God has created man in his own intellectual image, and graciously permitted him to study His modes of operation, and rewards his industry in this line by giving him powers and instruments which affect in the highest degree his material welfare.
Gymnastic Enzyme Acts Like Logic Gate 07/31/2004
An enzyme named vinculin undergoes drastic conformational changes, reports William A. Weis in the July 29 issue of Nature.1 Vinculin, with over a thousand amino acid links, is important at membrane junctions for transporting materials in and out of the cell. It helps cellular glue exit the membrane so that neighboring cells can adhere to one another, such as in epithelial tissues.
Weis reports on recent studies that show vinculin undergoes radical conformational changes during its action. It will only build the adhesive junction when the necessary components are in place. Nothing happens unless the participants are ready; the binding energy of several partners is needed to overcome the thermodynamic and perhaps kinetic barriers to activation, he says. Viewed in this way, vinculin functions as a logical AND gate, in which binding of two partners is required to generate an output, in this case a stable multi-protein complex. Whats more, this automatic regulation is essential for its function; it prevents inappropriate assembly if the amount of product is unstable.
1William A. Weis, Cell biology: How to build a cell junction, Nature 430, 513 - 515 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430513a.
Logic, logic gates, regulation: this is the language of intelligent design. Each of the contacts formed during the radical conformational changes of this complicated enzyme is finely tuned to its substrates, and finely tuned to the concentration of ingredients in the cell. And these finely tuned contacts are determined by the specificity of the sequence of amino acids in this protein, each coded in another languagethe language of DNA. At every step, this system only makes sense in the context of intelligent design.Darwinists Still Writing the Origin of Species 07/30/2004
A new book on the origin of species has come out. In the July 30 issue of Science,1 Benjamin K. Blackman and Loren H. Rieseberg review Jerry Coyne and H. Allen Orrs new book, Speciation (Sinauer, 2004, 557 pp.). The reviewers first describe the subject matter: The last two decades in particular have brought major advances in molecular genetics, comparative analysis, mathematical theory, and molecular phylogenetics; speciation has consequently matured from a field fraught with untestable ideas to one reaching clear, well-supported conclusions. Presumably some of those untestable ideas hark back to Darwin. So in what ways does this book surpass the one penned by the masters 1859 opus? The reviewers outdo themselves praising the substance and style of this new book:
Jerry Coyne and Allen Orrs Speciation provides a much-needed review of these developments. The exceedingly well-written and persuasive text eschews speculation. The authors instead resolutely develop testable criteria for distinguishing alternative hypotheses about evolutionary processes that may result in similar biological patterns, critically evaluate how theoretical and empirical results meet the burden of proof, and actively confront important caveats and unresolved questions with practical suggestions. It is a testament both to the authors and to the state of the field that the book provides such a robust picture of the origin of species.Well, this has to be good, then. The leading definition of species is the biological species concept (BSC), that distinguishes species by the ability to interbreed. This is not much help for systematists and paleontologists, the reviewers admit, but the book tackles what they view as the basic question of the species problem, which is, why do sexually reproducing organisms fall into discrete clusters? Here, the debate revolves around allopatric vs. sympatric speciation (see 01/15/2003 headline).
Coyne and Orr take the majority view that speciation is essentially synonymous with reproductive isolation: for example, two populations of squirrels might get isolated by a canyon between them, and evolve into species that can no longer interbreed. This is called allopatric speciation. It does not require a geographic barrier, necessarily, but differs sharply from the view of sympatric speciation, which proposes that species might diverge right within a single interbreeding population. The book gives ear to the sympatric concept but considers most cases to be allopatric.
So the question becomes, how do reproductive barriers arise? And how can biologists find evidence of positive selection for traits after isolation? This becomes the core of the book, according to the reviewers. Related issues involve teasing out the effects of natural and sexual selection:
Speciation convincingly presents evidence for several once-unpopular theories that have returned to dominate current thinking. Most important among these is the primacy of natural and sexual selection over drift in driving speciation. Signatures of positive selection on genes involved in postzygotic isolation and reproductive proteins as well as experimental evidence from both the lab and field connect adaptation and sexual selection to reproductive isolation. Another major finding is the congruence of the Dobzhansky-Muller model for the evolution of postzygotic isolation with the genetics of hybrid incompatibilities in many natural systems. In contrast, classical models of chromosomal speciation remain unpopular. Instead, chromosomal rearrangements are now cast as facilitators, rather than causal agents, of reproductive isolation because reduced recombination within these regions restricts gene flow, thereby enabling the accumulation of selected differences and hybrid incompatibilities.The book treats controversial questions reinforcement, sympatric speciation, and diploid hybrid (recombinational) speciation, although claiming evidence only occurs for the latter. It also treats polyploidy in plants as a mechanism for speciation. Treatments of other plant-related topics like mating system isolation or hybridization are insightful as well, but may raise eyebrows, but the book downplays other theories like cryptic introgression or hybrid speciation.
Overall, the reviewers give high marks to the authors; The book is a rich and thorough review, critique, and synthesis of recent literature that is sure to become a classic read for anyone interested in speciation.
1Benjamin K. Blackman and Loren H. Rieseberg, Evolution: How Species Arise, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5684, 612-613, 30 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101064].
So is this the book to supersede Charlies, and to answer the question of how bacteria turn into humans over time? Not likely. Every mechanism mentioned, controversial or not, appears aimed at explaining slight variations, sometimes misleadingly called microevolution. Horizontal variation is not controversial even among staunch creationists. If evolutionists expect people to believe we evolved from slime, they need to do better than extrapolate low-level trends, and they need to show that is indeed what happened by providing the intermediates and fossils. Talk about the origin of species if you please, but what about the origin of phyla? (See 07/28/2004 headline).Your Brain Learned Physics and Calculus Before You Did 07/29/2004
Tilt your head to the right while moving to the left. The neurons in your brain just solved Newtons equations of motion, and performed complex vector calculus equations almost instantaneously. Thats what four neurologists Washington University of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) essentially claimed in Nature July 29,1 describing how your brain interprets the information coming from multiple sensory inputs.
The title of their article says it: Neurons compute internal models of the physical laws of motion. The article is filled with equations that the neurons have to solve correctly to help you determine whether the motion you feel means you are moving left or right, tilting, or a combination of the two. The signals come from the otoliths in your inner ear (see 10/10/2003 headline) and from the fluid in the semicircular canals. What if these inputs give contradictory information? The net vectors of the inputs could cancel each other out, or sum up to give a wrong impression. The scientists mapped out the equations that would have to be solved to distinguish between the components of translational and gravitational motion, regardless of phase, and then experimented on monkeys while watching the activity of the brain. They found that the way neurons fire in response to the stimuli match predictions of how the information would have to be parsed to fit the terms of the equation. In conclusion, they state:
These results illustrate a direct correlation between cell firing rates and the equations of motion, as applied to movement in a gravitational environment and the physics of the external world. A neural basis for an internal model representation of the relationship between the physical environment and either the sensory detectors or the motor apparatus has only recently begun to be explored. Here we have shown evidence that, in support of theoretical predictions, subcortical neural populations might provide a distributed solution to the inertial motion detection problem.
1Angelaki, Shaikh, Green and Dickman, Neurons compute internal models of the physical laws of motion, Nature 430, 560 - 564 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02754.
As expected, this paper makes no attempt to explain how such a system could have evolved. The more detail provided in a research paper about the workings of a biological system, the less apt are the authors to attribute it to time and chance.Solar Systems Defy Theories 07/29/2004
Stuart Ross Taylor (Australian National University, Canberra) feels left behind. The astronomers have their nice, neat H-R diagrams to explain stars, but no such diagram exists for planetary scientists. Our hodgepodge collection of planets, moons and small bodies defies classification, to say nothing of the extrasolar planets that have been discovered so far, mostly in wild elliptical orbits or close-in to the parent stars. Writing in the July 29 issue of Nature,1 he compares stellar and planetary astronomy:
By contrast, planets are individuals that show few systematic relationships and have resisted attempts at classification or even definition, as witnessed in the furore over the status of Pluto, which is an eccentric dwarf when placed among the planets, but is better suited to be the king of the many icy bodies in the Kuiper belt. So far, there is no planetary equivalent of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Even if we arrive at a satisfactory explanation for the formation and evolution of our planetary system, there is no guarantee that this will apply elsewhere. Perhaps this is the reason, as Stephen Brush has commented, that the origin of the Solar System represents one of the oldest unsolved problems in science.Taylor says this in spite of mentioning in the first paragraph that Laplace in 1796 had explained the planets as condensing from a solar nebula. As an example of the difficulties in explaining the origin of planets, he points to the long history of trying to explain Earth, from Hutton (1788) to plate tectonics. But even todays theory of plate tectonics may be too specialized to apply anywhere else:
But this process is unique to the Earth among the planets of the Solar System and was only made possible by the late stochastic addition of a water content of a few hundred parts per million. Many of the difficulties in trying to understand the evolution of the Moon arose from the uncritical attempts to apply our hard-won experience with wetter terrestrial rocks to those from our bone-dry satellite.Another example of the difficulty is comparing Venus and Earth. They should be twins, but the Earth resembles Venus much as Dr Jekyll resembled Mr Hyde. What causes the difference between these twins? The short answer is water, he gives as if a rote answer out of the textbook, but As we search for terrestrial-like planets elsewhere, we need to find out the reasons for these differences and the conditions that allow these diverse bodies to form at all. That can only come from a new interdisciplinary approach, a distinct new mindset somewhere between the approaches of astronomers who want to treat planets mathematically like stars and geologists, who want to generalize from their detective-like experience with the Earth.
1Stuart Ross Taylor, Why cant planets be like stars? Nature 430, 509 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430509a.
The fact that Taylor raises these questions means that the typical rote answers given simplistically in textbooks are wrong. He sounds like astronomers are at square one explaining the planets, despite 208 years since Laplace famously remarked, when asked where God fit into his model, I have no need of that hypothesis. Well, put up or shut up. Were still waiting. We know a lot of things now that Laplace did not, and the trend of recent discoveries has been contrary to the expectations of nebular and planetesimal theorists, so much so that Hal Levison called his own theory a fairy tale, and others crazy (see 05/30/2002 headline). His subsequent suggestion was the only wise thing he said: We have to start thinking of alternatives. Probably theres a method for their formation that no one has even thought of yet. Well, some have, but their views are categorically disallowed by the reigning naturalistic paradigm.Cambrian Explosion Explained, or Explained Away? 07/29/2004
James Valentine, an authority on early fossils, has just published a new 600-page book on the Cambrian explosion with the Darwinesque title, On the Origin of Phyla (U. of Chicago Press, 2004). Stefan Bengtson (Swedish Museum of Natural History) reviewed it in the July 29 issue of Nature.1 He points out that Darwin wisely called his best-known work On The Origin of Species; the origin of phyla is an even stickier problem, and Valentine deserves credit for tackling it at such breadth.. He is not sure, however, that Valentine succeeded in explaining one of the most significant revolutions in the history of life, the Cambrian explosion.
One complaint is that in all those pages Valentine said little about the ecology or physical environment in which the explosion of body plans took place. Also, Bengtson is not convinced that the usual explanation is meaningful that a phylum is simply a clade (category) of all animals that diverged from a common ancestor when two body plans diverged in the remote past; This avoids the question of how body plans arise and whether there may be others not represented by living forms, he chides. Worse, Valentine fell into a logical trap, he feels:
Defining a body plan isnt easy, however. Valentines definition, for example, is dangerously circular: an assemblage of morphological features shared among members of a phylum-level group. What does that mean, except that when we define a phylum we also define its body plan, or vice versa? Valentine proposes to define the origin of a phylum by the acquisition of a key apomorphy a unique derived trait. This may be more subjective and less convenient than letting the total (stem and crown) group or the crown group define the phylum, but it gives due priority to biological significance over methodological convenience. After all, we want to know how different kinds of organism evolve by natural selection, and how they interact with each other and with the environment. They do that with their phenotypes, not their pedigrees.Bengtson also considers the suggestion that body plans represented more or less the total number of possible solutions to the problem of being an animal, or whether there were numerous other possibilities that came into being but became extinct because of bad luck or bad design. (The evidence shows a decrease in body plans after the explosion due to extinction, not a gradual rise in diversity.) But is this just explaining away the evidence?
