaur have been found well preserved in Liaoning province, China, but no one knows quite what to make of them. They appear early on in the tyrannosaurid lineage, but are not yet known among Cretaceous monsters like T. rex. The filaments do not establish any unambiguous phylogenetic link to modern bird feathers except for superficial similarities. They look more like hair than feathers, and probably functioned as insulation.
1Xu, Norell et al., Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence for protofeathers in tyrannosauroids, Nature 431, 680 - 684 (07 October 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02855.
2Erik Stokstad, T. rex Clan Evolved Head First, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5694, 211, 8 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5694.211a].
This critter was no more evolving into a bird than a porcupine is, but news outlets like National Geographic are so eager to prove birds evolved from dinosaurs, you can practically sense them chomping at the bit to leap into the air themselves. Mark Norell (on the discovery team) said that Jurassic Park IV will probably portray all the monsters with feathers instead of scales. Weve learned to be cautious about claims of feathered dinosaurs evolving into birds (see 05/06/2004, 05/19/2003 and 11/21/2002headlines, for instance). Its going to take a lot more than a few scratch-lines on rock to make this story stick.How Are Radioactive Dates Determined? 10/06/2004
To most of us, the practice of radioactive dating seems like a highly-technical, incomprehensible skill that nevertheless (we are told) yields absolute ages of things. We dont know exactly how they arrive at the results, but are led to trust them because very smart people get their answers using hard science with extremely accurate equipment. It might be helpful to look over their shoulders and see how its done. A couple of recent papers dealt with uranium-lead dating, the kind of method that typically yields ages in the millions of years.
1Turner et al., Extinct 244Pu in Ancient Zircons, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 89-91, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101014].
2Trapp et al., Numerical calibration of the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary: Two new U-Pb isotope dilution-thermal ionization mass spectrometry single-zircon ages from Hasselbachtal (Sauerland, Germany), Geology, Vol. 32, No. 10, pp. 857–860, doi: 10.1130/G20644.1.
Notice what Turners group did. First, they assumed what they need to prove: that the rocks were really 4.2 billion years old. The age of the solar system (4.56 billion years old) and the age of the meteorites was not open to negotiation: these were givens, assumed from the start. Then notice the extremely minute amounts they had to work with: crystals weighing a few millionths of a gram. The xenon they were looking for was below the detection threshold of most instruments; how can anyone be sure that their laser instrument, which detected a few thousand atoms in the crystal, did not disrupt the atoms in the process? (Xenon, after all, is a gas.) Then notice that only 25% of their 8 samples met expectations, so the rest had to be explained away. Well, look at the explanation! The crystals were subject to violent, metamorphic processes of heating and recrystallization, and even though lead is more easily leached from the samples, the lead remained somehow and the xenon was lost.Professors Job Is to Fight Creationism? 10/05/2004
According to evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, interviewed in Current Biology1 Oct. 5,
Once I learned how to be a professor, I needed new challenges. Its our responsibility as American evolutionists to combat creationism, which is far more entrenched here than in the UK.
1Jerry Coyne, Q&A, Current Biology Volume 14, Issue 19, 5 October 2004, Pages R825-R826, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.09.031.
Its hard to fight creationists when your favorite examples, like peppered moths, keep dropping off the tree (see 07/02/2002 headline). Coyne exalts Darwin and all his favorite Charlie Parley prima donnas, dandies and bearded bigots (see 09/02/2004 headline): Dobzhansky, Simpson, Lewontin, Gould and Dawkins, especially when the latter is trashing religion (see 04/23/2003 headline).Biomimetics Dept: Wear a Pine Cone 10/05/2004
EurekAlert says the British are developing new clothes using pine cone technology. The fabric automatically adjusts to temperature by opening up or closing down, keeping the wearer comfortable in all environments. Weve drawn upon nature, said one designer of this fundamental change in clothing.
