Gecko Smacks Latest Convergence Tale
A “gecko-approved” story of convergent evolution
is more like a funny Darwin commercial.
Fifteen times. That’s how many times Darwinists at the University of Minnesota appealed to evolution to explain something. Zero times. That’s how many times they explained how evolution actually did it.
Copycat red nectar shows promise as a natural colorant and is gecko-approved (University of Minnesota).
Plants that secrete colored nectars are part of an exclusive club. To date, only 70 plants in the world are on that list. The colors lure in pollinators, but more recently they sparked the interest of researchers and industry partners in search of natural colorant options.
The gecko part is just incidental to the tale. The main plot is a story about red nectar evolving “convergently” in two unrelated flowering plants. When the researchers made artificial red nectar, their pet gecko smacked his lips, apparently in approval, and came back for more (watch him in the embedded video), but did not return to the plain-colored sample. Science in action.
That part was just old-fashioned controlled experimentation: something about the red color attracted the critter. Evolution proved!
Maybe the gecko considered red to be a more appropriate color for Valentine’s Day or something, but the humans writing about it told a whopper of a just-so story about convergent evolution that the gecko’s built-in funny face would fit nicely. They told how evolution is so flexible, it traces genetic relationships except when it doesn’t. And here, it didn’t. Their story was dressed up for publication in PNAS, where it got a passing grade from editor Natasha Raikhel, Department for Botany and Plant Science, University of California, Riverside, and from secret peer reviewers.
Roy et al., “Convergent evolution of a blood-red nectar pigment in vertebrate-pollinated flowers.” PNAS February 1, 2022, 119 (5) e2114420119; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2114420119.
This is the paper appealing to evolution 15 times, with another 20 in the references. Examples:
Our findings indicate convergent evolution of a red-colored nectar has occurred across two distantly related plant species. Behavioral data show that the red pigment attracts diurnal geckos, the likely pollinator of one of these plants. These findings join a growing list of examples of distinct biochemical and molecular mechanisms underlying evolutionary convergence and provide a fascinating system for testing how interactions across species drive the evolution of novel pigments in an understudied context.
Finally! Will we get a scientific test of convergent evolution? Will we see “distinct biochemical and molecular mechanisms” that show how it works? About time! So what was the test? (The word test appears 40 times in the paper). Here it was: feeding colored nectar and plain nectar to geckos, and learning that they preferred the colored nectar. That was it! Evolution proved!
Surely a distinguished journal like PNAS would recognize this paper as silly, wouldn’t it? Only prestigious scientists get nominated into the National Academy of Scientists (NAS). Except for some jargon, this paper looks like the work of a middle school science project. Geckos like red sugar water instead of plain sugar water. You can even use food coloring to add some red, and they will go for that. What on earth does this have to do with Darwinian evolution? Nothing. The wizards of U Minn are not even sure what animals pollinate one of the two flowers with red nectar. And yet the authors go on and on about convergent evolution.
This study reports an investigation into the biochemical nature and biological function of Nesocodon’s red-pigmented nectar within a phylogenetic and evolutionary framework to address our gap in knowledge of colored nectars.
Aha! So the truth comes out. The paper was not written to test, illustrate or prove evolution. It was written within a phylogenetic and evolutionary framework. Evolution was already assumed, so the authors wanted to talk within their common worldview. It’s like two Marxists sitting on a park bench watching people passing by, making comments about who looks like a proletarian, who looks bourgeois, and oh— that guy, he must be a Kulak, because he is not wearing a red muffler.
Like jumping onto a passing bus, the U Minn team (14 of them) needed to look busy to get listed as co-authors and increase their publish-or-perish ratings, so while some took care of the geckos, others did some chemistry work. They found that nesocodin is the chemical that gives the nectar its red color. They also found that nesocodin is complex, requiring three enzymes to make:
Here, we show that the nectar’s red color is derived from a previously undescribed alkaloid termed nesocodin. The first nectar produced is acidic and pale yellow in color, but slowly becomes alkaline before taking on its characteristic red color. Three enzymes secreted into the nectar are either necessary or sufficient for pigment production, including a carbonic anhydrase that increases nectar pH, an aryl-alcohol oxidase that produces a pigment precursor, and a ferritin-like catalase that protects the pigment from degradation by hydrogen peroxide. Our findings demonstrate how these three enzymatic activities allow for the condensation of sinapaldehyde and proline to form a pigment with a stable imine bond.
What this should indicate is that it is highly unlikely for two unrelated plants to make this chemical. Enzymes are long, complex molecules made of amino acids which must be sequenced almost exactly right to function.
We subsequently verified that synthetic nesocodin is indeed attractive to Phelsuma geckos, the most likely pollinators of Nesocodon. We also identify nesocodin in the red nectar of the distantly related and hummingbird-visited Jaltomata herrerae and provide molecular evidence for convergent evolution of this trait. This work cumulatively identifies a convergently evolved trait in two vertebrate-pollinated species, suggesting that the red pigment is selectively favored and that only a limited number of compounds are likely to underlie this type of adaptation.