The pattern of diminishing evolutionary novelty subsequent to this event, he says, may have been due less to developmental constraints than to a saturation effect (candidates for new adaptive radiations were already available among existing body plans). He also believes that the Cambrian explosion produced a lot more homoplasies (similar characters with independent origins) than most phylogenetic analyses suggest in my view an extremely important point that calls for much more careful character evaluation than is commonly done. He is clearly not impressed, then, by some recent attempts to use fossils to bridge gaps between phyla.If the reader is left wondering how the body plans arose in the first place, the final paragraph of this book review may not be all that satisfying. How could environmental changes generate the information necessary to produce fins, eyes, jointed limbs, propulsion mechanisms, and so much more that is evidenced in the Cambrian fossils?
Valentine seems most happy with intrinsic biological mechanisms for the rapid appearance of phyla. Large parts of the book deal with developmental prerequisites (such as cell-type numbers and gene regulation) for the event. Ecological interactions, such as predation, are given more cursory treatment. As for the physical environment, he merely concludes, somewhat apologetically, that although physical environmental factors were supremely important, he does not see any evidence that extraordinary environmental events were causally connected with the Cambrian explosion. Given that extraordinary environmental events did indeed occur shortly before the explosion, I would give the jury just a little more time to ponder the question. But first I would make sure they had read this magnificent book.So how did the body plans arise in a geological blink of an eye? This question was apparently not on the agenda.
Next day in Science,2 R. Andrew Cameron also reviewed Valentines book. This review praised and criticized different things. Cameron first dismisses the analogy explosion, primarily because he claims that molecular studies put the origin of the phyla farther back into the precambrian; consequently, he claims, it was neither an explosion nor did it happen in the Cambrian, although he does agree that the Chengjian fossils display representatives of almost all major groups of animals (see 07/20/2004 headline). He mentions the possibility that ancestors were soft-bodied and small, resulting in a poor fossil record; Perhaps the conditions of the Cambrian environment allowed the rapid appearance of hard skeletal parts, greatly favored fossilization, or both. But then he mentions the discovery of fossil pre-Cambrian embryos from the Doushantuo Formation of southwest China, estimated to be 40 to 55 million years older than the base of the Cambrian, so being soft and small did not hinder these specimens from becoming fossilized.
Cameron understands the problem of the Cambrian explosion, and claims it is more of a problem now than in Darwins day:
The question of when and how higher taxonomic groups like phyla evolved differs markedly from the one Darwin addressed 145 years ago in The Origin of Species. It is not simply different in scale but also in quality. Although it is somewhat easier to see how changes in single genes can lead to differences among species that render some more capable of surviving in particular environments, it is more difficult to account for the many changes that lead to entirely different bodyplans as a simple accumulation of single-gene effects. For example, marine stickleback fishes possess bony plates and spines that presumably prevent predation, while their freshwater relatives show a loss of this armor through changes that can be attributed to a single gene [see 06/18/2004 headline]. However, entire organ systems or embryonic germ layers, features that distinguish higher taxa, can be explained in terms of the gene regulatory networks whose architecture is hardwired into the genome.So the question for the origin of phyla is how did these hardwired gene regulatory networks arise? Cameron claims that Valentine does not incorporate a molecular model in his final synthesis, so he offers one himself: major changes might arise through changes in regulatory genes like transcription factors. Can he give us an example? For instance, a morphogenetic program may evolve with relatively minimal changes to establish a new spatial domain of expression for a cell-differentiation program, and the resultant animal has a new body part. He does not elaborate.
Cameron praises the first two sections of the book that discuss the origins of the phyla, descriptions of the phyla, and the fossil record. The third section grapples with the evolution of the phyla. This section is lacking, the reviewer thinks: The pictures he delineates here reveal correlations uniting different levels of biological organization, but absent are firm statements about causal mechanisms from which predictions could be made.
Cameron leaves us with one more concern. In view of the volatility of the ideas and the controversy that still exist in this particular area of evolutionary biology, one might argue that it is too early to explain the causes of the origin of phyla. But as Valentine aptly points out, the time will never be exactly right: there are always more information to incorporate and more ideas to organize.
Incidentally, Nature also reported discovery of an arthropod fossil that pushes its group, the Euthycarcinoids, back 50 million years into the Cambrian. Despite its antiquity and marine occurrence, they admit with surprise, the Cambrian species demonstrates that morphological details were conserved in the transition to fresh water.
1Stefan Bengtson, The body-plan explosion, Nature 430, 506 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430506a.
2R. Andrew Cameron, Evolution: Hunting for Origins, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5684, 613-614, 30 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1100684].
3Vaccari et al., Cambrian origins and affinities of an enigmatic fossil group of arthropods, Nature 430, 554 - 557 (29 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02705.
Satisfied? Apparently in 600 pages, Valentine did not answer the most basic and fundamental question, how did all this biological complexity emerge in a short time? Pounding the earth with meteors and tidal waves and volcanoes wont do it. Invoking a new predator wont create an elaborate escape mechanism in the prey; it might just mean the predator will eat everything and then starve. Camerons folklore is simplistic: a regulatory gene mutates and presto! A new body part! Can duplicating some protuberance generate an eye? Come on.Spaghetti in a Basketball: How the Cell Packs DNA for Controlled Access 07/28/2004
The beginning sentence of an article in Current Biology1 cant help but grab your attention:
Imagine trying to stuff about 10,000 miles of spaghetti inside a basketball. Then, if that was not difficult enough, attempt to find a unique one inch segment of pasta from the middle of this mess, or try to duplicate, untangle and separate individual strings to opposite ends. This simple analogy illustrates some of the daunting tasks associated with the transcription, repair and replication of the nearly 2 meters of DNA that is packaged into the confines of a tiny eukaryotic nucleus. The solution to each of these problems lies in the assembly of the eukaryotic genome into chromatin, a structural polymer that not only solves the basic packaging problem, but also provides a dynamic platform that controls all DNA-mediated processes within the nucleus.The article by Craig L. Peterson and Marc-André Laniel is otherwise boringly titled Histones and histone modifications, but after this appetizing start, goes into detail about how the tangled mess of alphabetized pasta is exquisitely controlled, folded, unfolded and copied continuously inside the cell, with the help of numerous protein and RNA parts.
Of special importance are the histone proteins that comprise chromatin. Scientists have been discovering for several years now that these histones have tails of amino acids that can be altered through numerous ways. These alterations, called post-translational modifications, seem to influence the DNA wrapped around them in many important ways. They signal genes to activate for transcription, places needing DNA repair, places to start or repress DNA elongation or replication, where to silence telomeres, places to deposit more chromatin, and more. A table in the article lists 95 histone modifications and their functions that are known so far. Some are involved in mitosis (cell division), spermatogenesis, X-chromosome inactivation (silencing one of the two X-chromosomes in the female), apoptosis (programmed cell death), DNA memory and other important cell processes. Some have said these modifications constitute a histone code (see Cell memory borders on the miraculous, 11/04/2002 headline). These authors term it differently, but no less amazing: rather than a histone code there are instead clear patterns of histone marks that can be differentially interpreted by cellular factors, depending on the gene being studied and the cellular context. Activities like DNA repair or replication are often accompanied by histone modifications, for instance, as if one enzyme leaves its mark on a histone to signal a follow-up function. Complexes of small RNAs and enzymes depend on these markers to know where to go and what to do; the histone tails serve as attachment points for specific enzymes. And if that is were not amazing enough, the interplay of neighboring histone markers, or cross-talk, can have a profound effect on enzyme activity. The authors explain, Thus, in many ways histone tails can be viewed as complex protein-protein interaction surfaces that are regulated by numerous post-translational modifications. Furthermore, it is clear that the overall constellation of proteins bound to each tail plays a primary role in dictating the biological functions of that chromatin domain. Finally, since some of these histone states can survive cell division, they augment whats inherited beyond DNA alone. The authors provide no suggestions on how this system might have evolved.
On a related subject, three geneticists from Scotland describe, in the same issue of Current Biology,2 how DNA packs itself so tightly and efficiently. There are specialized proteins called condensins that perform this job. They are members of a set of hairpin-shaped enzymes called structural maintenance of chromosomes enzymes (SMCs, see 08/07/2002 headline). The authors remind us that These extraordinary molecules are conserved [i.e., unevolved] from bacteria to humans. Scientists are beginning to be able to watch condensin do its amazing work in real time (see DNA folds with molecular velcro, 06/07/2004 headline). Condensin produces supercoils of DNA, one of many steps in packing the delicate DNA strands into a hierarchy of coils that results in a densely-packed chromosome. It is not entirely clear how the DNA is held in this supercoiled state, they say, but several studies suggest that the V-shaped arms of the condensin complex may loop and clamp the DNA in place. This clamping is rapid and reversible. Scientists watching the process in both bacteria and humans are showing that both vertebrate and bacterial condensins drive DNA compaction in an ATP-dependent fashion with a surprising level of co-operativity that was not fully appreciated. The condensin molecules work as a team; if not enough condensin is around, nothing happens.
These authors point out also that condensin is just one of many enzymes involved in chromosome formation. Think about how remarkable it is that during each cell division, the chromosomes are structured so reliably that they can be labeled and numbered under the microscope. Our own proteomic analysis, they claim, has identified over 350 chromosome-associated proteins, so there is clearly more work to be done. There is no mention of evolution in this article, either.
1Peterson and Laniel, Histones and Histone Modifications, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Pages R546-R551, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.007.
2Porter, Khoudoli and Swedlow, Chromosome Condensation: DNA Compaction in Real Time, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Pages R554-R556, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.009.
The views we are getting of a cell since the invention of the microscope can be likened to those from a UFO descending from earth orbit to ground level. From orbit, a city like Boston seems to have a lot of structure and organization. As we descend into this alien world, more and more organization becomes apparent, till from airline height, we see complex transportation arteries and machinery apparently all coordinated and purposeful. From helicopter height, individual workers begin to come into focus. We are now approaching ground level, and able to watch factory workers and figure out what it is they are doing. Just imagine what Leeuwenhoek would think, considering he only got the orbital view.In the Last Days There Shall Be Scoffers 07/28/2004
Current Biology this week contains two entries either attacking creationism or exalting Charles Darwin.1,2 Nigel Williams reports on the 100th birthday of Ernst Mayr (see 07/02/2004 headline), and his tireless campaign against creationism:
Ernst Mayr, the renowned evolutionary biologist and champion of Darwin, celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this month by leading a scathing attack on creationism. The evolutionary biologist, acclaimed as one of the most prolific researchers, has no intention of retiring and is shortly to publish new research that dismantles the fashionable creationist doctrine of intelligent design.Apparently Mayrs approach is nothing new to anyone in the I.D. community who has read On the Origin of Species; Williams says that intelligent design the latest way in which creationists have sought to present a divine origin of the world was thoroughly rebutted by Charles Darwin a century and a half ago. Whats motivating Mayrs campaign? a sense of exasperation at the re-emergence of creationism in the US, Williams says. Evolution was no problem in Mayrs childhood schools in Germany, so why are so many school boards trying to water it down or omit it in America? Williams recounts the case in Georgia when the superintendent of schools tried to have the controversial buzzword evolution banned from the curriculum. Fierce protest, including criticism from Jimmy Carter, the former president, reversed this, Williams states with apparent satisfaction.
In its ongoing series of interviews with practicing scientists, Current Biology interviewed mathematics professor (U. of Vienna) Karl Sigmund (also a popularizer of evolutionary game theory: see 02/10/2004 headline). Here is his answer to the question, What turned you on to biology in the first place?