Makes you wonder how a pine cone figured this out. The film Wonders of Gods Creation Part 1 has an amazing story about the knobcone pine. It has the hardest cone of any tree, able to withstand the blows of a hammer and teeth of hungry rodents. It can remain tightly closed for decades. Only one force in nature is strong enough to crack them open, and that is a forest fire. The cone opens just slightly during the fire to emit gases that insulate the seeds inside. Only after the fire has passed will the cone open completely, allowing the seeds, like little one-winged helicopters, to spiral down to the newly-cleared ground.Dating of Crater Rays Needs Overhaul 10/04/2004
A dating method relied on by planetary geologists needs drastic revision, according to Planetary Science Research Discoveries (PSRD) scientists at the University of Hawaii. Crater rays are the streaks that extend radially from impact craters. Previously, planetary scientists assumed they darken over time under bombardment from the solar wind and can be used as indicators of young and old craters. This overlooks factors like the brightness and composition of the underlying material, the effect of secondary craters, and the amount of mixing of new and existing material, and the actual darkening rate. Dates estimated without knowledge of these conditions can apparently be in error by large margins.
The researchers compared data on lunar crater rays from the Clementine lunar spacecraft, Apollo moon samples, and spectra from Arecibo radar and other instruments, and found that the mere presence of crater rays is not a reliable indicator that the crater is young, as once thought, according to the press release by Linda M. V. Martel. The lunar crater Copernicus had often been used as a model for classifying craters as older or younger than the so-called C/E boundary between two conventional lunar epochs labeled Copernicus and Eratosthenes. The younger, Copernican craters have sharp rims and bright rays. But estimates from crater counts on lava flows around a classic Copernican crater, Lichtenberg, are much older. It follows that the mere presence of rays is not a reliable indicator of crater age, Martel concludes,
And it is no longer valid to assign a Copernican age to craters based only on the presence of rays.Unfortunately, pinning down absolute ages by radioactive dating methods will require more samples from the moon, Martel says, so the uncertainty will be around awhile.
Another dating method is found to be deficient by the daters themselves. Ask yourself the next logical question. How are we to know that the commonly accepted ages of these formations have any validity? After all, the previous estimates were considered valid till now. How can anyone have confidence that the assumptions used to determine these dates, the dates remaining after this latest whoops report, are just as flawed as the assumptions that were used to date crater rays? You cant calibrate assumptions against assumptions, and nobody was there with a stopwatch to provide a real absolute age. There are some things science cannot know for sure, such as processes extrapolated back in time when there were no observers.How Plants Send Email: Update 10/04/2004
Back in 2001 (see 07/13/2001 headline), we reported the startling finding that plants talk to themselves in email. Whats new in this field? Is there really an interplant intranet?
In the Oct. 5 issue of Current Biology,1 Norman, Frederick and Sieburth report evidence that a signal molecule named BYPASS1 is sent from the roots to the tips of the plant, and suppresses the growth of leaves. It acts as a negative regulator of plant growth hormones.
Plant growth hormones are produced in the tips of shoots. With too much growth hormone, leaves might grow too rapidly without knowing when the roots are struggling to find water, are having trouble getting through compacted soil, or fighting other harsh conditions. The roots need to be able to regulate leaf growth, therefore, and must be able to turn up the release of hormone only when the supply is adequate. The report on EurekAlert describes the control like a faucet handle that the root turns, but since the flow is at the shoot, the handle is really up where the leaves are. By sending this chemical signal up the network, the root has remote control over the spigot of growth hormone: something akin to switch remotely operated by a computer system administrator, who sends a correctly-formatted message the switch understands.
This explains how the same plant can look different depending on where it grows. Plants are composed of cells without a central nervous system or brain, yet the various parts need to act in concert. A plant cant just walk away in tough times to look for greener pastures; it has to respond as a unit to changing conditions. The solution is a coordinated system of signals, feedback and regulatory functions. This study shows that roots are not just sending water and nutrients blindly upward, unaware of the conditions above ground. They are sending chemical signals to keep in touch with the leaf tips. Undoubtedly this is two-way communication, because the roots also must be informed of conditions above ground.
