Platypus Genome Surprises Evolutionists
Thanks to more efficient sequencing techniques, genomes of more and more animals are coming to light. The latest is from one of the most unusual animals in nature: the duck-billed platypus of Australia. The long and short of it: if evolutionists were confused about the phenotype (outward appearance) of this creature, they are just as confused by the genotype (the DNA).
Nature,1 which published the genome as its cover story, also printed a news summary with illustrations on its Nature News site. Other science sites quickly printed articles about it but varied on their spin: New Scientist (“platypus genome is as weird as it looks”); Science Daily (“Platypus Genome Explains Animal’s Peculiar Features; Holds Clues To Evolution Of Mammals”); Live Science (“World’s Strangest Creature? Part Mammal, Part Reptile”); and National Geographic (“Platypus Genome Reveals Secrets of Mammal Evolution”). Science Daily began its coverage, “The duck-billed platypus: part bird, part reptile, part mammal – and the genome to prove it.”
Among the oddities in the genes: the platypus has 52 chromosomes, including 10 sex chromosomes (but its X and Y are not sex chromosomes). The animal has genes for lactation and egg-laying. Scientists cannot seem to figure out whether it is closer to reptiles or to mammals. Its webbed feet, duck bill, venomous spurs, electric sensory organ, fur, egg-laying and beaver tail make it an incongruous mosaic of features. The first scientists to examine one thought it was a hoax, as if some practical-joking taxidermist sewed a duck bill on a beaver.
The Nature article, while claiming that this new genome supports evolution, stated clearly that the confusion of traits in the platypus extends right down to the genetic level:
Since its initial description, the platypus has stood out as a species with a blend of reptilian and mammalian features, which is a characteristic that penetrates to the level of the genome sequence. The density and distribution of repetitive sequence, for example, reflects this fact. The high frequency of interspersed repeats in the platypus genome, although typical for mammalian genomes, is in contrast with the observed mean microsatellite coverage, which appears more reptilian. Additionally, the correlation of parent-of-origin-specific expression patterns in regions of reduced interspersed repeats in the platypus suggests that the evolution of imprinting in therians is linked to the accumulation of repetitive elements.
They only made suggestions about platypus evolution. None of the explanation sounds clear and unambiguous. Calling certain characters “reptilian” in an animal with fur that lactates seems to confuse rather than elucidate the relationship. They called the male platypus’s ability to produce venom reptilian, for instance. But snakes strike with their fangs, and the male platypus strikes with its heel. How many mutations did it take to move the venom apparatus from one end of the ancestor to the other end of the descendent? Why did it happen? Where are the missing links? In fact, they had to admit that there is no relationship: “Convergent evolution has thus clearly occurred during the independent evolution of reptilian and monotreme venom,” they said. This only doubles the mystery of the origin of venom. Furthermore, the platypus venom was found to be a cocktail with at least 19 complex compounds, each one requiring specific genes for its manufacture. They claimed some of these genes had arisen by duplication of genes with other functions. There are difficulties with this class of explanation, however (see CMI).
A fossil monotreme found last year, said to be 112 million years old, stunned evolutionists ( (11/27/2007, 01/21/2008, bullet 2). Timothy Rowe commented, “It’s really, really old for a monotreme.” No clear fossil sequence connects the earliest monotreme with the modern platypus or echidna.
Meanwhile, the platypus seems unconcerned with all this genealogical hubbub. It swims along with its happy duckbilled grin, its sleek fur and sensory organs perfectly adapted for its unique habitat.
1. Genome consortium, “Genome analysis of the platypus reveals unique signatures of evolution,” Nature 453, 175-183 (8 May 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06936.
It’s kind of funny to see the Darwinists squirm. Do they really need to conjure up a mythical tree to hang this wonderful animal on? Maybe that’s a very misguided quest for a scientist. Why not just study the living animal and understand how it is put together, so we can learn some practical things that might improve our lives? Did Galileo have to study the ancestry of the rocks he dropped from the tower? Did Faraday have to ponder the ancestry of magnetism to build a motor and generator? Did Carver have to ponder the phylogeny of the peanut to make 300 products with it? What is this obsession with genealogies? Are Darwinists in the worldview business perhaps?
The Apostle Paul cautioned against “foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9). This does not say that scientific research into genomes is useless. Deciphering genomes helps us understand how organisms function in the present. Comparisons between animals also illuminates the way genomes produce adult animals that are adapted to various ecological niches. The useless genealogies begin with questions about who begat whom. Notice that we only observe live platypi (pardon the Greek). We do not see them 112 million years ago. (Fossils exist in the present, not in the past.) Animals are what they are. They have what they have. They do what they do. They do it well. That’s about all that can be investigated with any confidence using the limited methods of science. For information about unobservable prehistories, one needs a different source of information.
Exercise: Defend or refute the proposition, “God created the platypus to confound evolutionary theories.” Provide evidence to support your position.