I hit upon a German version of Darwins Descent of Man at the tender age of twelve. I cannot possibly have understood much of it, but was immediately fascinated, first by a photo of old Darwin, whose piercing eyes haunted me, and then by the idea of having apes among my forebears: it explained why I felt so happy in the tree-tops. Besides, I liked the fact that not a few of my elder family members catholics all were distressed to see the book in my hands. Much later, I noticed that a thoughtful editor had removed the parts on sexual selection. What would my relatives have said to that!After Sigmund was turned off by biology in school and became fascinated with mathematics, there was another turning point:
I forgot all about biology and became a professor of mathematics before I came across The Selfish Gene. That was a turning point for me. [Richard] Dawkins very first sentence thrilled me: This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction. There were not just facts in biology; there was a place for the what if a basic question for any mathematician.Sigmund is asked about remaining challenges to evolutionary game theory, and admits it needs to be tied in with the biology and neurology of the brain, how modules in the brain interact, and cooperate, in guiding an individuals feelings and wishes. He points to tentative experiments that look for relationships between brain imaging and human reactions to perceived fair and unfair situations. Such a form of neuro-economics or, better, physio-economics, because hormone levels play a great role too may eventually tell us more about human nature than anything since Darwin studied expressions of emotions in man and animals. And if I feel foolish when I re-read this sentence ten years from now, I will tell myself that it was pretty good science fiction.
1Nigel Williams, One long argument, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Page R540, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.002.
2Q&A: Karl Sigmund, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Page R541, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.003.
One way for Karl Sigmund to feel foolish real fast is to read Creation-Evolution Headlines regularly and other publications outside the Darwin Party propaganda machine (heres a list for starters). An easier way is to flip a few pages in the same issue of Current Biology to the articles on histones and condensins (see headline above). Thats if Sigmund is even interested in truth over science fiction. He said it himself: he was drawn to evolution not by a studied analysis of the facts, but by (1) the haunting eyes of Charlie, the materialists buddha, (2) a fallacious, childish non-sequitur that apes in the family tree made him feel at home climbing trees, and (3) childish rebellion. Parents, beware. If your kid cant think straight or exercise self-control by the age of 12, it may be too late. The kid will be a sucker for the Darwin Party storytelling circus.Solar System Update 07/27/2004
Whats happening at Mars and Saturn? In this golden age of planetary science, the extraordinary has become commonplace. Lets check in and see what the spacecraft have found lately.
Mars. The Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity are still going strong, well past their nominal mission. Despite a few minor problems (and decreasing sunlight as winter sets in), they both are in exciting locations that are giving the scientists new thrills. The latest major announcement (see New Scientist) is that water not only appears to have existed in the past, but persisted for some time. Spirit is now climbing the Columbia Hills in Gusev Crater, while Opportunity a hemisphere away is tantalizing scientists with geological layers in the crater named Endurance. The MER website now posts interesting slide shows of each weeks activities so that earthlings can follow the adventures.
Fascination with rovers should not make us forget the three Mars orbiters that continue to send back more fascinating imagery than a human mind can process. The venerable Mars Global Surveyor posts its latest images here, and the stalwart 2001 Mars Odyssey, well past its 10,000th orbit, posts its latest infrared images here. Not to be outdone, the European Mars Express continues to churn out high-resolution, color stereo images from orbit, including this latest shot of a fractured crater near Vallis Marineris.
Saturn. Since its arrival at Saturn July 1, Cassini is healthy on its first long, elliptical orbit. Though the next close encounter isnt till October 26, when it flies past Titan at only 750 miles, the spacecraft is not idle. New images of the moons Mimas, Enceladus, Iapetus, Tethys, Dione and Rhea have trickled in, though not as yet better than Voyagers 1981 images because of the distance. Much, much better ones are in the mission plan. The nicest color image recently was this color composite of the rings. At full resolution it would make nice wallpaper. The Huygens Probe operations team had a successful risk review and probe checkout in preparation for their nail-biting January 14 parachuted descent to the surface of Titan. Meanwhile, the instrument teams (magnetometer, plasma wave, cosmic dust, ultraviolet and infrared, radio science and, of course, visible light imaging) are all busily taking data about Saturns winds and magnetic field, rings, moons and space environment. Some of it is surprising and should be announced soon. Note: NASA headquarters maintains its own Cassini website.
Mercury. A new mission to Mercury named MESSENGER the first since Mariner 10 in 1975 is due to launch next month, August 2. The mission designed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory will take a long time to get results, though; the complex gravity-assist trajectory requires seven years before orbit insertion in 2011. Only about half of the planet was seen by Mariner 10 so there is a great deal more to learn about the innermost planet.
Earth. Other planets are interesting, but we have to (better, get to) live on this one. The AURA mission just launched successfully on July 15 to study the upper atmosphere, especially the dynamics of the ozone layer that protects us from dangerous ultraviolet radiation.
Interpreting this wealth of data from these exotic places will take years, but the new observations are certain to help answer old questions while stimulating new ones. Meanwhile, we need to keep the Darwin Party in line. Help your local Darwinist break his or her bad habit of equating water with life, a non-sequitur if there ever was one (e.g., from New Scientist, The actual time span has not been estimated, but it reveals enough time to strengthen the possibilities that life could have evolved on Mars.) A worse habit is thinking the discovery of life in space means the death of God. Apparently, they do not understand just how big God is; some creationists think life might be found on Mars or beyond. And who knows? Maybe the first incoming SETI message will be John 3:16 in Vulcan. For now, dont let the Darwinese hype bother you. Raw data belongs to everyone. Just because a fat spectator is belching hot air and making himself a nuisance doesnt mean you cant enjoy the game.Modern Cosmology Goes Schizophrenic 07/27/2004
According to Charles Seife writing in Science,1 more cosmologists are taking parallel universes seriously. This is a consequence of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, one possible mathematical solution to the effects of quantum weirdness. If you think our headline is too harsh, read Seifes opening in a Rod Serling voice while playing the Twilight Zone theme in the background:
As is your habit, you are reading Science at breakfast (todays treat: an omelet made with dodo eggs). But as soon as you finish this paragraph, a carnivorous wombat crashes through the door into your apartment and chomps angrily on your prehensile tail. Right ... now.No further questions, your honor.
1Charles Seife, Physics Enters the Twilight Zone, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5683, 464-466, 23 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5683.464].
Seifes paragraph subtitles are twists on explicit religious phrases: Reasons to believe, Youll never walk alone, Worlds without end. (Question: why do you think he used the name of Hugh Rosss organization here?) Seife gives air to critics of the Many Worlds hypothesis, but he does not attack the idea as stupid. Instead, he gives pretty good press to its advocates. Undoubtedly if Richard Dawkins were reading this issue sitting on his prehensile tail, he would nod approvingly, while calling creationism ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked.How Cells Build Hard Parts 07/26/2004
You have rocks in your head, and its a good thing, or you would die of starvation and imbalance. Living things have need of inorganic structures for various functions. Can you name the mineral structures in your body? The answer is: bone, dentin, enamel and otoliths. The last three are specific to your head. Dentin and enamel help us chew our food, and otoliths help us know which way is up (see 10/10/2003 headline). Vertebrates have bones and teeth, birds lay eggshells of calcium carbonate, and many marine and terrestrial animals build mineral shells. Scientists and engineers are drawn to the skill organisms exhibit in the construction of hard parts (called biomineralization), and they want to imitate it. Weve drawn attention to the amazing capabilities of the conch shell (see 06/26/2003 headline) and diatoms (see 07/21/2004 headline). Two recent articles in science journals discuss the human fascination with biomineralization.
A book review in Science last week1 opens with praise for the lowly diatom:
The abilities to design and construct inorganic materials with specified atomic structure, size, shape, orientation, and number of defects and to integrate these architectures into functioning devices form the foundation for advances in technologies that rely on the devices electrical, optical, magnetic, and chemical outputs. However, assembly methods that allow simultaneous control of these features at lengths from the nanometer scale to the macroscale continue to elude scientists and engineers....The book Mark E. Davis is reviewing is Biomineralization by the Mineralogical Society of America and Geochemical Society, 2003. He was especially impressed by the complexity of the molecular mechanisms organisms use to build their hard parts, mechanisms that show mastery of molecular biology, protein chemistry, nucleation thermodynamics, and crystal growth. Some organisms build minerals inside cells, outside cells, or between cells. Davis found one example particularly attractive to the materials scientist:
Nacre, the mother-of-pearl layer found on the inner surface of shells, has a fracture toughness approximately 3000 times that of the synthetic analogue aragonite (calcium carbonate). Nacre is composed of thin (circa 30 nm) layers of a protein-polysaccharide intercalated between 0.5 micrometer-thick layers of aragonite tablets. The weak interface between the organic and inorganic layers is thought to dissipate the energy of crack propagation and thus strengthen the composite structure. This sophisticated architecture provides clues as to how man-made structures could be improved.How could such capabilities evolve? The evolution of mineralized tissues has been enigmatic for more than a century, says a team of three Penn State scientists writing in PNAS2 on the subject. Feeling that comparative genetics could help solve the enigma, they undertook a search for homologous genes and proteins between disparate groups. Mineralized tissue is a critical innovation in vertebrate evolution, they begin, offering the basis for various adaptive phenotypes: body armor for protection, teeth for predation, and endoskeleton for locomotion. Certain primitive fish have dentin-like body armor covered with an enameloid substance that the team believes evolved into fish scales. Their previous work suggested that mammalian teeth and agnathan body armor are homologous. This time, they examined the genome of a teleost fish and failed to find any homologous proteins for mammalian tooth enamel. Though dentin in teeth seems homologous with body armor that formed on skin collagen of fish, their analyses suggest that mammalian enamel is distinct from fish enameloid. Instead, they believe Their similar nature as a hard structural overlay on exoskeleton and teeth is because of convergent evolution.
1Mark E. Davis, How Life Makes Hard Stuff, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5683, 480, 23 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099773].
2Kawasaki, Suzuki and Weiss, Genetic basis for the evolution of vertebrate mineralized tissue, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0404279101, published online July 22, 2004.
These two articles illustrate the disparity between hard science and soft, mushy, slippery Darwinian scientism. It goes like this: (1) The organism excels at an engineering feat. (2) It must have evolved, but we dont know how. To the extent the organism elicits admiration, the Darwinian explanation elicits disgust.Evolutionists Consider Non-Darwinian Mechanisms 07/23/2004
According to classical Darwinian evolutionary theory, variations in the germ lines produce phenotypic changes that, on rare occasions, prove beneficial to an individual, and cause an organism to outcompete its peers in the struggle for existence. The hypothesis of Natural selection claims that the individual with a slightly beneficial variation, being more fit, leaves more offspring. Darwinian changes are gradual, random and independent. No sudden leaps (saltations) are allowed, and changes do not conspire toward a goal (i.e., no orthogenesis or straight-line evolution). Natural selection acts on genes in the individual (individual selection). Speciation occurs when a population becomes geographically isolated from another population (allopatric speciation) and the accumulated changes no longer permit interbreeding. Darwinians believe this gradualistic process is sufficient to account for all the innovations in all living things since the first cell emerged on Earth: all the organs, functions and behaviors of birds, insects, fish, plants and man. Darwin did propose an additional mechanism, sexual selection, in The Descent of Man. Ever since On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection was printed, however, competitors have proposed other mechanisms for evolution: group selection, kin selection, sympatric speciation, various Lamarckian mechanisms (inheritance of acquired characteristics), niche construction, Gaia, and more. The debates still go on today. Two recent papers offer new non-Darwinian mechanisms that might supplement the process of natural selection.
According to EurekAlert, scientists at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona have discovered a New genetic mechanism for evolution. In their view, transposable elements (transposons) in the genes can generate antisense messenger RNA (mRNA) in neighboring genes that can silence or otherwise alter the expression of the genes. For a long time they [i.e., transposons] have been considered as a useless part of genetic material, DNA left overs, the press release states. However, it is more and more clear that transposons can cause favourable changes for the adaptation and survival of the organism. The press release does not provide any evidence of an innovative change due to this mechanism, but they point to an observation in fruit flies that some with an antisense mRNA caused by a transposon grew larger and lived longer, presumably due to the switching off of a gene.