BYPASS1, a gene that codes for a carotenoid compound, is one more example of signal transduction, or email, in plants. The July 2001 headline spoke of messenger RNA used for signalling. Undoubtedly proteins and other chemical compounds as well are used in the interplant intranet to convey messages. Each chemical needs a receptor at the destination that understands the message. A plant, therefore, comprises an information processing system. Because information is passed throughout the branching pathways inside a plant, with sources and destinations defined, containing messages that are translated and understood and acted upon, the analogy to email over an intranet is an apt one.
Overarching this system is a network of networks. Different species of plants are also able to communicate with each other through the underground pipeline (see 06/17/2004 headline). This shows that the local area networks of individual plants are combined into a wide-area network, or internet. Information processing over a communication network is therefore the foundation of ecology:
Plant architecture is regulated by endogenous developmental programs, but it can also be strongly influenced by cues derived from the environment. For example, rhizosphere conditions such as water and nutrient availability affect shoot and root architecture; this implicates the root as a source of signals that can override endogenous developmental programs. ...Another article on EurekAlert discussed how researchers at Duke University are following one particular email message, a protein regulator in root cells. The scientists made the surprising finding that the ... protein is one means by which one root cell talks to another to instruct it to develop in a certain way.
1Norman, Frederick and Sieburth, BYPASS1 Negatively Regulates a Root-Derived Signal that Controls Plant Architecture, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 19, 5 October 2004, Pages 1739-1746, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.09.045.
When you send an email to a friend, it presupposes a large infrastructure of computers, routers, wires, and software. Without them, your message would sit in your computer and go nowhere. Your message is formatted into packets according the standards of internet protocol. Every piece of hardware and software in the network has to understand the protocol. It has to be able to read the header to properly route the packet from the source to the destination. Some messages can be broadcast to a group of recipients, or to everyone on the network. Some require acknowledgement before action; others, like a message in a bottle, can be picked up by any recipient. Different protocols provide many different services. Somehow, a plant accomplishes the same thing. It can send messages to individuals, groups, or anyone online. The receptors understand the messages and act accordingly.Genome of Diatom Reveals Unanticipated Complexity 10/01/2004
Lets play 20 questions.:
OK, Im game. Animal, vegetable or mineral?
I give up.
The answer is: a diatom. Some of the most abundant one-celled organisms in the sea, and essential for regulating the global carbon cycle, diatoms seem to be part animal, vegetable and mineral. Scientists arent sure how to classify them. They do photosynthesis like plants, but have some animal-like genes, and they build crystal houses of exquisite beauty out of silica (see 07/21/2004 headline). Now, for the first time, the genome of one species of diatom was sequenced. It was reported Oct. 1 in the journal Science.1 The glass house of this organism, Thalassiosira pseudonana, looks like a pill box with a lid (for picture, see the news story on EurekAlert).
The evolutionary story of the origin of diatoms is that once upon a time, a heterotrophic (other-feeding) microbe engulfed a red alga. The two became one, and lived happily ever after in an arrangement called endosymbiosis. The researchers did indeed find homologous genes to red algae and protozoa, but were not prepared for the complexity of the gene library of something so small. This diatom has 24 pairs of chromosomes and 11,242 protein-coding genes in its 34 million base-pair genome. The team was surprised to find genes for the urea cycle, a nitrogen-processing system commonly found in animals that eat meat, in a plant-like photosynthetic organism: Identification of enzymes necessary for a complete urea cycle was unanticipated, because this pathway has not previously been described in a eukaryotic photoautotroph. This nitrogen cycle was not just an idle subroutine, either: The urea cycle appears to be fully integrated into diatom metabolism in ways not previously suspected, they said. Also, who would have thought a little transparent sea creature would be an expert in fat metabolism?