The two plants make their nesocodin in similar but not identical ways. They concluded that convergent evolution was a better explanation than common ancestry:
While interesting [that two species contain similar metabolites], the finding of nesocodin in both Nesocodon and Jaltomata nectars could be a conserved or independently evolved trait. Two key pieces of information strongly suggest that a case of convergent evolution has occurred in the production of this nectar pigment in these two members of the long-diverged Campanulaceae (Nesocodon) and Solanaceae (Jaltomata). Firstly, the carbonic anhydrases found in Nesocodon and J. hererrae nectars only share ∼42% identity (SI Appendix, Fig. S30) and have closer homologs in each other’s genomes. Secondly, the alcohol oxidases found in Nesocodon and Jaltomata nectars are clearly not orthologous (∼21% identity, SI Appendix, Fig. S31), as they belong to two different enzyme families (SI Appendix, Fig. S21). Specifically, Nesocodon Nec3 (alcohol oxidase) belongs to the GMC flavoenzyme oxidoreductase family, whereas the Jaltomata alcohol oxidase is a member of the berberine-bridge family of enzymes within the flavin adenine dinucleotide/flavin mononucleotide (FAD/FMN)-containing dehydrogenase superfamily. These findings strongly suggest that the genes encoding these enzymes have independently evolved to have the same function in pigment formation.
What about the third enzyme, the ferritin-like catalase? Called NmNec2, it is “ubiquitously expressed in flowers.” It serves to remove hydrogen peroxide from the products of the alcohol oxidase. As such, it cannot be part of the evolutionary convergence tale. In short, two complex enzymes and red nectar are all that hold the Darwin just-so story together.
You Get Two Choices
The gecko prefers red nectar on one plant. The hummingbird prefers red nectar in an unrelated plant. Both red nectars require chemical wizardry in the plants’ genes that build three enzymes to make red nectar. That’s it for the observations. Look at how Darwinism hangs on this flimsy bit of evidence.
This work cumulatively reports the identification of a convergently evolved plant pigment and its associated synthesis. These findings add to a growing list of convergent evolution in complex biosynthetic pathways. More specifically, it illustrates how modulation of the nectar chemical environment, largely through action of a carbonic anhydrase, impacts the production of red-colored nectars and how distantly related plants have independently converged on the same biochemical solution of how to produce a red nectar. This red pigment likely functions, at least in part, to attract and direct the vertebrate pollinators these plants rely on in habitats with few potential insect pollinators, like island cliff sides (Nesocodon of Mauritius) and mountains (Jaltomata in the Andes of South America). Indeed, it has been speculated that geographically isolated areas with numerous vertebrates, but relatively few insects, may have given rise to plant species with colored nectars.
The phrase “may have given rise” is a euphemism for “stuff may have happened.” Whatever happened, it evolved. It arose. And who speculated? Name the culprit! He should be arrested for impersonating a scientist (16 July 2014 commentary).
Think about this logically. If evolution is so powerful a creative force, it would have found more ways to make red nectar so that every pollinator could drink the cool-aid. Or, it could have made geckos and butterflies happy with plain nectar, maybe through some kind of hypnosis. Or, it could have given the “few potential insect pollinators” such a banquet that they could have flourished and proliferated in greater numbers, able to fly up cliffs and mountains in a single bound to get more of that “attractive” cool-aid. Or it could have made the plants come down from the cliffs and mountains where life is easier, so that they didn’t have to go to so much trouble to make red nectar. Or, the plants could have learned wind pollination or self-pollination. Or, they could have found another color that geckos like. As an exercise, list all the other things Darwin’s Tinkerer could have done to leave the flowers with less work to do. The point is, there is no lack of just-so stories to explain any observations “within an evolutionary framework.”
Here is the bottom line: evolutionists continue to believe that “Whatever happened, it evolved.” Their elaborate tales, written in prestigious journals in Jargonwocky, never deviate from the two Darwinian options: stuff happens by phylogenetic evolution (common ancestry), or stuff happens by convergent evolution. See? You have a choice: chicken gumbo, or chicken swill.
But where’s the beef?
Pulling the curtain away from the Blunderful Wizard of Flaws is not that hard when you know what to look for. When reading Darwin-framework papers in a journal, you can strip off the abstruse terminology, or use Dictionary.com to look up words you don’t know. 90% of the text is often irrelevant. For instance, look how diligent these guys were with their gecko taste test:
Opaque barriers were placed between terraria to prevent the geckos from seeing individuals in adjacent terraria. The room temperature was maintained between 24.5 and 26.5 °C. Each terrarium contained one or more fake plants and a heat pad for thermoregulation. The humidity level and temperature in the room, as well as the health of each gecko, were monitored daily. Over the course of this study, no gecko showed signs of stress or health problems (e.g., pale coloration or emaciation), and all geckos continued to exhibit normal, species-typical behaviors in their home terraria. No geckos were tested while they were shedding. Water was accessible at all times in a shallow bowl in each terrarium. Geckos were fed three times each week with a combination of crickets dusted with calcium and vitamins, mealworms, and a fruit supplement.
Yawn. Boy, they sure put those grad students through the paces, didn’t they? No racehorses were better cared for.
That diligence, though admirable, was completely irrelevant to the main thesis. Darwinists need to prove that natural selection has creative powers to drive plants to create red nectar, to create geckos to like it, and to create all of biology, including their own brains. The lab work may have taught them about the care and feeding of geckos as pets, but who cares? Your job as a sleuth is to analyze the logical arguments of evolutionary claims. Don’t waste your time on the fluff. Where’s the beef? Where’s the evidence that complex specified information in geckos, hummingbirds and flowers “may have arisen” by a Darwinian process? Hone in on that, and you can pin a Darwinist to the floor in the first round.
And don’t take the false choice you are offered. Hagar the Horrible and his crew were fed up with fish sticks for dinner day after day, so they put the chinless cook to an ultimatum: change the menu, or overboard you go! The chinless cook came back the next day, lifting the cover on his new dish, announcing proudly, “Here you are: fish cubes!”
Enough fishing around, Darwinists. Let’s see your beef.