The way its taught in school, Darwin rendered Lamarckism obsolete (even though Darwin himself shifted toward a more Lamarckian view later in life.) But surprisingly, in Science this week,1 four biologists make the case for a Lamarckian mechanism of evolution. Although physically acquired characteristics may not be heritable, culturally acquired characteristics can be. You may not inherit your grandfathers wooden leg, for instance, but you might pass on his stories to your children. The authors claim that many animals can learn by watching, and pass on what they learn: a bird might learn a new mate attraction technique by watching another bird, or a mouse might learn that crossing the road is dangerous by watching a friend get run over. Such cultural lessons are public information (PI) that is heritable, they claim, and so cultural evolution (that acts on memes; i.e., ideas, behaviors or styles that spread socially) might influence biological evolution (that acts on genes). At least, they think, the suggestion deserves more thought:
PI is a widespread phenomenon that is emerging as a potential unifying concept in fields that involve decision-making processes in which individuals can extract information from others to assess resource quality. The use of PI can enrich evolutionary models and can have marked effects on evolutionary predictions. Future research should explore the extent to which evolutionary scenarios are affected by the use of PI.They continue, the ability of individuals to use PI unites a range of topics as diverse as foraging, predation, mate choice, habitat selection, and colony formation. PI may be, in fact, the major driving force in social evolution, and may imply that cultural evolution is more widespread than previously thought. Moreover, they propose in conclusion, although much work has been devoted to exploring how biological evolution affects culture, we suggest that evolutionary biologists should also consider how cultural evolution influences biological evolution.
1Étienne Danchin, Luc-Alain Giraldeau, Thomas J. Valone, and Richard H. Wagner, Public Information: From Nosy Neighbors to Cultural Evolution, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5683, 487-491, 23 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098254].
Even though it is amusing to watch the Darwin Party argue over which mechanism they like best, it is all beside the point. As Phillip Johnson pointed out over a decade ago in Darwin on Trial, none of these mechanisms establish the very thing that Darwin set out to explain in the first place: that unguided natural processes unaided by any intelligent design had creative power to generate eyes, ears, wings, intelligence or any other complex feature; nor did Darwin or his followers find any historical evidence that a long chain of intermediates actually ever existed.Zoo Monkey Walks Upright 07/22/2004
For what its worth, theres a story going around about a macaque in an Israeli zoo started walking on its hind legs after a near-death experience (see MSNBC News and picture). One news source is calling it a missing link, another claiming the strange behavior is due to brain damage.
This calls for a monkey riddle.Think Before You Speak 07/25/2004
Children are capable of thoughts before they have the words to vocalize them, according to a study published in Nature July 221 (see also summary by Paul Bloom in the same issue2 and report on Science Now). This contradicts the postmodernist view that thought is conditioned by language, and instead suggests that humans are innately capable of conceptualizing things, and that words are merely the tools for expressing thought. Psychologists experimented with 5-month old infants and concluded that Language learning therefore seems to develop by linking linguistic forms to universal, pre-existing representations of sound and meaning. Babies have a plasticity to concepts regardless of language, but as they grow up, children place less importance on concepts that arent emphasized in their language. Bloom thinks this reinforces the old view of St. Augustine on learning to speak: By constantly hearing words, as they occurred in various sentences, I collected gradually for what they stood, and having broken in my mouth to these signs, I thereby gave utterance to my will.
1Hespos and Spelke, Conceptual precursors to language, Nature 430, 453 - 456 (22 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02634.
Ever have a thought in your mind but couldnt express it in words? Maybe thats the frustration a baby feels. She is thinking, Action-oriented orchestration of innovative inputs generated by the escalation of meaningful indigenous decision-making dialogue can maximize the vital thrust toward a non-alienated viable urban infrastructure contingent upon third-generation time-phase conceptualization, but all that comes out is goo goo gah. Mothers seem to understand all this on their internal Babynet wavelength, but dads should learn to pay better attention.Old Rivers Cut Fast, Fast, Fast Through Solid Rock 07/22/2004
A press release from University of Vermont says, Geologists Discover Water Cuts Through Rock at Surprising Speed. A five-year study concluded that the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers cut through 10 to 20 meters of solid rock in 35,000 years, a rate far more rapid than previously thought, especially since most of the cutting occurred during a short-lived pulse of unusually rapid down-cutting in their estimation. They claim that regional climate change was a bigger factor than glacial meltwater. Their work is published in the July 23 issue of Science.1 The synopsis says, One of the most basic geological process is the incision of bedrock by rivers, yet little is known about the rates or timing of this process along passive continental margins like the eastern seaboard of the United States.
1Reusser et al., Rapid Late Pleistocene Incision of Atlantic Passive-Margin River Gorges, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5683, 499-502, 23 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1097780].
The authors dont mention previous estimates for the age of these gorges. MSNBC News claims it is twice the previous estimate, but with more water the erosion could have been even more rapid. Science News, on the other hand, says These erosion rates are tens to hundreds of times faster than scientists had suspected.Plant Evolutionary Leftover Now Deemed Vital 07/22/2004
Photorespiration, a biological process in plants, thought to be useless and even wasteful and just an evolutionary leftover from an age when carbon dioxide was more prevalent, has been found to be necessary for healthy plant growth and if impaired could inhibit plant growth, according to a UC Davis study published in PNAS.1 (see also summary on EurekAlert). It functions as a way to inhibit nitrate assimilation. Some agricultural scientists assumed it was an unnecessary process to be genetically engineered out of plants because it was wasteful, But the new UC Davis study suggests that there is more to photorespiration than meets the eye and any attempts to minimize its activity in crop plants would be ill advised.
Evolutionary presuppositions have once again stood in the way of scientific progress. A design model would have looked at the phenomenon as there for a reason, and sought to determine what it was. These scientists had to ignore Darwinism to get at the truth. And were supposed to believe that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution? The new version should be, nothing in Darwinism makes sense in the light of biology.New Book Reveals Chinas Cambrian Explosion 07/22/2004
Nature July 221 has a book review about the first volume in English of the Chengjiang biota of China, where tens of thousands of soft-bodied organisms are preserved in early Cambrian strata. The book, The Cambrian Fossils of Chengjiang, China: The Flowering of Early Animal Life by Xian-Guang Hou et al., is praised by reviewer Zhe-Xi Luo, who puts a positive spin on the problem of the Cambrian explosion:
These beautiful and unique fossils have inspired new scientific insights and led to the clashing of ideas. There is a great debate on the likely positions of Chengjiang animals such as the yunnanozoans in the deuterostome family tree. Such debates will surely redefine the phylogenetic framework for establishing the earliest evolution of key features of chordates....In the film Icons of Evolution, paleontologists onsite at the Chengjiang beds demonstrate that while soft-bodied fossils appear in the early Cambrian beds, including items as delicate as sponge embryos, no fossils appear in the preCambrian beds just below them, even though conditions were suitable for preservation. The paleontologists also explain that all the phyla appear abruptly in the Cambrian beds. Biodiversity actually decreases in the higher layers, contrary to the predictions of Darwins tree of life diagram.
In the same issue, Andrew B. Smith2 comments on a fossil found in the same Chengjiang beds by D. -G. Shu and Simon Conway Morris et al.3 that they claim is a primitive echinoderm. The phylogeny of echinoderms, which includes starfish and sea urchins, has long been a puzzle. If correct about this fossil claimed to be 520 million years old, he asserts, this links the echinoderms to an enigmatic group, the vetulicolians, remains of which are found in the same deposits of early Cambrian age. Making the connection with this enigmatic group poses a major difficulty, he says, because of the difficulty of interpreting even their basic anatomical organization. Although echinoderms are placed within the deuterostomes (a very diverse group of animals with a mouth and anus which includes all the vertebrates), in terms of morphology echinoderms have always stood apart because of their aberrant symmetry and lack of structures known as gill slits unique to deuterostomes. Starfish, with their five-fold symmetry radiating from a center, dont fit the pattern of other deuterostomes. Smith seems to remain unconvinced of the connection at this point:
There is now direct fossil evidence that all of the major deuterostome groups were established by about 520 million years ago. Fossil vertebrates (yunnanozoans), tunicates (Shankouclava) and both asymmetric and radiate echinoderms (homalozoans, helicoplacoids) have all now been discovered in early Cambrian deposits. Phlogites, a tentacle-bearing early Cambrian fossil of uncertain affinity, might even be a hemichordate or part of the common ancestral lineage of echinoderms and hemichordates. So, if deuterostome divergence occurred around 575 million years ago, as recent molecular-clock studies suggest, there is a 50-million-year gap in the fossil record between the origin of deuterostomes and their appearance in the fossil record. In the jigsaw of deuterostome evolution, vetulocystids represent another piece to be fitted into a puzzle where many of the pieces are still missing.
1Zhe-Xi Luo, A window on early animal evolution, Nature 430, 405 (22 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430405a.
2Andrew B. Smith, Paleontology: Echinoderm roots, Nature 430, 411 - 412 (22 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430411a.
3Shu, D. -G., Conway Morris, S., Han, J., Zhang, Z. -F. & Liu, J. -N. Nature 430, 422–428 (2004).
The spinmeisters of the Darwin Party, like this book reviewer, sound for all the world like a Stalinist explaining the benefits of the new Five-Year Plan. Smith seems to be saying not so fast as he owns up to the mystery of the Cambrian explosion: all the major groups of animals, including vertebrates, appear suddenly in the early Cambrian without ancestors. Think of all the changes that must take place to turn an organism with bilateral symmetry into one with pentaradiate symmetry like a starfish. The first uncontested fossil echinoderm is already a full-fledged echinoderm. Why is this so puzzling? Its only a puzzle if youre trying to draw a mythical tree between the dots that is only a figment of philosophical imagination.SETI Researcher Predicts Success Within 20 Years 07/21/2004
According to New Scientist story reported on EurekAlert, Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute predicts we will know within 20 years if there is intelligent life out there in the Milky Way. He plugged his numbers into the Drake Equation and estimated between 10,000 and a million radio transmitters spreading messages across the galaxy. He bases his two-decade prediction on that number and the rapid improvement of computer search technology. A member of the SETI League criticizes the estimate because the other end of the communications link is completely out of our hands. It would be nice to think we know something about the existence, distribution, technology and motivation of our potential communications partners in space, but in fact, we dont. Shostak defended his prediction in spite of the myriad uncertainties surrounding it, because I have made this prediction using the assumptions adopted by the SETI research community itself.
No inbreeding of thought there, huh? How about using the assumptions of the ID community? Speculation is fun but impractical. He knows few will check back in 2024 to see if he was right, so it serves to get notoriety in the news and maybe additional public support (or funding).Engineers Envy Diatoms Glass-Sculpturing Prowess 07/21/2004
What is it? An ornate crown? A crystal serving dish cover? A work of art? The photo on the cover of the July 17 Science News, labeled silicon jewels, is a microphotograph of a diatom, a one-celled organism that lives in the sea and builds itself a glass house too small to see with the naked eye. There are thousands of species of diatoms, each with a unique shell design. The article has more diatom photos: one that looks something like a bent sombrero made out of a collander with two goblets sticking out, another that looks for all the world like an Indian tom-tom, complete with stitching, and another that looks like a sunflower head complete with Fibonacci spirals (see 11/20/2003 headline). Others look like sieves, gears, triangles, stars, and many other shapes both common and extraordinary.