We identified novel genes for silicic acid transport and formation of silica-based cell walls, high-affinity iron uptake, biosynthetic enzymes for several types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, use of a range of nitrogenous compounds, and a complete urea cycle, all attributes that allow diatoms to prosper in aquatic environments.Apparently even diatoms can store fat for the winter in a manner unusual among eukaryotes. Another unique feature of many diatoms is their ability to manufacture little hairs of chitin that protrude from their glass shells, so that they dont sink so easily. This enables them to stay near the sunlit surface on which they depend.
Although the research team believes their discovery of alga-like genes supports the notion of a primordial endosymbiosis for the origin of diatoms, their paper exhibited two unsolved problems with the idea. First, in a Venn diagram of homologous genes, the report showed 1853 genes not found in animals, green or red algae (3738 common to all three), and 2550 genes not found among cyanobacteria, green or red algae (922 common to all three). About half the genes in the diatom cannot be assigned functions on the basis of similarity to genes in other organisms, in part because diatoms have distinctive features that cannot be understood by appeal to model systems. Thats a lot of functionality for an organism to develop de novo, even if some of the knowledge was gained through a merger.
Second, the team is baffled over how the alga genes made it past the barriers into the genome. Establishment of a stable secondary endosymbiosis required evolution of a protein import system to allow cytoplasmically synthesized proteins to traverse the two additional membranes that surround the plastid, they note. They can understand the first crossing of the endoplasmic reticulum, but the mechanism of transit across the next three membranes remains unclear.
Scientists are eagerly striving to understand the exquisite glass-blowing capability of these creatures. Their shells are beautifully designed, yet so small that 70 could fit across the width of a human hair. Diatoms can manipulate silica in ways that nanotechnologists can only dream about, said one researcher. For information on the importance of diatoms to the global ecology and climate, see the summary on EurekAlert, where oceanographer Virginia Armbrust (U of Washington) said, These organisms are incredibly important in the global carbon cycle. The report elaborates, Together, the single-celled organisms generate as much as 40 percent of the 50 billion to 55 billion tons of organic carbon produced each year in the sea and in the process use carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. And they are an important food source for many other marine organisms.
1Armbrust et al., The Genome of the Diatom Thalassiosira Pseudonana: Ecology, Evolution, and Metabolism, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 79-86, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101156].
Thank God for little things. If it is phenomenally, inconceivably improbable for a cell to develop one usable protein by chance (see online book), how are we supposed to believe that after the hypothetical merger in some dim chapter of the evolutionary past, the new diatom evolved a protein import system to get the new genes past three more membranes? Organisms dont normally tolerate foreign proteins; they destroy them. This explanation has all the flaws of the typical Darwinian just-so story. It is a mere tentative suggestion, generalizing the broad-brush picture but ignoring the nasty details. Who could possibly believe that diatoms just invented, in salty water, glass-sculpturing expertise that nanotechnologists can only dream about, to say nothing of evolving half its genes that are unique? Such wishful thinking should be laughed out of court.Burnt Bridges, Brownian Ratchets, and Self-Propelled Motors Keep Skin Young Looking 10/01/2004
Rock climbers and cavers are familiar with mechanical devices called ascenders that enable them to climb ropes safely and easily. Ascenders slide up the rope in one direction, but latch onto it tightly when pulled the other direction. Now imagine the ascender by itself, hanging on the rope, in a flurry of winds blowing in all directions. Despite the randomness of the gusts, the ascender might still make progress upward, because it slides up, but cannot slide down. A team at Washington University School of Medicine, publishing in Science1 October 1, found something similar at work in the cell. A molecular motor named collagenase MMP-1 uses the random thermal motion in its environment (Brownian motion) to self-propel itself along the triple tracks of collagen molecules.
Molecular motors, like the motors in our experience, are machines that convert energy into motion, but in the cell, theyre constructed of protein. Many kinds are known: propellers, railroad cars, walkers and other exotic things, but most of them extract chemical energy from the energy currency of the cell, ATP. Collagenase uses the free thermal motion of the environment to its advantage. Acting as a Brownian ratchet, it converts random fluctuations into unidirectional motion. This is the first molecular motor found to work outside the cell.
