November 18, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Plants Are Clever

They may be stuck in the ground, but plants know how to get what they need.  How do creation and evolution explain this?

Plants and Design

Sunscreen:  “They bask in the sun for hours, but just like us, plants need to protect themselves from damaging ultraviolet rays,” a piece in New Scientist begins.  “Now we know how they do it.”  Science Daily describes what Purdue scientists found:

Biochemical tests have shown that plants produce special molecules and send them to the outer layer of their leaves to protect themselves. These molecules, called sinapate esters, appear to block ultraviolet-B radiation from penetrating deeper into leaves where it might otherwise disrupt a plant’s normal development.

Dimmer switch:  Plants are able to quickly switch their photosynthesis machinery between sunny and shady conditions.   How fast? “Switching on a dime,” PhysOrg says.  Even a passing cloud demands that “The response has to be extremely swift.”  How is it carried out?  It involves several stages.  The first stage was shown by researchers at Carnegie to involve a protein named KEA3 as part of the “built-in machinery” to handle fast switching:

Under full sunlight, the energy from excess absorbed photons is intentionally dissipated by the plant as heat. But if the incident light is blocked by a cloud, the plant must switch from dissipating excess photons as heat to harvesting as many photons as possible. Advanced analytical techniques demonstrated that KEA3 acts to accelerate the switch from the full-sunlight-adapted mode to the shade-adapted mode. This rapid response to light intensity makes the first stage of photosynthesis more efficient.

Metamorphosis:  We all know about the dramatic change from caterpillar to butterfly, but plants undergo a metamorphosis of their own.  Described in Current Biology, the changes in leaf shape as a plant grows from embryo to adult was thought to be an example of Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law or Recapitulation Theory, i.e. that an organism relives its evolutionary history as it grows (“Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”).  Wrong; that idea “fell out of favor,” Daniel H. Chitwood writes.  Instead, it’s due to a carefully choreographed process, involving those little RNA molecules that were hardly understood a decade ago:

A new study by Rubio-Somoza et al. reported in this issue of Current Biology mechanistically links the developmental clock and leaf morphogenesis through small RNAs and their targets, explaining the characteristic increases in serration and complexity of successive leaves seen so often in plants.

Somehow, these regulatory molecules are tied to the developmental clock like triggers on a timing device.  The small RNAs regulate not only individual leaves, but leaf shape changes over time.  This finding opens up whole new areas for research, Chitwood concludes.  If evolution plays any role in changing leaf shape over eons, it seems to do it independently of this “feed-forward mechanism,” he says; “evolutionary changes in overall leaf shape versus timing-dependent changes may be separate.”

Probiotics:  Plants can use a little help from their microbes, too.  Scientists at the University of Washington found through controlled experiments that microbes help plants, from grasses to tall trees, withstand pesticide toxins, PhysOrg reports.  Harmless microbes called endophytes take up residence in the inner tissues of plants:

In nature, endophytes have a welcomed, symbiotic relationship with plants. In polluted soil, for instance, if the right endophytes are present they consume toxins coming up through plant roots. The endophytes get fed and the plant gets help neutralizing pollutants that could kill it.

The scientists found this interesting; “Our approach is much like when humans take probiotic pills or eat yogurt with probiotics to supplement the ‘good’ microbes in their guts.”

Reverse engineering function:  Students and professors at Louisiana State U figured out the relationship between two enzymes involved in photosynthesis.  Once again, evolution was never mentioned in the PhysOrg report as essential to understanding their research.  “Without photosynthesis or oxygen, basically all recognizable life that we see in our landscape would be gone: no animals, no plants,” one professor said.  In order to understand the “mechanics” of photosynthesis better, the team found out how two enzymes, PsbP and PsbQ, interact.  The grad student used store-bought spinach for the lab experiments.  Once they identified the enzymes, they designed a computer model to study the interaction.  A pithy analogy with a designed artificial machine helped the team understand the process that gives life to the world:

The two proteins are like parts of a car that enable oil to reach the engine. In plants, the “oil” is calcium and chloride and the “fuel” is water and sunlight. The structure of PsbP and PsbQ facilitates the efficient use of calcium and chloride in a plant, enabling it to produce oxygen.

Their paper made it into the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Did the abstract mention evolution?  Yes—but only in the sense that living plants “evolve” (i.e., emit) oxygen every day through their photosynthetic machines.  Their research, focused on structure and function, provides “a framework for understanding the organization of these subunits within the higher plant photosystem.”

Plants and Evolution

Several recent news items discussed evolution.  Has anything been found to demonstrate increases in genomic information in plants that Darwinism requires to distinguish it from creation?

Salt tolerance:  Researchers at Utah State studied the salt tolerance and drought resistance of different species of maple trees, primarily for the purpose of understanding which ones could thrive better in brackish habitats, such as cities where treated waste water is used for irrigation.  If evolutionary theory was useful to them, they didn’t mention it in PhysOrg‘s press release.  After all, the maples are still maples; even creationists would agree that organisms can vary within their kind.  A similar study on salt tolerance among popular varieties of daffodils was performed at Loyola University, PhysOrg says, for similar purposes, and with similar conclusions.

Color changes:  Pentstemons are red, penstemons are blue; evolving red color is irreversible, too.  What does it take to evolve a red flower from a blue one?  According to Oxford University researchers reported by PhysOrg, it involves breaking things.  Knocking out a single enzyme caused the vivid blue color of one species to turn red over time.  But the process is like Humpty Dumpty:

While blue can change to red, in this case, evolution always drives down a one-way street, as reverse changes of red to blue are not observed.