Scientists dreaming of nanotechnology cant get over the skill of diatoms in glass manufacturing (see 03/19/2002 headline). Diatoms are inspiring world-wide efforts to probe their secrets, so that engineers can mass-produce useful molecular devices like photonic crystals and lenses (see 01/29/2003 headline), gas sensors, miniature reaction tubes and other microscopic structures of high tensile strength (see 02/19/2003 headline). Though focused on scientists imitating nature, author Alexandra Goho shares some amazing facts in passing about diatoms:
It will be impossible to reproduce this process in a test tube because its such a complicated cellular process, says [Mark] Hildebrand [of Scripps Institute].So how did these tiny one-celled organisms achieve manufacturing prowess that makes our best engineers stand in awe? Nature has been building things on the nanoscale for a long time, says materials scientist Ken Sandhage of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Alexandra Goho ends, Materials scientists are only beginning to uncover the secrets of this aquatic community of glass-sculpture artists produced over millions of years of evolution.
1Alexandra Goho, Diatom Menagerie, Science News, Week of July 17, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 3 , p. 42
Gag! Choke! This is like watching a spectacular stage show then being expected to bow to a fat Charlie image at the end. We were all set to applaud and praise this well-written glimpse into another wonder of nature, a wonder that shouts intelligent design, and then Goho has the gall to say evolution over millions of years produced glass-sculpture artists with 11,000 genes, hundreds of which work together in coordinated fashion to build unique, exquisite, precision structures out of glass without pollution or waste of energy. Unbelievable. Did any of the scientists present any evidence that evolution could do such a thing?* No; in line with the stinking habit of the Darwin Party, they merely assumed evolution did it, because they have committed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacrilegious honor to the philosophical belief that there is no God, no Creator, no intelligent Designer. Their faith forces them to believe the absurd, in spite of the evidence. This one example should be enough to make any clear-thinking scientist toss Charlies figurehead overboard, but thumb through a few more Amazing Chain Links below and ask yourself how many other wonders of nature we are asked to believe happened by mindless, chance processes. Phooey; a wonderful science story was ruined by the last sentence. So instead of praising this article unequivocally to the tune of This Is My Fathers World, it saddens us to have to sound the Bronx cheer as we hand out another Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week award.Plants Are World Travelers 07/20/2004
We think of plants as stationary life forms anchored to the soil, but National Geographic News reminds us that they have remarkable ways of getting around via seed dispersal mechanisms. Some fly through the air with parachutes or helicopters, some float in the water, and some rely on animals. It appears that some exotic species may be vanishing because animals they relied on for dispersal have gone extinct.
A wonderful film that reveals the hidden world of seed dispersal is the award-winning Moody science classic Journey of Life. This is a must-see nature film. Follow delicate packages of life as they travel through the air, across oceans and continents, down rivers, through fires, ride on birds and monkeys and cows, roll through the West, explode across the field and even crawl across the soil and drill themselves in the ground. The time-lapse and slow-motion photography is stunning. This sermons from science film ends with an analogy to another seed spoken of by the Lord Jesus in one of his parables: the word of God. The film would make a great introduction or conclusion to a local nature hike.Dark Energy Is Embarrassing 07/20/2004
Robert Scherrer is trying to come up with a theory that combines dark matter and dark energy, reports Space.Com. It is somewhat embarrassing to have two different unknown sources for the dominant forms of matter and energy in the universe. On the other hand, that may just be the way things are. We dont get to pick the universe we live in.
Yet if he is right, it makes other cosmologists uneasy. Writer Robert Roy Britt explains, There is one glaring problem with the idea, which Scherrer admits to. It implies that we live at a very special moment in time when the energy densities of dark matter and dark energy are roughly equal. Scientists hate coincidences.
Cosmologists have been chewing on their two fudge factors, dark matter and dark energy, for years now. Too much fudge causes truth decay. The only wise crack in this article is that we dont get to pick the universe we live in. If it appears coincidental that our universe is special, deal with it.Dinos Found in Spain, Croatia 07/20/2004
Dinosaur fossils continue to be discovered around the world. The BBC news hints that surprises may be forthcoming from a new cache in Spain that has yielded stegosaurs, crocodilians and carnivorous dinosaurs, and a pelvic bone possibly from Diplodocus. On a resort island of Croatia, trackways of titanosaurs have been discovered, reports EurekAlert. The BBC is celebrating the bicentenary of the British scientist who gave us the word dinosaur, Sir Richard Owen; see Taipei Times story.
Richard Owen was a strident opponent of Charles Darwin, and had more credibility than Darwin in 1859. Same could be said of Adam Sedgwick, the man who taught Darwin geology. Darwin was deeply hurt that these two eminent scientists rejected his theory, but his four musketeers (see 01/06/2004 headline) saw to it that their bearded buddha got elevated to the pantheon anyway (see 02/13/2004 commentary).You Have Motorized Sunscreens in Your Eyeballs 07/19/2004
The pain of walking suddenly into a bright light sets up an amazing reaction, according to EurekAlert. An alarm is sent to the fire station in the retinal cell. There, protein firefighters hop onto a motorized shuttle on the molecular railway, and once firmly attached, are ferried swiftly to the scene of danger. There, they shut off the energy flow which, if left untreated, could cause temporary blindness. Heres how the Johns Hopkins press release words it:
Building on their previous work showing that specific proteins in eye cells are redistributed in response to bright light, the Johns Hopkins team now reports how a key protein called arrestin is shuttled from a holding area where it binds and calms a light-detecting protein. Writing in the July 7 issue of Neuron, the team says arrestin is moved around by a tiny molecular motor, called myosin, which travels along the train tracks of the cells internal skeleton.This chemical reaction is separate from the muscular constriction of the iris that also automatically responds to the brightness of incoming light.
Wonder how many lucky accidents it took to put this system together. Biology is beautiful when you take the Darwin dark glasses off.Blame Evolution 07/19/2004
Men cant help themselves. Evolution made them that way. Thats the gist of a science story on ABC news. Accompanied with a picture of rebel without a cause James Dean, it begins, Research shows that simply being male means youre more likely to die as a young adult. Why? Blame evolution...and pursuit of the opposite sex. Writer Amanda Onion cites evolutionary sources to say that evolution has programmed men to compete for access to females and that causes them to live on the edge and die young.
Another ABC News story explores whether violence in society is increased when there is a surplus of unmated males.
Do you see society becoming more selfish and irresponsible? Do you see people giving themselves over to lust and passion with utter disregard for the consequences? Do you see more mindless drivel in the arts and entertainment, less nobility of character and more immediate gratification? Do you see the downfall of a once noble cultural heritage? Blame evolution.1400 Genes Essential to Grow a Fish 07/16/2004
A team from MIT scanned the genome of the zebrafish and concluded there are about 1400 genes essential for embryonic and early larval development. They did hands-on mutation experiments with 315 of these and found that mutations usually produced visible defects within 5 days that were invariably lethal. Estimating that they had experimented on about 25% of all essential genes, they say, Our data suggest that there are roughly 1,400 embryonic-essential genes in the fish. Comparing these genes with yeast, algae, mouse, human and worm genomes, they found many homologs that indicate these genes are all highly conserved, even though some of them build different structures. They feel, therefore, that the results help narrow down the class of essential genes required for embryological development of all organisms. Moreover, they feel these genes constitute an evolutionarily-conserved class in all living things, from yeast to humans:
The fact that there is such a small number of embryonic-essential genes and that they include genes that comprise coherent genetic pathways of development suggests that the genetically essential genes have a unique status in biological processes. Consistent with this possibility, we found that the yeast or worm orthologues of genes that are essential in fish have a high probability of also being essential in these species. Thus genes that can be detected in genetic screens, and in particular those that are essential for early viability, seem to have retained this special status through evolution. The implications of this observation are not known, but we suggest that these genes may be all or most of the genes that are absolutely required for many biological processes whereas most other genes may serve to assist these critical genes in making biological processes more robust. Evolution may have required that the number of genetically essential genes be small and that they remain the same genes.
1Amsterdam et al., Identification of 315 genes essential for early zebrafish development, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403929101, online preprint July 15, 2004.
How on earth can these researchers consider 1400 essential genes a small number? How can they still believe evolution produced these genes, when mutations in any one of them cause death? A dead fish larva cannot evolve, because it cannot reproduce. 1400 genes! Think of it. Just getting one of them by chance is astronomically improbable, to say nothing of getting the second or third to match the first (see online book, p. 110). Forget it; it will never happen in this or any other universe.Haemoglobin More Complex than Thought: Regulates Blood Flow 07/16/2004
Physiologists have long known that haemoglobin, the molecule that adds the redness to red blood cells and carries oxygen to the tissues, releases its oxygen as the blood vessels constrict. Now, increasing evidence shows that haemoglobin (composed of four complex proteins that surround a central iron atom) is not just a passive oxygen carrier. It actually works with other substances, including nitric oxide (NO), to regulate the flow of blood by adjusting the dilation of blood vessels, and NO in response can adjust how efficiently haemoglobin can carry oxygen. This process, still not fully understood, is presented in a Concepts piece by David J. Singel and Jonathan S. Stamler in the July 15 issue of Nature,1 who speak of the emergent complexity of haemoglobin.
Nitric oxide produces dilation of blood vessels. Apparently it will hitch onto the alpha or beta subunits of haemoglobin depending on the concentrations of oxygen or carbon dioxide present in the blood, acting as a regulator of NOs activity in dilating the vessels according to need. For the chemists in the audience,
The disposition and reactivity of NO bound to haemoglobin is thus a function of multiple variables, including the other allosteric effectors of haemoglobin (pH; partial pressure of carbon dioxide, pCO2; partial pressure of O2, pO2) and the ratio of their concentrations to haem. Changes in conditions can give rise to stark, rather than subtle, linear changes in the distribution of NO reaction products. This complexity emerges both from the cooperative, nonlinear behaviour of the haemoglobin tetramer and from the branched network of coupled kinetic equations underlying this rich chemistry.So when you are walking casually in the woods, oxygen outnumbers NO, which binds to the beta subunits, generating production of NO-downstream products, and your blood vessels relax. When you see the bear and take off running, the binding of NO changes and contributes to the matching of blood flow to demand under physiological conditions. What happens when the bear has you pinned to the ground and is licking your face?
In contrast, when micromolar concentrations of NO arise, as in septic shock, the potential problem of excess S-nitroso-haemoglobin and consequent excessive vasodilation is avoided by sequestering NO on the alpha-haems, which additionally lowers the overall oxygen affinity of the protein. This chemistry restricts NO bioavailability while enhancing oxygen delivery.NO works with haemoglobin, therefore, in response to physiological conditions to adjust its ability to carry oxygen, without going berserk under stress. The authors encourage an appreciation of the complexity of this process, because Emerging evidence [shows] that vasodilation by red blood cells is altered in disease, including heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and diabetes.... Knowledge of this self-regulating activity should open a new field of investigation and could potentially change the practice of medicine.
A related paper in PNAS2 explores additional biologic activities of NO and its reaction products in blood plasma, and suggests that high-affinity, metal-based reactions in plasma with the haptoglobin-hemoglobin complex modulate plasmatic NO reaction products and limit S-nitrosation at low NO flux. These products coordinate with hormones, endocrine vasomotor function, and NO transport in the blood vessels.
1David J. Stingel and Jonathan S. Stamler, Blood traffic control, Nature 430, 297 (15 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430297a.
2Wang et al., Biological activity of nitric oxide in the plasmatic compartment, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0402201101, online preprint July 16, 2004.
This wonderful story speaks for itself. We need to be reminded of how many things have to work exactly right for us to do something as simple as taking a walk in the woods. Things are not getting any easier for those who believe a long series of mistakes produced the human body, to say nothing of bears and forests.AIDS Policy: Morality a Casualty at the Intersection of Politics and Big Science 07/15/2004
A news item in the July 15 issue of Nature1 seems to take sides against President Bushs AIDS policy. The United States, the largest donor for AIDS prevention and treatment, is promoting a mantra known as ABC: abstinence, be faithful and use condoms. Although it would seem these simple preventative steps would quickly diminish the spread of AIDS (read Colsons report on the success in Uganda), Nature instead draws attention to criticisms of the Bush administrations policy:
This approach was widely castigated in Bangkok, where 17,000 scientists, activists and officials have gathered for the AIDS meeting. Activists and some researchers are particularly critical of a congressional stipulation that requires one-third of the money allocated to prevention programmes under the US Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to be used for projects in abstinence and monogamy.A spokesman for the administration tried to deflect some of the criticism by reminding the group that President Bush is not opposed to the use of condoms. Condoms are an important part of our overall strategy, he said.
