May 20, 2017 | Randy Guliuzza

Microbes Talk More than People Do


How Intelligent Design Explains What Evolutionary Theory Misses

by Randy J. Guliuzza, P.E., M.D.

Communication seems to be a basic element of all ecological relationships. Humans and animals communicate amongst each other in many ways—even when they do not share a common language. Interesting new research out of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) documents that communication even occurs between different kinds of micro-organisms. They have discovered some of the system elements showing how some bacteria and fungi utilize volatile organic compounds (VOCs), known as terpenes (7/23/16), as a medium to convey communication between each other. This discovery formed the basis of NIOO’s surprising press release headline, “The world’s most spoken language is…Terpene.”

Research leader Paolina Garbeva’s team discovered that a soil-dwelling bacterium, Serratia plymuthica PRI-2C, responds by becoming motile and producing a terpene of its own, sodorifen, when exposed to VOCs emitted by the fungus Fusarium culmorum. [1]

The world’s most spoken language is…Terpene. Micro-organisms communicate with each other – and the rest of the world – through smells.

NIOO press release

Microorganisms in soil appear capable of sensing changes in ratios of VOCs in their environment, and then self-adjust appropriately. Previous studies confirmed that VOCs are used as signaling molecules (a.k.a. “infochemicals”) for inter-species microbial communications. The research team investigated how VOCs are “perceived as signals” within microorganism relationships and then identify the regulatory genes and pathways involved in a response. The rhizosphere isolate S. plymuthica was grown either exposed or unexposed to VOCs emitted by F. culmorum. The bacterial transcriptome and proteome were analyzed under each situation to identify the molecular basis of the bacterial response to fungal VOCs.

Using sophisticated biomolecular sequencers and sensors, they found S. plymuthica differentially expressed genes and proteins related to chemotaxis, motility, signal transduction, energy metabolism, the cell envelope, the terpene sodorifen, and several others. The production of sodorifen is likewise detected by F. culmorum and is “involved in this bacterial-fungal conversation.”

The experiment is well-designed and the team employed impressive techniques to accurately isolate their results. Therefore, they conclude that “fungal volatile compounds induce production of” these differentially expressed compounds in S. plymuthica.

What Needs Explaining

But, have they arrived at a precise conclusion? Can a fungus really “induce” the expression of anything out of a bacterium given that the fungus has no access to the bacterium’s regulating elements controlling its gene products? The conclusion is misleading despite using rigorous techniques because key system elements that need to be identified or described to present a complete and accurate conclusion are omitted from their explanations. Their omissions are not uncommon in evolutionary scientific literature because the functions of organisms are not analyzed as if they were intelligently designed.

The researchers observe a ubiquitous phenomenon that needs explaining: “interactions and communication among organisms are central to understanding any ecosystem. The essential role of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the communication with other organisms, also known as infochemicals, has been acknowledged for more than 30 years”. How can two distinct independent entities actually work together? Why is a chemical compound produced by one entity “information” or “perceived as signals” to another entity? Typically, a completely unsubstantiated narrative, “coevolution,” is inserted to plug the knowledge gap.

The Nature of an Interface

However, in order for two distinct independent entities to work together, they must be connected by an interface system. That some interface or bridging mechanism is an absolute for any interactions and communication to happen was recently reported in the Creation Research Society Quarterly. [2] Though they do not discuss any of the elements, in Schmidt’s report, both the fungus and the bacterium must have an interface with three indispensable interface elements:

  1. Authentication mechanisms to differentiate self and non-self entities.
  2. Protocol rules and processes governing exchanges of information and resources.
  3. A common medium of conditions mutually accessible to both entities.

These three well-matched elements constitute the minimal interacting parts needed to attain the basic function of an interface. Removal of any one of the parts causes an interface system to effectively cease functioning.

Thus, the control of self is always through its own innate systems. The result is self-adjustments upon detection of changed conditions (either internal or external.) Therefore, control of S. plymuthica when exposed or unexposed to VOCs emitted by F. culmorum is not by violating the distinct boundaries of S. plymuthica and directly manipulating its systems.

F. culmorum produces a product, in this case VOCs, which is released into the environment (the common medium with S. plymuthica.) Protocols within S. plymuthica have specified these VOCs to be a stimulus, and on its external boundary is has a detector specific for those VOCs, while other protocols specify how to self-adjust the expression of its gene products. S. plymuthica becomes motile and produces a terpene of its own, sodorifen, which it releases into the common medium detected by F. culmorum—which it has specified to be a stimulus, augmented with the necessary specified sensor, and also self-adjusts according to its internal protocols—enabling this “bacterial-fungal conversation.”

Can an Interface Evolve?

Interfaces are hard to explain through an iterative process of death and survival, since the information within each entity functions in a way to foresee the outcome desired for each entity that will result from the relationship. These outcomes are a particular and necessary consequential end product of its own internal processes which start after it detects specific conditions (i.e., specified stimuli) by another non-self system. When Schmidt concludes that “fungal volatile compounds induce production of…”, she mistakenly moves from an exposure to a response—and skips all the vital system elements in between which actually explain how the conversation can happen.

  1. Schmidt, R. et al. 2017. Fungal volatile compounds induce production of the secondary metabolite Sodorifen in Serratia plymuthica PRI-2C. Scientific Reports. 7(862): 1-14. DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-00893-3 ]
  2. Guliuzza, R. J. and F. Sherwin, 2016. Design Analysis Suggests That Our “Immune” System Is Better Understood as a Microbe Interface System. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 53 (2):27-43.

The conclusions from the research by Schmidt et al could have been better informed through an understanding of intelligent design. In human-designed entities, 100% of functional causality originates from within the object designed. When seeking to discern the true cause for the interplay of elements found between organisms, intelligent design methodology describes all, but only tangible, system elements. By neither omitting nor concocting anything that might confuse accuracy, intelligent design methodology helps prevent biological causality from being mis-ascribed to mystical expressions of environmental agency producing an unsubstantiated outcome such as coevolution.

Dr. Randy Guliuzza is National Representative for the
Institute for Creation Research (ICR). See his Author Profile.



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