August 28, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Return of the Peppered Mice

Slight changes in the coat color of deer mice is the latest triumph of evolutionary theory, if we are to believe the BBC News and New Scientist.   The BBC announced, without apologies to Jonathan Wells, that “A tiny pale deer mouse living on a sand dune in Nebraska looks set to become an icon of biology.”  But wasn’t a similar case argued six years ago? (see the 04/18/2003 entry).  Actually, one of the researchers in the current story was involved in that case, too.
    The new work published in Science alleges that a team has discovered a new mutation for coat color that spread throughout a population of deer mice in Nebraska.  Since those mice live on light-colored sand dunes, this supposedly gives them a survival advantage.  It seems strange to make such a big deal of this given the variation already known in fur color in mice, rats, cats and dogs, but the BBC said that this is the first time a gene that mutated has been associated with a trait that appears to confer a fitness benefit.  “That makes the fast-evolving deer mouse one of the best examples yet studied of ‘true’ natural selection in action.”  It’s not much of an advantage, though: just 0.5 percent.  Time is the hero of the plot.  Hopi Hoekstra said, “It doesn’t seem that much, but multiplied over thousands of individuals over hundreds of years, it makes a huge difference.”  The sand dunes are thought to have formed 8,000 to 15,000 years ago.
    New Scientist noted that the mutation consisted of a single amino acid deletion within one gene known to be responsible for coat color in many mammals.  So if natural selection did anything, it deleted something; it did not invent something new (certainly not a new protein or enzyme from scratch).  Calling it a “beneficial mutation,” therefore, seems a stretch.  Presumably “Any cases where you can find positive selection for a mutation are interesting,” according to Ron Woodruff of Bowling Green State University.
    To sound sufficiently Darwinian, the paper in Science began with “On the origin” and spread of this mutation.  It mentioned selection often.  The authors rigged an artificial test area with owls and mice where they believe the predatory birds attacked the darker mice more often, but admitted that their tests of fitness were overestimated, “given that predation rates were most likely artificially inflated in the enclosed arena tested.”  They also were unable to establish how the mutation actually produced the phenotypic change.  Nevertheless, they feel that a new mutation did arise and spread through the population and gave the light-colored mice a slightly better chance to avoid being eaten by owls.


1.  Linnen, Kingsley, Jensen and Hoekstra, “On the Origin and Spread of an Adaptive Allele in Deer Mice,” Science, 28 August 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5944, pp. 1095-1098, DOI: 10.1126/science.1175826.

Evolutionists get so excited about the silliest things.  Even a staunch young-earth creationist like Ken Ham would yawn over this story.  He readily shows in Powerpoint slides how all the variety of dogs could have easily arisen since the Flood by mutations and selection.  In fact, the BBC News just reported that only three genes are involved in the wide variety of fur styles in dogs.  The article said nothing about evolution.
    These mice did not really evolve in the sense Darwin wanted to explain.  Was any new function created in these mice?  No.  Was a new gene, or a new protein, or a new molecular machine invented?  No.  Did the mice grow new organs, like wings, and take to the skies?  No.  Did the scientists explain how the gene actually functioned in the mice, and how it interacted with the other genes?  No.  There are many more questions that could be asked.  Did this lighter coat color having some drawbacks, like making it harder for the mice to find each other to mate?  Did the increase in light-colored mice stimulate a corresponding increase in visual acuity in the owls, making this a zero-sum game?  Was there slippage on the treadmill (03/17/2003)?  What is the big deal, anyway?  And why would any Darwinist wish to associate this study with the shamed and discredited case of the peppered moths (07/05/2002, 06/25/2004)?
    The change in the mice is so trivial, it hardly deserves to be celebrated at all, even by evolutionists.  Yet the Darwin-drunk media are telling us this is destined to become a new icon of biology and is “one of the best examples yet studied of natural selection in action.”  If they think this is the best, we would like to see the next best, and so on.  We would like to ask how all the animal phyla, with all their complex and integrated body plans, arose without any evidence of selection, or how life itself arose in the first place.  It doesn’t help a theory when the data needing to be explained are orders of magnitude more complex than one feeble case held up as one of the best examples ever found.  Find an example that makes Ken stop yawning and then we might pay attention.

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Categories: Genetics, Mammals

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