Most of the news article focuses on how to get more funding for research on AIDS drugs, not on preventative measures. An administrator of a nursing school in Botswana claims that public discussion about sex education and condom use is almost impossible in her country, which has the second-highest rate of HIV infection in the world, because we end up talking to our people in a strange language that they dont understand.
1Erika Check, Aid agencies predict victory for HIV unless cash crisis is solved, Nature 430, 279 (15 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430279a.
What part about d-e-a-t-h dont you understand? Listen to what the gay activist said: Youre not doing what ... people with AIDS want. What they want is: unlimited sin without consequences. They want to engage in promiscuous relationships, knowing ahead of time the wages of sin is death, but make healthy people pay to find a cure that will allow them to do whatever they want sexually, whenever they want to. An old cartoon stated it well: a character walks right past the danger sign and falls off a cliff. On the way down, he is shouting, free unlimited health care!London Church School Rejects Creationism as Rubbish 07/15/2004
According to a news item on the Ekklesia website, a new Christian academy in London which unlike many church schools will operate a truly inclusive admissions policy will not be teaching the Genesis account of a six-day creation, because such a view is rubbish according to an administrator. The Oasis Trust runs educational projects for the government. Rev. Steve Chalke, founding director of the Oasis Trust, was interviewed for Ekklesia.
Asked whether the academy would advocate the teaching of creationism, which has been taught alongside scientific explanations of how the world came into being at other academies sponsored by Christian organisations, he said: No. We will develop an open and honest curriculum and we will not impose our views on anyone.The trusts charter also prohibits the school from proselytizing or imposing their view of the world on anyone they work with. This article was found on a link from World Net Daily.
Here is where some separation of church and state would do some good. Wonder what the reverend Mr. Chalke does with the tablets of stone written with the finger of God that stated, For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:11). Anyone who calls that rubbish had better be prepared to take up the issue with the Author.Earliest Bilaterian Fossil Claimed 07/14/2004
Microscopic etchings in rock alleged to be primitive bilaterian fossils have been reported by J.Y. Chen et al. in China. (Bilateria are organisms displaying symmetry along one axis.) The report, printed in the July 9 issue of Science,1 dates the fossils at 40-55 million years before the Cambrian. Erik Stokstad in the same issue2 calls the claim controversial, because not all are convinced they are fossils. They might be banded mineral crusts. Chens team claims to see evidence of internal structure, including what appear to be a mouth, pharynx, and gut; layers of mesodermal, endodermal, and ectodermal tissue; body cavities, called coeloms, on either side of the gut; and pits in the soft outer surface that might have contained sensory organs. If so, it means that the genetic tool kit used to assemble more sophisticated body plans was present long before the Cambrian. Evolutionists, on the other hand, had pictured a larger, more complicated beast, says Stokstad, not oval blobs a fifth of a millimeter long. Jerry Lipps (UC Berkeley) says that if these are bilaterian fossils, they help tone down the suddenness of the Cambrian explosion.
1Jun-Yuan Chen, David J. Bottjer et al., Small Bilaterian Fossils from 40 to 55 Million Years Before the Cambrian, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5681, 218-222, 9 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099213].
2Erik Stokstad, Controversial Fossil Could Shed Light on Early Animals Blueprint, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5676, 1425, 4 June 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5676.1425a].
In the new book The Case for a Creator, Lee Strobel said that if you represented the entire evolutionary history of life by 24 hours, the Cambrian explosion would last one second. We are asked to believe that during that one second, most if not all of the major body plans appeared suddenly, without ancestors. So if these alleged fossils are 55 million years earlier, it adds 11 seconds at most; how much does that help? Bilateral symmetry is not a simple thing; it requires complex developmental processes from the zygote to the adult. If all the alleged internal organs were present in this organism, it pushes the origin of a tremendous amount of complexity even farther back in their own time scale. It does little more than resolve the Cambrian explosion into two explosions separated by only 11 seconds out of 24 hours. Jonathan Wells has compared the assumed geologic history of earth to a football field, and says the Cambrian explosion represents one step on the 60-yard line.Parasitic Worms Regulate Immune System 07/13/2004
Most people will not be ready to stomach a suggestion from the July 9 issue of Science1: parasitic worms can be good for you. Yikes: whats next worm therapy?
According to Joel Weinstock of the University of Iowa, evidence is increasing that worms help regulate the immune system, and show promising results for taming inflammatory bowel syndrome and a host of autoimmune diseases. Ingrid Wickelgren writes,
The idea may sound crazy, but it is buttressed by studies showing that treating mice with eggs, larvae, or extracts of helminthsparasitic worms such as flukes, flatworms, tapeworms, and pinwormscan dampen, and perhaps prevent, allergic reactions, reduce the severity of a multiple sclerosis (MS)-like disease, and block the development of type I diabetes.... Recent data indicate that helminths may protect against disease by invigorating so-called regulatory T cells, which function as the immune systems police officers and keep it from running amok. Deficits in or problems with these cells could contribute to many types of immune disorders.Dont sign up for Dr. Weinstocks classes. Heres how he experiments: In a stunt reminiscent of the TV reality show Fear Factor, dozens of unpaid volunteers have recently been gulping Gatorade laced with 2500 live eggs from parasitic worms.
1Ingrid Wickelgren, Can Worms Tame the Immune System? Science, Vol 305, Issue 5681, 170-171, 9 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5681.170].
This is not what Luther had in mind when he went to the Diet of Worms. As gross at it sounds, this story leads to some food for thought. Are parasites inherently evil? Worms can surely lead to some very severe and deadly conditions, with morbid consequences. This story should never minimize the suffering of those afflicted. But maybe the problem is not the original concept, but things out of control and run amok. Maybe in a perfect world some of these things had a function. Its when things get out of balance they can get ugly. For more on this possibility, see the 10/24/2003 headline on maggot therapy, the 06/04/2003 story on bacteria, and the 02/12/2003 headline on toxins in small amounts.Is Earths Magnetic Field Reversing? 07/13/2004
The New York Times and World Net Daily have stories about Earths magnetic field. The strength of the field has declined 10-15% over the past 150 years. If undergoing a reversal, which some physicists say is overdue, it could have profound effects on migratory animals like birds and turtles, and allow more dangerous radiation to hit the Earths surface. New satellites are trying to get better measurements of the collapse of the field. During a reversal, the field strength drops to zero, then rebounds in the other direction, such that compass needles would point south.
The important thing in these stories is not the long-age claims, which are not subject to calibration without long-age assumptions, but the fact that an objectively measured physical parameter shows a steep and steady decline over 150 years. This challenges the belief that it has been around for billions of years (see 03/04/2003 headline).Sparrows Do the Long Haul Without Sleep 07/13/2004
During their 2600-mile migrations from Southern California to Alaska, white-crowned sparrows fly day and night without sleep for days on end. Apparently they dont have to fly on automatic pilot. Science Now tells about a University of Wisconsin psychiatrist who watched captive sparrows during their migratory period. The birds seemed alert and in no way impaired by the lack of sleep. See also the summary on EurekAlert.
Some of us, like truck drivers and students, might get more done if we had bird brains.Cell Cargo Speeds On Bidirectional Highways 07/12/2004
As reported here numerous times (e.g., 06/14/2004, 12/04/2003, 04/14/2003, 03/28/2003, 02/25/2003, 12/17/2002, 09/26/2002, 03/26/2002, 02/01/2002, 12/06/2001, 08/17/2001, 06/19/2001, 02/21/2001), cells have an elaborate interstate highway system with molecular trucks hauling cargo back and forth. Scientists have known that the cellular highways have polarities labeled plus and minus, and that molecular motors typically go one way. Some motors, like kinesin, drive only in the plus direction, while others, like dynein, go in the minus direction. Now, it is becoming apparent that most pieces of cargo have at least one of each kind of motor, with a stickshift that allows it to drive in forward or reverse. The state of our knowledge about bidirectional transport is explored by Michael Welte in the July 13 issue of Current Biology.1
Welte examines the evidence that many, maybe all, moving cargoes have bidirectional ability. In the microscope, certain organelles like mitochondria and melanosomes are seen to move back and forth rapidly, eventually making it to their target. Why is this, and how is it done? Does the organelle grab motors out of the cytoplasm? Are both motors working in a tug-owar? Welte cites evidence against these possibilities, and suggests (although hard evidence needs to be found), that the cargo carries both motors, and a complex coordination machinery ... ensures that when one motor is actively engaged with the microtubule, the other motor is turned off. Moreover, this coordination machinery, whatever it is, may be under the influence of regulatory enzymes. If the coordination machinery can attach to cargo independent of the motors, he surmises, distinct variants of the coordination machinery could be targeted to different cargoes, thus allowing cargo-specific coordination and regulation.
It seems odd, though, that cargoes would undergo a back-and-forth random walk instead of making a beeline to the target. Welte figures there must be biological justification for this behavior, so he examines some possibilities:
1Michael A. Welte, Bidirectional Transport along Microtubules, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 13, 13 July 2004, Pages R525-R537, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2004.06.045.
Think of a 12-year-old kid on motorized rollerblades, one foot going forward, the other reverse. Imagine the tricks he could accomplish (with a little practice) switching from one foot to the other (or the bloody knees as he experiments the first time). Now make the wheels run on monorails. Imagine a complex tangle of rails, some blue, some red, going off in all directions, more dizzying than an amusement park roller coaster. The kid is supposed to put the left foot on the red rails and the right foot on the blue rails (one foot at a time, of course). Now hand him a package to deliver, and put a thousand other kids on the system going in all directions with packages of their own. The rails are also in constant motion, some growing and some shrinking. If the mental picture is becoming too complicated to dwell on further, just realize that something like this is happening in every cell of your body right now. This intracellular transport system is only a small part of a miniaturized city with many other vital tasks being performed flawlessly. The transportation system alone has a large infrastructure of support services. There are linemen for the monorails, pit crewmen for motor repair, traffic cops, construction crews, shippers, receivers and much more, without even considering what the cargoes are and what they do when they arrive.Plate Tectonics Gets Squishy 07/09/2004
Two reports on plate tectonics this week make it seem less like hard science. Over 30 years ago, plate tectonics theory surprised many by going mainstream. In recent years, however, observations have complicated matters.
In the July 8 issue of Nature,1 Norman H. Sleep evaluates a paper in the same issue2 that tackles the problem of hotspots. Regarding inadequacies in understanding the relative motions between plates, he comments, In case you think this has been sorted out to decimal places in the past 30 years, it hasnt. (For background, see 04/02/2004 and 11/04/2003 headlines.) Sleep praises the efforts of Steinbeck et al. to understand hotspots and fluid motions in the mantle, particularly how the Hawaiian chain could make a sudden turn. But he ends, I expect that debate will continue on the relative fixity of hotspots, the rigidity of tectonic plates and mantle dynamics.
The Himalayas have been a poster child of plate tectonics theory. Richard A. Kerr in the July 9 issue of Science3 discusses new satellite measurements around the Tibetan plateau that cast a common assumption into question. It has long been taught that Mt. Everest and its range were thrust upward to their lofty heights by India crashing into the Asian continent. New synthetic aperture radar measurements of the Tibetan plateau from the InSAR satellite, however, show much slower movement along faults than expected like 0 to 7mm per year instead of 30, in one instance, and a factor of 10 lower in another. Interference diagrams, on the other hand, show the entire region deforming. Instead of a rigid mass moving between faults like a watermelon seed between two fingers, the Tibetan plateau seems to act like a fluid, as if India were colliding with a water bed. Kerr remarks, For almost 40 years, scientists have recognized that Earths ocean floors jostle and slide past one another like enormous rigid plates. But how well continents fit into this plate-tectonic scheme has been less clear. Now, satellite measurements of the Tibetan Plateau suggest that when continents go head-to-head in mountain building, they can behave more like unbaked pizzas. Another scientist concluded from the new data, Continental tectonics is not plate tectonics. This part of the continent, Kerr says, rather than standing up and fighting, is trying to escape.
