Mutations and Duplications: Pools of Innovation?
Creationists looked in what evolutionists called “junk DNA” and found gems. Evolutionists are still looking for their gems in junk mutations.
Like gift wrapping, headlines of science articles do not always reveal what’s inside. Some people send dead flowers in pretty boxes to make a statement. Evolutionists are still looking for something beautiful in mutations, as evidenced by this title on PhysOrg: “Insects show how DNA mistakes become evolutionary innovation.” As if to avoid embarrassment, the subtitle quickly added, “One of the more difficult aspects of evolution for some people to swallow is the notion that random copying errors in DNA can add up to anything useful.” That’s a clever parlay; the problem is yours, not Darwin’s! (see “Shifting the Burden of Proof” fallacy.)
What did reporter Faye Flam offer as proof for this “notion”? Two papers that claim mutated copies of a gene allowed insects to avoid death when ingesting toxins called cardenolides (old news; see 7/25/2012). The “innovation,” therefore, is not a new organ or capability that didn’t exist before, but a reduced vulnerability. The article celebrated this as an “evolutionary trick” that produced “convergent evolution” in different insect lineages. Evolution, though, should produce new species (like Darwin titled his book, The Origin of Species). Flam could not claim that the varieties able to ingest the toxins were new species; in fact, the article confessed at the end, “The way new species are born is another longstanding puzzle in evolution that DNA is helping scientists to solve.” Come back later for the promised proof of innovation.
Speaking of Darwin, another press release from the Vienna University of Evolutionary Medicine echoed on Science Daily promised to help Darwin out by showing “New Understandings of How Populations Change Over Time.” The article set the stage with a low drum roll portending disaster (note the ominous reference to “climate change”):
Since 1859, when Darwin’s classic work “On the Origin of Species” was published, we have known that populations change over the course of time. The ability to adapt to changing surroundings is the basis for evolution and is crucial for animals and plants to come to terms with new environmental conditions, for example as a consequence of climate change. Despite the obvious importance of the process, however, we still do not understand the underlying mechanisms. It is clear that organisms change their DNA in response to selection pressures. But how?
First off, readers may be puzzled why the “But how?” question has not been answered since 1859, since that was the main thing Darwin’s best-seller was supposed to have solved. And second, observers have known long before Darwin that populations change over time. But anyway, where’s the gem in this mutational junkpile? Has Christian Schlötterer rescued Darwin by showing how a random genetic change is linked to genetic changes?
Well, yes and no. Schlötterer cruelly subjected fruit flies to cold temperatures and shouted “Evolve or perish!” so to speak. He did find some genetic changes, but didn’t associate them with adaptive benefits. “It will be intriguing to try to find out whether the two categories of gene affect distinct groups of traits,” he said.
One of the biggest studies of gene duplication was reported in Science this week. The title is catchy: “Real-Time Evolution of New Genes by Innovation, Amplification, and Divergence” (Näsvall et al., Science 19 October 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6105 pp. 384-387, DOI: 10.1126/science.1226521). There must be gems in this pile! Alas, Elisabeth Pennisi in her review in the same issue was not so sanguine, despite her hopeful title, “Evolution: Gene Duplication’s Role in Evolution Gets Richer, More Complex” (Science 19 October 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6105 pp. 316-317, DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6105.316). The phrase “More complex” is code for “harder to understand.” It’s not a simple victory for Darwin.
She discussed Susumi Ohno’s 1970 theory that gene duplication lets the copy evolve, then Michael Lynch’s late-1990s theory that genes with two functions can duplicate and divide the work (subfunctionalization). Nice ideas, but they didn’t satisfy everyone, and are now seen as simplistic. And there were problems: “Given natural selection’s tendency to purge unnecessary genes, how would the gene copy stick around long enough to take on a new or subfunction?” Hold it; wasn’t that the claim behind junk DNA?
The details about how Näsvall et al. coaxed a bacteria to make tryptophan from precursors when a gene for making it was disabled, and how it had to wait for the right mutation to arrive by promoting duplication, are described in Pennisi’s article. The point of the experiment, though was to show innovation, not just getting back to where the bacterium was before a gene was broken. The researchers stated that two mutations were required to produce the “innovation” (which was actually more like a “restoration” of a deleted function).
Other scientists called this “a nice, elegant experimental system” (sounding like faint praise), but were not convinced it’s a general principle applicable outside the bacterial world. “No matter what, Näsvall’s experiment will encourage more experimental tests of gene-duplication scenarios,” someone said (translation: send more funding).
Empty promises, endless promissory notes, why do we trust these guys? Where is the really big innovation attributable to mutations? Duplications are a form of mutation, but just because you get a second copy of a text message on your smartphone, it doesn’t mean the second one will evolve into a new, helpful message when cosmic rays hit it. This is all wishful thinking in dreamland, hyped by ideologues with power. Darwin was supposed to explain the big things– the trunk on the elephant, the wing on the bird, the brain in the Einstein. All we get are tiny, questionable instances of possible adaptive changes in bacteria (remember that bacteria can swap information through lateral gene transfer, and may have designed mechanisms to control their own mutations). These get wildly extrapolated into vast scenarios of evolution, completely unwarranted by the meager data that is often subject to interpretation. But they KNOW that there’s enough innovation in that junkpile of mistakes to explain elephants, birds and humans, why? Because EVOLUTION IS A FACT! Now you know why living in Darwinland is like being trapped in a cult compound.