March 7, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Life Crams Stuff on the Long Road

This quote from UC Berkeley wins Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:

In the long evolutionary road from bacteria to humans, a major milestone occurred some 1.5 billion years ago when microbes started building closets for all their stuff, storing DNA inside a nucleus, for example, or cramming all the energy machinery inside mitochondria.

Any questions?  Science Daily repeated it without laughing.
    The occasion for the comment is research on a microbe that can switch between an amoeba-like form and a flagellated form.  Naegleria gruberi, when stressed, can switch on genes that grow two flagella.  A Berkeley bioinformaticist commented that “It is a very rare process to go from amoeba to flagellate like this.”  It has two completely different modes of motility.
    The flagellum is a poster child of intelligent design.  It would seem the ability to switch between two completely different modes of motility is even more complex.  Nevertheless, to these scientists, this germ is “shedding light on the set of perhaps 4,000 genes that may have been part of the first, most primitive eukaryotes” and will “shed light on how cells move, how they signal one another and how they metabolize nutrients.”  Presumably, discoveries about this living microbe “will help in understanding the evolution of more complicated organisms” hundreds of millions of years ago.  It “can help scientists understand the origins of these parallel systems during the evolution of eukaryotes.”
    Wow, there’s light and understanding all over the place.  According to one team member, “By comparing diverse organisms like Naegleria from all over the family tree of eukaryotes we can begin to understand where we come from.”  Apparently we are to understand this: we are amoebas, just a few million years down the long evolutionary road, but we have learned one thing: how to cram our machinery in closets.

It is said that the difference between stuff and junk is that junk is the stuff you throw away, but stuff is the junk you keep.  How many of you cram your irreducibly complex machinery in a closet when moving down the road and keep it there for 1.5 billion years?  How many of you like to mix metaphors while doing it?
    The long evolutionary road from bacteria to humans… (sigh).  What can you say to such people.  Where do you start.  Is it even worth trying.  They don’t call it UC Berserkeley for nothing.  Prevention is the only intervention with hope in such cases.  Reach the inmates before they get into the asylum.

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