1Norman H. Sleep, Earth science: Kinks and circuits, Nature 430, 151 - 153 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430151a.
2Steinberger, Sutherland and OConnell, Prediction of Emperor-Hawaii seamount locations from a revised model of global plate motion and mantle flow, Nature 430, 167 - 173 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02660.
3Richard A. Kerr, Hammered by India, Puttylike Tibet Shows Limits of Plate Tectonics, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5681, 161, 9 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5681.161a].
4Wright, Parsons, England, and Fielding, InSAR Observations of Low Slip Rates on the Major Faults of Western Tibet, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5681, 236-239, 9 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1096388]. 1
Now Im getting hungry for pizza and watermelon. Geological fads are like panaceas that cure all the symptoms until the MRI arrives. Data have a way of spoiling the fun of storytelling. Some unscrupulous theorists like Charles Lyell fudged data to make it fit their mental pictures of how the world should work.Maybe Neanderthals Were Artists After All 07/08/2004
Revised dating of human bones near figurines has cast an assumption about early humans into doubt, reports Nature Science Update. Aurignacian artefacts, like horse figurines and other carved images, have long been thought to be telltale indicators of modern man. Vogelherd cave near Ulm, Germany was considered the best example, because sandwiched between modern human bones was one of the richest deposits of Aurignacian artefacts ever found. But now those same bones, earlier dated at 30,000 to 40,000 years old, yielded a more rigorous radiocarbon date of only 5,000 years.1
The researchers now believe the modern bones represent recent intrusive burials, rather than in situ emplacements of skeletal remains corresponding to the same period as the artwork. These figurines had been earlier radiocarbon dated at 30,000 to 36,000 years BP (before the present), a crucial era when (according to the most popular theory), modern humans were moving into Europe and displacing Neanderthals. The new Holocene (recent) dates for the bones thus unravels the best example of a correlation between modern humans with Aurignacian artefacts. Michael Hopkin laments,
For years archaeologists have clung to the idea that only truly modern humans were artists, and that our Neanderthal cousins spent their entire evolutionary lifetime as boorish philistines. But fresh analysis of a prized set of human bones has dealt a body blow to this cherished theory.Anthropologists had thought that the artwork represented the earliest modern human intrusion into Europe during a time the Neanderthals in were in decline. Now the story is up in the air. The discovery leaves experts without a concrete link between arts origins and modern man, says Hopkin, and it cannot be ruled out that Neanderthals were the craftsmen. Whatever the impact, the revised dates ruin the proof that modern humans made the figurines, and now no one knows the real story. In the words of the scientists who published in Nature,
The Holocene age of the human skeletal remains from Vogelherd places the question of who made the earliest Aurignacian in Europe in doubt. At present the hypothesis that the Neanderthals gave rise to the early Aurignacian, as has been argued by some colleagues including Richter, cannot be refuted. Additionally, the Danube Corridor model for the early colonization of central Europe by modern humans, although still plausible, can no longer be demonstrated on the basis of associations between modern humans and the early Aurignacian at Vogelherd. With the new dates from Vogelherd one of the most widely held assumptions of paleoanthropologythat the Aurignacian is uniquely associated with modern humansseems more uncertain than ever. These results also create the possibility that the figurative art found at Vogelherd was produced by Neanderthals. New excavations providing unequivocal associations between human skeletal remains and the early Aurignacian will be necessary to address these issues.
1Conard et al., Unexpectedly recent dates for human remains from Vogelherd, Nature 430, 198 - 201 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02690.
The finding does not claim that Neanderthals made the artwork, but it removes a prejudice that they could not have because they were too dumb. Where did that prejudice come from? It dates way back to Darwin and Huxley, who used Neanderthal man as a prop for the evolution of man. This one measurement strikes down one of the most widely held assumptions of paleoanthropology. Thats the problem with assumptions: they are assumed, not proved. They are not scientific results, but rather hunches that stimulate a scientist to pursue a certain line of investigation. Repeated mismatches of assumptions to measurements should lead an investigator to consider the possibility that he is on the wrong track. The thing that keeps making paleoanthropologists stumble over each new discovery is the assumption of evolution. The second stumblingblock is reliance on shaky dating methods. The measure of persistence in spite of repeated stumblings is a function of the will to believe something regardless of the evidence.Infant Cosmos Was Already Elderly 07/08/2004
At first, they werent sure it was real or they were just seeing things. Now, its inescapable. As far back as cosmologists can see, there were already mature galaxies. Thats the thrust of two papers in the July 8 issue of Nature1,2 and a commentary on them by Keck Observatory astronomer Greg Wirth3, who says in the subtitle, The discovery of massive, evolved galaxies at much greater distances than expected and hence at earlier times in the history of the Universe is a challenge to our understanding of how galaxies form. But then in his opening paragraph its hard to disentangle the optimism from the pessimism:
Over the past two decades, astrophysicists have been spectacularly successful in explaining the early evolution of the Universe. Existing theories can account well for the time span from the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago until the Universe began to cool and form the first large structures less than a million years later. But detailed explanations of how the original stew of elementary particles subsequently coalesced over time, to form the stars and galaxies seen in the present-day Universe, are still being refined. As they report on pages 181 and 184 of this issue, Glazebrook et al.1 and Cimatti et al.2 have discovered the most distant old galaxies yet. But the existence of these objects at such an early epoch in the history of the Universe seems inconsistent with the favoured theory of how galaxies formed.According to Wirth, these new studies provide the first solid evidence that as far back as 10 billion years ago there were already many old massive galaxies, and it is clear that even the best models cant fully explain the evolution of galaxies. Do galaxies grow much faster than predicted in the hierarchical models, that assume they coalesced from smaller objects? Or did the stars in these galaxies form in a substantially different way from our expectations? We may have to wait a decade for the next generation of larger telescopes, he concludes.
Glazebrook et al. found that up to a third of massive galaxies formed within 3 billion years of the Big Bang. Cimattis team found four mature, fully-assembled, massive spheroidal galaxies at redshift 1.6 to 1.9. They remark, The existence of such systems when the Universe was only about one-quarter of its present age shows that the build-up of massive early-type galaxies was much faster in the early Universe than has been expected from theoretical simulations.
1Karl Glazebrook et al., A high abundance of massive galaxies 3-6 billion years after the Big Bang, Nature 430, 181 - 184 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02667.
2A. Cimatti et al., Old galaxies in the young universe, Nature 430, 184 - 187 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02668.
3Gregory D. Wirth, Old before their time, Nature 430, 149 - 150 (08 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430149a.
Back to the eyepiece; less interpretation, more observation. If you cant explain the origin of galaxies or the stars they contain, and if observations are in conflict with the best models, dont expect anyone to believe the bluff that astrophysicists have been spectacularly successful in explaining the early evolution of the universe. The student doesnt get to grade his own paper. (Remember Bob? see 03/06/2003 headline.)Archaea Have Their Own Proofreading Mechanism 07/07/2004
A team of Yale biochemists investigated a proofreading mechanism in one-celled organisms from the domain Archaea and found it different, but just as effective, as its counterpart in domains Bacteria and Eukarya (the latter including all plants and humans). Their work was published online in PNAS July 6.1
The particular instance involved the ability to discriminate between two similar amino acids, threonine and serine, on the molecule that connects the amino acid to the transfer RNA (aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase, or aaRS). Members of Archaea have an enzyme that bears no sequence similarity, but is functionally conserved (i.e., does the same thing), to that of the other domains. The archaeal gene is unrelated to, and absent from, bacterial and eukaryotic genomes. The authors term this an instance of functional convergence of unrelated domains that assures specificity of the correct amino acid to the tRNA molecule. This appears to be the first aaRS found to use two evolutionarily unrelated editing domains, they state. The functional convergence between the two ThrRS editing domains is highlighted by the observation that both depend on an absolutely conserved set of histidine residues for their function.
1Korencic et al., A freestanding proofreading domain is required for protein synthesis quality control in Archaea, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403926101.
For a cell to be able to proofread at all is a profound morsel of food for thought. How proofreading could emerge by chance is challenge for Darwinian evolution to explain, but for it to have arisen twice by different means is vastly more improbable (see online book).Titan Shows Its Surface to Cassini 07/06/2004
Time to Titan their theories; Cassini scientists are both fascinated and puzzled by surface features coming to light from the first encounter July 2 with Saturns large atmosphere-shrouded moon Titan. At a news conference July 3, some of the initial findings were unveiled: methane clouds hovering over the south pole, linear dark and light markings (signifying possible tectonic activity), and circular and concentric features that might be related to impacts. A composite image produced by filters from the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) was released. Some of the more puzzling features include:
These findings are consistent with prior observations that are making it difficult to believe Titan has been in its current state for 4.5 billion years. The atmosphere is eroding quickly and leaving traces of its erosion in the huge cloud that is leaking away. No large lakes or deposits of hydrocarbons are yet visible. These preliminary interpretations will await further elucidation from the high resolution data in the flight plan. Stay tuned.Tau Ceti a Star for Life to Avoid 07/06/2004
Tau Ceti, a star with a dust disk astronomers had hoped might be an example of a planetary system under construction, is more like a war zone. A press release from the Royal Observatory calls it Asteroid Alley an Inhospitable Neighbor. Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, the astronomers detected 10 times the quantity of asteroids and comets as around our sun. Jane Greaves, the lead scientist, explained the implications of this finding: We dont yet know whether there are any planets orbiting Tau Ceti, but if there are, it is likely that they will experience constant bombardment from asteroids of the kind that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs. It is likely that with so many large impacts life would not have the opportunity to evolve.
The press release says, The discovery means that scientists are going to have to rethink where they look for civilisations outside our Solar System. Another astronomer suggests that our solar system may have been swept clean of impactors by a passing star. Whatever the reason for the difference, Tau Ceti is clearly a place you would not wish to be, concludes Ian Holliday, Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.
Evolution: always assumed, never demonstrated. Dinosaur extinction via impact: a media mythoid that persists despite falsifying evidence (see 12/03/2003 and 06/02/2003 headlines).Domesticated Computer Viruses Demonstrate Adaptive Radiation 07/04/2004
Lenski and Adami are at it again (see 05/08/2003 headline), attempting to demonstrate Darwinian evolution in the computer with digital organisms which they describe as domesticated computer viruses Their digital organisms are small computer programs with logic functions that can reproduce and respond to mutations. They reward the ones that evolve with more resources (CPU time and memory). Last time, the rewards were constant. In this study, by contrast, we used a configuration in which the reward obtained by a particular organism for performing any logic function declines with consumption of the reward by other organisms. Presumably that stimulates what Darwinists term adaptive radiation, or rapid speciation when organisms invade a heterogeneous new environment.
The motivation for this new study was to troubleshoot a Darwinian anomaly: The explanation for differences in species richness among habitats has been called perhaps the greatest unsolved ecological riddle. Assuming that productivity (defined as resource inflow to the system) has the greatest effect on species richness, they ran their simulations to reward productivity and found:
In experiments with evolving digital organisms and populations of fixed size, maximum species richness emerges at intermediate productivity, even in a spatially homogeneous environment, owing to frequency-dependent selection to exploit an influx of mixed resources. A diverse pool of limiting resources is sufficient to cause adaptive radiation, which is manifest by the origin and maintenance of phenotypically and phylogenetically distinct groups of organisms.What is a species in cyberspace, by the way? As our operational definition of species, we use clusters of organisms that all have small phylogenetic distances from one another. The phylogenetic distance between two organisms is defined as the total number of intermediate organisms (having different genotypes from their parents) along the lines of descent leading to their most recent common ancestor.