Collagen is one of the most plentiful proteins. Its an important structural component of many tissues, not the least of which is skin. Composed of three strands of rope-like polymers, it provides both strength and flexibility to skin and other tissues. (For background on collagen and collagenase, see this description on a Wayne State biology site.) Sometimes collagen fibrils need to be disassembled, however, and thats the job of collagenase. Providentially, collagen comes with joints called cleavage sites where the strands can be easily broken by the enzymes for quick recycling. The collagenase motor clings like an ascender to a rope and walks up the collagen fiber to the nearest cleavage site. Self-propelled by Brownian motion, it goes into action splitting the fibrils as needed. What keeps it from falling back down? Without a ratchet or clutch mechanism, all the motor could hope for when subjected to random forces is symmetric back and forth motion on the cable. Collagenase, it turns out, uses a strategy called the burnt bridge technique.
If you were on a monorail buffeted by random winds, but needed to get somewhere, you could avoid rolling backward, away from your destination, by burning your bridges behind you. Assuming your technique braked any backward motion (rather than making you fall off), this strategy would result in a net forward propulsion. The collagenase motor does this by digesting the fiber after it passes by, preventing backward motion, and allowing the next gust of thermal energy to propel it forward. Wouldnt this result in traffic jams, when multiple motors bunch up against cleavage sites? No; the motors can switch to nearby collagen fibers. Relief of the traffic jam is achieved by the transfer of the trapped enzyme to new tracks, the authors explain.
The research team found that this form of propulsion is about 15% efficient but costs no ATP. As a result, collagenase works its way along the fiber at about 4.5 micrometers per second. On a molecular scale, thats scootin. On our scale, that would translate to about a thousand miles an hour. Imagine moving that fast on a highway with no gasoline, extracting energy from the road! Senior author Dr. Gregory Goldberg expressed some wonder at this mechanism used by collagenase: with our model, a whole new principle emerges in which molecular motors in the extracellular matrix operate by extracting energy from the very track they move upon.
What does this mean to you and me? By digesting collagen, enzymes such as MMP-1 initiate tissue remodeling, which can have a variety of purposes from organ development to tissue repair to metastatic invasion of tumors. A summary on EurekAlert explains,
The researchers propose the molecular motor contributes to restructuring the extracellular support matrix during tissue growth and development or wound repair or even during cancerous invasion of tissues. Because MMP-1 moves directionally, it can serve as a clutch, assisting cell locomotion along networks of collagen in tissues. Further, motion along the precisely aligned collagen filaments directs the proper development of individual tissue types.Your skin cells continually export these molecular machines into the extracellular matrix to break down collagen for repairs, so that your scars can heal and you can grow fresh skin. They might be involved in many other things, like moving the entire cell along on a no-skid surface generated by the digestion of collagen fibrils, the authors propose (is this what makes our skin crawl?) If uncontrolled, though, the scissors action of these molecular machines would wreak havoc on our skin, making us melt like the wicked witch of the west. Not to worry; everything is tightly regulated. Goldberg reassures us, The enzymes arent loose and disorganized where they would just end up destroying the matrix. By mechanisms that we are exploring further, they create a relation between cells and the structures in the matrix. Its a very elegant system. For soft, fresh, beautiful skin, ratchet up and burn your bridges behind you.
1Saffarian, Goldberg et al., Interstitial Collagenase Is a Brownian Ratchet Driven by Proteolysis of Collagen, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 108-111, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099179].