Evolutionary shifts from blue to red flowers in Penstemon predictably involves degeneration of the same particular flower pigment gene, suggesting there are limited genetic ‘options’ for evolving red flowers in this group,” said Wessinger. “However, it is lot [sic] easier for evolution to break a gene than to fix one, so we suspect that reversals from red to blue flowers would be highly unlikely.

The scientists described 13 varieties of red flowers that “occurred by independent evolutionary events, showing a relatively simple, predictable genetic change behind the evolution from blue to red penstemons” – in other words, the red species broke the blue enzyme in different ways.  There are more ways to break an engine that to build one that works, for sure.  While the experiments explain how the red variety came to be, it doesn’t explain how the blue enzyme originated in the first place.

Evolutionary potential:  Go forth and evolve, invaders!  Another article on PhysOrg reports that after centuries of change, some invasive weeds have still not evolved to their full potential (whatever that might be).  In this first-ever project to track the evolution of an introduced species, Australian scientists think that the Oxford ragwort is getting better at thriving in its new habitat, but let’s face it; it’s still the same species it was over 200 years ago.  Only its location has changed.

Genome duplication:  When the cows munch, duplicate!  Gene duplication is often touted as a major means of driving evolution (especially in plants), but evolution didn’t get much mention in a piece on Science Daily.  “Their study is the first to show that a plant’s ability to dramatically rebound after being cut down relies on a process called genome duplication, in which individual cells make multiple copies of all of their genetic content.”  In other words, duplication appears to be a built-in response to stress, according to scientists at the University of Illinois who “pondered its purpose.”  Duplication allows the plant to respond more vigorously after being cut down or chewed on; “The researchers suspected that genome duplication was giving the plants the boost they needed to overcome adversity.”  This newfound “purpose” seems poised to give geneticists a new way to look at genomes.  Maybe those extra copies of the genomic library indicate that a species was stressed out in the past.

Forest evolution:  “Tracing the evolution of forest trees” is the headline of an article on PhysOrg.  Don’t expect to learn much about evolution in it.  The information provided by the National Science Foundation begins with this embarrassing admission by evolutionist Elizabeth Stacy at the University of Hawaii:

There are at least 60,000 identified tree species in the world, “but we know next to nothing about how they got here,” Elizabeth Stacy says. “Trees form the backbone of our forests, and are ecologically and economically important, yet we don’t know much about how speciation happens in trees.”

Wasn’t speciation the puzzle that Charles Darwin solved?  Even though Stacy thinks that her state of Hawaii is “like its own planet, its own evolutionary experiment,” her findings were more about ecology and conservation than evolution.  “To really think about long-term conservation, we need to be aware of these evolutionary processes,” she said, more as a sermon than a science presentation.  It’s not clear why evolution, a blind, pitiless, indifferent process, would cause human beings to care about trees, if people evolved, too.

In order to appear busy in her outdoor Darwin laboratory, Professor Stacy used genomic divination “to try to unravel the very shrouded evolutionary history of Metrosideros in Hawaii,” not thinking that the most ardent creationist would have no problem with variation among “closely related trees” within a created kind.  Thinking like Darwin apparently gives her happy feelings as she passes on the faith to the next generation.  “Because we are in this amazing evolutionary laboratory, I think we excel in engaging our students with authentic research experiences outside.”

This explains why most evolutionists are political liberals.  We reported a psychologist’s conclusion that liberals operate more on emotion than reason, compared to conservatives (11/09/14).  We have just seen Elizabeth Stacy swooning with rapture over evolution, even though the design features of living things are beyond her comprehension. It would only take a few minutes to show her a video clip about ATP synthase, the molecular machine that spins at 23,000 RPM in the leaves of those trees, to force her to confront the reality of complex specified information.  Would that hard data bring her out of her Darwin trip?  Unlikely.

It’s not clear, moreover, why an evolutionist would get chills over Darwinism.  What does she think on her pillow at night?  “All this beauty and variety and apparent design came about by blind, pitiless indifference; isn’t it wonderful!”  Sweet dreams.


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  • lux113 says:

    “We reported a psychologist’s conclusion that liberals operate more on emotion than reason ”

    Definitely the article you point to was far from conclusive on that issue – though one reference in it did conclude that, a different reference in the same piece stated:

    fMRI scans of the brains of 83 participants shown disgusting, pleasing, or neutral images. The researcher then took the pulpit, teaching people to think, not just react. New Scientist explained that conservatives appear more squeamish about disgusting images.

    That sounds more “emotional” to me.

    I’d say liberals and conservatives both are “emotional” but about different issues, at least, that’s the short version.

    And again, I’d really prefer the political bias didn’t leak into your science. As your own take on the science experiments states “onlookers could well ask what these kinds of questions (and solutions) are doing in the science department in the first place.”

    • Editor says:

      I’m sorry you feel that way, but from my experience, the majority of liberals (I prefer leftists, since they are not liberal) are co-extensive with the majority of Darwinists, and readers need to see that connection. As for their predilection for acting on emotion, listen to Dennis Prager or read his columns; he has lots of documentation from his decades of experience with both sides. It doesn’t mean they all are (there are many exceptions, including yourself), but it’s a dominant trait compared to conservatives. Here’s a recent discussion from Hillsdale College Imprimis newsletter by William Voegeli: — feeling good about one’s compassion is more important than actually doing good.

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