1Chow, Wilkie, Ofria, Richard E. Lenski and Christoph Adami, Adaptive Radiation from Resource Competition in Digital Organisms, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 84-86, 2 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1096307].
Same fallacies (see 05/08/2003 and 05/24/2004 headlines), same irrelevancies, same verdict: dumb (repeat 5x to the tune of Dragnet). This is not Darwinian evolution, it is (marginally) intelligent design. Talk about dysteleology; a Pandas thumb is more sensible than these arbitrary adaptations. They need to read the Dec 4 issue of Nature (see 12/03/2003 headline) before assuming adaptive radiation is real, otherwise their project was nothing more than a rigged demonstration of a fantasy.Another Hominid Find Rocks the Charts 07/03/2004
Another hominid skull dubbed OL 45500 has been reported in Science,1 a juvenile said to belong to Homo erectus. Its classification is problematic because it exhibits a mosaic of features rather than fitting neatly into an evolutionary sequence. The scientists state, Although the cranium represents possibly the smallest adult or near-adult known between 1.7 and 0.5 Ma [million years ago], it retains features observed in larger Homo erectus individuals, yet shows a distinct suite of traits indicative of wide population variation in the hominins of this period.
Commenting on this report, Jeffrey H. Schwartz in the same issue2 accepts their assessment, but satirizes the process of classifying ancient humans:
But this doesnt clarify the question, What is H. erectus? One is left primarily with the traditional approach to the genus Homo: H. erectus is not H. habilis, H. heidelbergensis, or H. sapiens, whatever they are.Schwartz calls Homo erectus a mythical classification after reviewing the differences between the finds lumped into the name. He ends, putting the name in quotes,
Does this exercise clarify the affinities of the new hominid fossil OL 45500? Not yet. But recognizing that Homo erectus may be more a historical accident than a biological reality might lead to a better understanding of the relationships not only of the Olorgesailie specimens, but also of those fossils whose morphology clearly exceeds the bounds of individual variation so well documented in the Trinil/Sangiran sample. In the meantime, OL 45500 should remind us that hominid systematics must be an endeavor of testing long-entrenched hypotheses, especially when those who turn to these hypotheses acknowledge them as being problematic.For more on the controversy over this fossil, see New Scientist and BBC News.
1Potts et al., Small Mid-Pleistocene Hominin Associated with East African Acheulean Technology, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 75-78, 2 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1097661].
2Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Getting to Know Homo erectus, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 53-54, 2 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1099989].
New alleged human ancestor overturns previous ideas, adds to the confusion, leads to controversy, spoils the Darwin Partys story there is nothing new under the sun. (See 02/27/2003 and 10/20/2003 headlines for more on Homo erectus.)Ernst Mayr Recounts 20th Century Evolution Battles 07/02/2004
A leading 20th century apostle of Darwinian evolution, Ernst Mayr, turned 100 recently. His mind still sharp, he recounted in the July 2 issue of Science1 the battles that led to Neo-Darwinism in the 1940s. Surprising though it may be to some, there was no consensus on speciation, natural selection and other key evolutionary concepts for eighty years since Darwin published his book. Only in the 1940s did a compromise called the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis satisfy the majority of Darwinians. Neo-Darwinism still reigns today, despite strong minority positions such as punctuated equilibria and Gaia, along with a number of sects that deny certain aspects of the Synthesis.
Mayr lays the background of his youthful acceptance of evolution:
Curiously, I cannot pinpoint the age at which I became an evolutionist. I received all of my education in Germany, where evolution was not really controversial. In the gymnasium (equivalent to a U.S. high school), my biology teacher took evolution for granted. So, I am quite certain, did my parents--who, to interest their three teenage sons, subscribed to a popular natural history journal that accepted evolution as a fact. Indeed, in Germany at that time there was no Protestant fundamentalism. And after I had entered university, no one raised any questions about evolution, either in my medical curriculum or in my preparations for the Ph.D. Those who were unable to adopt creation as a plausible solution for biological diversity concluded that evolution was the only rational explanation for the living world.Nevertheless, he continues, Even though creationism was not a major issue, evolutionary biology was nonetheless badly split by controversies, namely, the causation of evolutionary change and the validity of various theories of evolution. These seem pretty all-encompassing. He describes some of the early battles:
In his conclusion, Mayr notes that new battles have arisen over allopatric vs. sympatric speciation, the enormous amount of biodiversity, and non-allopatric genetic mechanisms such as speciation by hybridization, by polyploidy and other chromosome rearrangements, by lateral gene transfer, and by symbiogenesis. He regrets he will not be able to continue exploring the new frontiers of evolutionary biology.
1Ernst Mayr, 80 Years of Watching the Evolutionary Scenery, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 46-47, 2 July 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1100561].
Did you know that believers in natural selection were in the minority in the 1920s, and that many evolutionists believed in rapid, saltational change instead of gradualism? You heard one of the living legends of Darwinism, Ernst Mayr, say it himself. Notice how nothing has changed. Early 20th century evolutionists disagreed on the mechanism of evolution (natural selection, Lamarckism or other) on the pace of evolution (gradual vs. saltational), and on mechanism of speciation. Those seem like pretty major issues. How can Darwins hunch rise above the status of hypothesis without answers to these questions? The only things they agreed on were: (1) evolution is a fact, and (2) things change. The same controversies go on today. Evolutionists fight over how species split into two, how fast things happen, and the role of natural selection, and other major issues, but they still dogmatically claim that (1) evolution is a fact, and (2) things change. The first is belief, not science, and the second is too vague to be called science; even creationists acknowledge that things change. It does not follow that humans had bacteria ancestors.Cassini Watches Explosion in Saturns E Ring 07/02/2004
Something strange happened in the E ring of Saturn last January. The incident is forcing scientists to conclude the ring cannot be very old.
The E ring is the broad, extended ring that extends from Mimas to Rhea (click here for diagram), over three times as broad as the main ring system but much more diffuse. It reaches its maximum density at the orbit of Enceladus. This fact leads Cassini scientists to anticipate finding ice geysers on the moon when Cassini flies by it at close range next March.
Dr. Don Shemansky reported at a news conference today that the Cassini UVIS instrument (ultraviolet imaging spectrograph) measured a surge in atomic oxygen coming from the E ring. Measurements beginning in December showed a sudden rise in oxygen in late January that dissipated by April. Apparently a collision in the ring ionized water molecules among the icy particles. Electrons in the plasma sheet around Enceladus quickly recombine with these ions, forming neutral atoms which are swept into the vacuum, eating away the ring. With evident surprise, he told the press that this one incident resulted in a mass loss equal to the total mass of micron-sized particles in the entire E ring. Extrapolating backward, assuming this event was not atypical, he calculated an upper limit of 100 million years for the lifetime of the ring.
Dr. Larry Esposito said later in private conversation that the incident may have been caused by two large bodies colliding within the ring. He estimates such an event could occur once every 4 to 10 years; if so, it was a fortuitous circumstance for Cassini, at the start of its 4 year tour, to witness the event. Whatever happened, it was abrupt, severe, and short-lived.
In the press conference Q&A, Dr. Shemansky, noting the bland expressions in the audience, said he must have understated the spectacular nature of this discovery. So he repeated it, with emphasis: the mass quantity lost in the event was equal to the total mass of all the micron-size particles in the entire E ring in just four months.
A press release and image can be found at the Cassini website.
Update 07/11/2006: the source of the oxygen is the moon Enceladus, which is erupting water out of its south pole. See the 07/11/2006 and 11/28/2005 reports.
This discovery adds to others that have led most ring scientists to conclude that planetary rings must be young. A hundred million years sounds like a long time, but is a mere blink of an eye compared to the assumed age of the solar system (about one fiftieth of 4.5 billion years). Notice that they did not say the ring is 100 million years old, but that it could not be older than that. To believe it is much younger is reasonable in light of the evidence; it would seem a stretch to imagine an E ring many orders of magnitude thicker millions of years ago. Today the E ring is tenuous and mostly composed of fine particles. A much more massive E ring would seem to correspond to an epoch with more impactors flying around, resulting in exponentially faster erosion.Cell Technology Celebrated 07/01/2004
Humans are just beginning to imitate the manufacturing techniques cells use all the time, right under our noses. A book just came out about the subject, entitled Bionanotechnology: Lessons from Nature by David S. Goodsell. Its hard to tell if Christof M. Niemeyer was more impressed with the book or with the living machines themselves, in his review in the July 1 issue of Nature.1 He writes,
Nanotechnology is perfectly realized in biological systems. Cells are essentially biological assemblers that build thousands of custom-designed molecules and construct new assemblers. In Bionanotechnology, structural biologist David Goodsell describes what biology can teach us about engineering and manufacturing at the nanometre scale.Small wonder, reads a caption whimsically; antibodies ... are just one example of the way nature uses nanotechnology. Niemeyer mentions a few more examples of the composition and structural principles of biomolecules harnessed in the cell
1Christof M. Niemeyer, Living Machinery, Nature 430, 20 (01 July 2004); doi:10.1038/430020a.
Here is a book that had no need for the E word, but plenty of occasion for the word design. The only evolutionary reference was to directed evolution, a misnomer referring to intelligently-guided sorting and artificial selection of mutants (see 06/16/2004 headline.)Saturn Runs Rings Around Cassini 07/01/2004
Shocked was how Carolyn Porco, lead Cassini imaging scientist, described her initial reaction to new pictures of Saturns rings. Precious images began to pour in early July 1 from science observations right after the previous nights perfect orbit insertion maneuver (see 06/30/2004 headline). Even though the imaging team had been confident in the capabilities of Cassinis cameras, Porco said she was surprised to be so surprised at the clarity and beauty of the results. The spacecraft was as stable as a tripod as the narrow-angle camera snapped 61 sharp photos of the rings at closer range than ever before. Portions of all the major rings C, B, and A, along with the F ring and the Encke, Keeler and Cassini divisions were photographed. The highest resolution images were taken on the backlit side of the rings. After the second ring plane crossing, Cassini turned and imaged the sunlit side for a few frames from a greater distance. Though unable to resolve individual particles, Cassinis CCD cameras detected remarkable structural detail:
Additional findings from other instruments such as the ion and neutral mass spectrometer and plasma spectrometer should be announced soon. At a lecture a few hours after the images came down, ringmaster Andre Brahic explained that a few of these features match predictions from known physical processes exactly, but there is more structural detail seen than scientists can explain. There are gaps without known moons to create them, for instance, and some predicted gaps cannot be found.
Disk features like Saturns rings also show up on larger scales, like dust disks around stars, and the star-studded disks of spiral galaxies. Understanding the rings of Saturn, therefore, can shed light on the dynamics of stars and galaxies. Brahic cautioned against simplistic extrapolation of ring physics to large-scale disks, however, since there are significant differences between them, such as mass, viscosity, magnetic field effects, charge, velocity, gravitational influences, external influences, and composition.
Many more ring observations will be taken over the next four years, including occultations by the radar and ultraviolet instruments that will provide even finer detail on the density and structure of the rings. Its clear already, however, that one days worth of data will keep scientists busy for years getting their models to match these exciting new observations from the ringed planet.
Brahic also stated that most ring scientists accept the notion that the rings are far younger than the solar system (assuming the rarely-challenged date of 4.5 billion years). He said he preferred not to believe that for personal, not scientific, reasons. He finds it hard to believe that the rings just appeared in time for humans to observe them. Most of his energetic, humorous and informative talk concerned how resonances, collisions and interactions could induce the structures seen which is fine, because those are all ongoing effects of present-tense, observable processes. But how can these delicate features remain stable for long ages? A shepherd can keep the sheep in line only so long if wolves are routinely picking them off and no new sheep are being added. Brahic did not dwell on how ring material could be replenished during billions of years of gas drag, light pressure, collisional spreading, micrometeorites and ionic sputtering, though he acknowledged these destructive processes are at work in the rings. This is a clear case of wanting to believe something without evidence, even in spite of the evidence. Enjoy the rings in the age of man, because they are going, going, gone.