Stretching Credibility in Evolutionary Stories
September 20, 2011
Improbable events happening numerous times; selective extinctions; voodoo phylogenetics – at what point do evolutionary explanations exceed the threshold of credibility a trusting public grants to the gurus of the culture, scientists?
Human Genome Individuality Adds New Questions
September 13, 2011
Mission accomplished: “The Human Genome Project” was in the bag by 2003. Now we understand how humans are genetically wired, right? Not so fast. Another human genome was just published, raising a whole new set of questions. The big issue is that we all have two genomes in one – one from each parent. Biologists knew this, of course, but for the first time, those two genomes were untangled from one another, and a lot of differences were found: two million, in fact. How do our two separate genomes behave toward each other? And if genomes differ this much, what does a concept like “the human genome” really mean?
Are Biological Clocks Like Paley’s Watch?
September 9, 2011
What is a clock made of? We think of springs, gears and moving parts made out of metal. But a clock could, in theory, be designed with almost any material. There are water clocks, sundials, and electromagnetic oscillators that all function to tell time. What difference does it make if the parts are made of liquids, laser beams, or plastic? What if a clock was made of biological material—would it be any less a device for keeping time? Would it surprise you that such clocks exist in your body and in every living thing?
Pascal to Your Health
August 30, 2011
Blaise Pascal joins Louis Pasteur among the ranks of creation scientists who have improved the safety and nutrition of our food. We all know about pasteurization, the process of eliminating germs by gentle heating, but have you heard of pascalization? It’s “a century-old food preservation technology, finding a new life amid 21st century concerns about food safety and nutrition,” reported Science Daily. The process “more than doubles the levels of certain healthful natural antioxidants in fruit.” Pascalization will give new meaning to the term “fresh squeezed”.
Would Wood Evolve?
August 16, 2011
The woods. We call them by their primary substance: wood. But would wood evolve from plants lacking woody stems? Was there some evolutionary pressure to force plants to grow tall to reach the sun, so that lucky mutations found a way to produce lignin and the other building blocks of wood? What other mutations did the blind evolutionary algorithm have to find to organize the components into trunks for trees? Two discoveries, a fossil and a mechanism, offer evolutionists a way to enhance their woody story.
Cell Chaperones Keep Proteins Properly Folded
August 2, 2011
Imagine linking together a chain of 300 plastic shapes, some with magnets at various places. Then let it go and see if you could get it to fold spontaneously into a teapot. This is the challenge that cells face every minute: folding long chains of amino acids (polypeptides) into molecular machines and structures for the cell’s numerous tasks required for life. DNA in the nucleus codes for these polypeptides. They are assembled in ribosomes in single-file order. How do they end up in complex folded shapes? Some polypeptides will spontaneously collapse into their native folds, like the magnetic chain in our analogy. Others, however, need help. Fortunately, the cell provides an army of assistants, called chaperones, to monitor, coax, and repair unfolded proteins, to achieve “proteostasis” – a stable, working set of proteins. That army is so well-organized and complex, scientists continue to try to figure out how it performs so well in the field.
Clue or Clueless on Plant Evolution
August 1, 2011
An article on The Scientist promised to provide “clues to plant evolution,” but the data seemed like clues to something else – namely, design. The article was about how plant proteins interact with one another – the “interactome” (another word to add to genome and proteome). Did the work actually fulfill evolutionary predictions? Even if they claim it did, did it really?
Brave New Chimeras
July 31, 2011
Tampering with human embryonic stem cells has been at the forefront of ethical debates for a decade. Behind it, though, lurks an even more alarming prospect: the creation of human-animal hybrids. As with embryos, the appeal has been to improve human health. But ethicists ask if there is any benefit worth blurring the line between humans and animals. Pro-chimera advocates admit there is a certain “disgust” factor that could arouse public anxiety, and agree that experimentation would need to be regulated. But who would regulate the regulators, and on what moral grounds?
Weird Evolution Tales
July 27, 2011
Evolutionary theory leads to some fantastic tales. Since evolution is often presumed to be a fact that explains everything in biology, and is itself not subject to testing or doubt, everything in biology must be viewed through an evolutionary lens. This hard-core stance on evolution often leads to assertions and explanations that appear contrived, if not preposterous, to Darwin doubters. Here are some recent examples of weird evolution stories that made it past the logic inspectors simply because evolution is unquestioned.
Cell Operations Amaze, Inspire
July 16, 2011
A student's view of a cell under a light microscope is misleading. It reveals only a tiny fraction of what is really going on. Within that package of life, invisible to the student's gaze, complex machines work together in cellular factories. Signals pass back and forth in complex networks. Libraries of code are transcribed and […]
Plant Patterns Prolong Perplexity
July 11, 2011
Plants perform a wonder that has attracted the admiration of scholars from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to modern times: the ability to reproduce mathematically perfect patterns. This ability, called phyllotaxis, can be described mathematically with the Fibonacci Series and the Golden Angle. The beautiful spirals in sunflowers, artichokes, cacti, dandelion heads and other plants continue to fascinate children and adults today, but those are not the only examples. Leaves on a stem can emerge in phyllotactic patterns like a spiral staircase, and depending on the environment, plants can switch patterns at different stages in development. Scientists have learned a lot about the players in the phyllotaxis game, but still do not understand the script. The details of how genes and proteins produce the patterns remain elusive.
Cells Have Dimmer Switches
June 30, 2011
A metaphor has been emerging among biophysicists: cells have rheostats or dimmer switches. The metaphor implies that some cellular regulatory processes are not just on or off; they have continuous ranges of values that can be finely tuned for the need of the organism. It's been years since our first report that gene expression is […]
Political Science 101: Doubt Scientific Claims
June 25, 2011
Science goes through a chain of messengers from data to consumer. In between are fallible scientists, who speak often in incomprehensible jargon and often only partially understand what they observe, but often wish to gain notoriety with a major discovery (or need to publish or perish). Next, the institutional press offices decide what is significant and try to digest the jargon to layman level. The predigested stories are then delivered to science reporters, who sometimes sensationalize the filtered stories to make a name for themselves. Finally, the media outlets, prone to peer biases, dress up the products to grab the eyes of readers of their newspapers, magazines, or web pages. How much of the real scientific data remains at the end of this game of Telephone? Sometimes the bias is clearly evident, but often the product is delivered with all the presumptive authority of science. Once in awhile, a reporter comes clean about the dirty work involved.
If This Is Evolution, What Is Trivia?
June 24, 2011
Some science news articles appear confident about evolution, but offer little evidence except trivial change . Sometimes, they even offer evidence that contradicts their expectations. If this is evolution, what is trivia?
Follow the Leader: Nature
June 21, 2011
Ever since biomimetics (the imitation of nature) gradually emerged around 2002 and really took off in 2005, it has not slowed down. Over 90 previous entries in these pages have reported teams all over the world seeking out natural designs for ideas. The reports have accelerated in recent years to the point where there is only space for short summaries that give a taste of the wide variety of engineering work taking inspiration from plants, animals, and even cells. You yourself might inspire some inventor. Here are a few more highlights from recent adventures in biomimetics.