Cant get enough of these molecular machines. Wow. Giveaway question: how many times was evolution mentioned in this paper? What is an integer less than one?Your Eyes Have Automatic Light Meters 10/01/2004
Every pupil knows that pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in dim light, but how? Physiologists had assumed the retina signalled the iris muscles, but now it appears there is an independent mechanism in the iris itself, at least in birds, and probably in mammals, too. A report in EurekAlert summarizes a finding from Washington School of Medicine published in Science:1 Working with embryonic chicken eyes, Washington University ophthalmology researchers found that cryptochrome allows the pupil to react independently from light-sensitive photoreceptor cells at the back of the eye.
Cryptochrome is a protein distinct from the opsin family of proteins usually involved in light response. This molecule is apparently acting like a light meter on the camera. A light meter doesnt take a picture but helps the camera receive the proper amount of light. Experiments suggested it is as if the light meter of the eye is controlling the pupil without vision being involved. In the mouse, the meter is located in the retina and primarily uses melanopsin to do its work with cryptochrome proteins amplifying the signal. In the chick, it is as if the light meter is contained in the pupil itself. The team is trying to determine if this mechanism works in human eyes also. They make no mention of evolution, other than indirectly to suggest, These data characterize a non-opsin photoreception mechanism in a vertebrate eye and suggest a conserved [i.e., unevolved] photoreceptive role for cryptochromes in vertebrates.
1Daniel Tu et al., Nonvisual Photoreception in the Chick Iris, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 129-131, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101484].
The less we take things in the body for granted, the more we see exquisite mechanisms working together to achieve complex functions that could rightly be described as ultra-high-tech. Humans only designed auto-exposure cameras in relatively recent times, after a lot of intelligent design. Who designed opsins and crytochromes, and all the signalling and response mechanisms that cause them to make muscles, larger by orders of magnitude, respond rapidly to shifting quantities of light? The human iris is far more complex than any Nikon aperture. Yet it is only one of several automatic mechanisms on our stereo camcorders that provides a dynamic range of 10 million to one and transfers data at a gigabyte per second. When a feeble little chick hatches out of the egg and sees the world for the first time, its automatic light meters are already working.Neandertal Promoted to Fully Human 10/01/2004
The myth of the brutish, subhuman Neandertal is apparently almost dead. Science1 Oct. 1 showed a picture of him in a business suit in an article entitled, Dressed for Success: Neandertal Culture Wins Respect. Michael Balter writes, respect is growing for Neandertals as evidence mounts that they made jewelry, wore clothing, and survived a variety of harsh climates by their wits.
Balter reports that most of a hundred archaeologists and anthropologists gathered at Gibraltar last month agreed that Neandertals were complex hominids doing complex things. They may not have had the better needles of their modern human neighbors, but their sharp, pointed bone awls could have easily pierced animal hides to make clothing. And clothes they needed: new studies show that their stout, muscular bodies would not have provided much protection from their low-temperature habitats, as previously assumed.
Several at the meeting argued that Neandertals were also culturally the equals of the other humans. Radiocarbon dates that had been used to separate the two groups have lately been called into question (for example, see 07/08/2004 headline). Some are now arguing that Neandertals independently developed culture, art and tools without borrowing the technology from their presumably more advanced newcomers. Leslie Aiello (University College, London) summed up the revisions: The Neandertals had big brains, and they must have been using them for something. The gap is closing, but we havent fully closed it yet.
1Michael Balter, Paleoanthropology: Dressed for Success: Neandertal Culture Wins Respect, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5693, 40-41, 1 October 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5693.40].
If it were not for evolution-inebriated Charlie worshipers wanting to force scattered fossils and artifacts into a timeline of progress, this whole mess would not have lasted so long. Its time to conclude the old brutish-Neandertal story they told us for over 100 years was just another mistake in the long tradition of Darwin Party mistakes. For that matter, the entire suite of early-man tales we were taught in the textbooks is now in the trash (see 02/15/2002 and 09/23/2004 headlines). The evolutionary hall of shame would make for an interesting museum: show all the supposed human ancestors that were either hoaxes or misinterpretations (better buy plenty of floor space) and let viewers learn lessons from real, observable history. Joachim Neander himself would feel vindicated (see 10/26/2001 headline).