October 12, 2022 | Jerry Bergman

Nobel Prize for Human Non-Evolution

Nobel Prize awarded to Svante Pääbo for work on human evolution.
Ironically, his work fails to support human evolution.

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Svante Pääbo was awarded a Nobel Prize on October 3 for his DNA research on human fossils. It was touted as another proof of evolution. However, an evaluation of his work shows it does not support evolution at all, and, in fact, confirms just the opposite.

The Research

Pääbo’s team first sequenced Neanderthal mitochondria from a single bone. Then the team sequenced ancient DNA found in the nucleus from three Neanderthal bone specimens. The bone specimens came from the Vindija cave in Croatia, and also from Neanderthals found in Germany, Russia, and Spain. Eventually Pääbo sequenced the three billion base pairs of the entire Neanderthal genome. Then, Pääbo sequenced DNA from a finger bone discovered in a cave in southern Siberia.

Success in completing these tasks were widely believed to be impossible. Now, it is common. Pääbo’s success opened up a new field, namely the now fiercely competitive field of paleogenomics, which concerns the analysis of ancient DNA.[1] So far paleogenomics has complete genetic sequencing on almost 8,000 “ancient” individuals.[2]

Contamination Control

I read Pääbo’s major book on his Neanderthal DNA research several years ago.[3] I was very impressed with his discussions about the detailed care that he exercised to reduce the likelihood of contamination of the ancient DNA with modern DNA. This was a real concern because modern DNA surrounds almost everything, including DNA shed by our own bodies on skin particles and hair. Contamination with modern DNA can only be eliminated by doing the research in a class-5 clean room. Ancient DNA research, furthermore, requires team members to undergo extensive training in contamination control. Researchers enter and exit the clean room through airlocks, air showers, and/or gowning rooms. The clean room workers also must wear special clothing designed to trap the contaminants that are naturally generated by skin and the body.[4]

In my own DNA research experience at the Medical College of Ohio, I remember that we had to wipe the counter tops and other places clean because humans shed DNA and RNA with each breath, as well as from our skin, sweat evaporation, and clothing. We also used Obliterase, a surface cleaner reagent solution which removes DNA, DNase, and RNase contamination from pipettes, beakers, flasks, spatulas, Polymerase Chain Reaction equipment, and other lab apparatus that cannot be autoclaved. Both DNase (which breaks down DNA) and RNase (which breaks down DNA) are a major problem in doing paleo-DNA research on ancient organisms. Other precautions include sample duplication and the evaluation of each step. My impression was that Pääbo’s results were valid.

Date Estimates

My main concern was that the DNA obtained from the bone fragments could not have been even close to 430,000 years old, a conclusion that now appears likely from the research. The dating methods used were partly because evolution demands an ancient age for Neanderthals in order to fit into the orthodox human evolutionary scenario. This scenario requires long ages to explain the many evolutionary changes required to go from apes to modern humans. Pääbo thus achieved, using “old, degraded and contaminated genetic material from our ancestors,” what many experts thought “was an impossible challenge,” namely sequencing old, degraded and contaminated DNA.[5]

Relationships

The results of DNA comparisons with Neanderthals, most of whom once lived in Europe and Western Asia, show that the Neanderthal DNA was distinct from both modern-day humans and chimpanzees. Pääbo’s research supported this view. It concluded that a chasm exists between human and chimp DNA, not the two percent as is often claimed:

Despite the early discoveries of apparently high DNA similarity between humans and chimps, large-scale DNA sequencing projects began to present a different picture. In 2002, a large DNA sequencing lab produced over 3 million bases of chimp DNA sequence in small 50 to 900 base fragments that were obtained randomly from the entire chimp genome. When these were matched with the human genome using computer software, only two-thirds of the DNA sequences could be lined up onto human DNA. While there were many short stretches of DNA that were very similar to human DNA, this meant that more than 30% of the chimp DNA sequence was not similar to human DNA at all! [6]

The finding that Neanderthal DNA was “distinct,” meaning different from modern DNA, is not surprising. DNA tests can be done today to determine one’s ethnic background because the different ethnic groups have distinct DNA. This includes Neanderthal DNA compared to modern human DNA. Pääbo also found that “comparisons between Neanderthal DNA and humans from around the world showed their DNA was a closer match to humans coming from Europe or Asia.”

Interbreeding of Neanderthals and Modern Humans

The Neanderthal genome determined a major surprise at the time. DNA comparisons showed

that Homo sapiens had sex and children with Neanderthals after migrating out of Africa around 70,000 years ago. They are not a missing ling as believed for over a century. And you can still see the legacy of that difference today. Between 1 and 4 percent of modern human DNA comes from our Neanderthal relatives and this even affects our body’s ability to respond to infection.”[7]

Thus Neanderthals could interbreed with modern humans, showing that they were one species—one Genesis kind, the human species. They are not a different species or missing link as evolutionists have attempted to claim since Darwin’s time. Instead of providing “us with new insight into the life of our African ancestors and the emergence of the modern human,” the DNA analysis has shown, at most, that much variety existed in the past as also exists in the present (see diagram).[8]

An evolutionary attempt to show the human family which actually shows both past and present variety.
Arrows between different branches show mating that occurred.

I also had my DNA tested recently. Comparisons of my DNA likewise found that it was very similar to humans living in Eastern Europe, but dissimilar to humans living in the rest of the world. I have 319 Neanderthal genetic variants, which is more than 96 percent of all 23 and Me analysis done up to when I had my DNA sequenced. The sequence analysis then showed which of my traits are from my Neanderthal DNA.[9]

Pääbo was also able to sequence a DNA sample of Denisovans, a people group similar to Neanderthals. The DNA analysis showed that “Homo sapiens bred with Denisovans… In parts of South East Asia up to 6% of people’s DNA is Denisovan.”[10]

‘The Half-Life of DNA Problem’ and the 430,000-Year Estimate

DNA decays with time, casting doubt on the age estimates. An article at The Scientist about the Nobel award states, “DNA degrades relatively quickly, and so researchers often struggle to purify and analyze fragments of the molecule from remains” of a body.[11] The decay rate of DNA depends on the DNA’s exposure to heat, water, sunlight, oxygen, and especially radiation. If a body is left out in the sun and rain, its DNA will be useful for analysis for only a few weeks. Conversely, DNA frozen solidly deep in Antarctic ice may last a hundred thousand years. The ideal preservation conditions are in a very dry, hermetically sealed container protected from radiation and frozen solid at about -80 degrees Celsius. Even then, ambient radiation will eventually render the DNA unusable.[12]

Much controversy exists about DNA longevity.[13] All of the DNA in living organisms constantly sustains damage, but it is also constantly being repaired by the body’s elaborate repair system which is accurate to the 99.9 percent level.[14]  This occurs because

Ionizing radiation interacts with matter by depositing energy in the target structure within about 10-19 to 10-14 seconds. This energy deposition event is followed by radiochemical processes leading to altered target molecules (DNA) which are the substrates for subsequent enzymatic repair reactions, taking place in the time range of seconds to days. These physical, chemical and biological processes together determine the effect of radiation on unicellular and multicellular organisms.[15]

Pääbo’s team dealt with this concern by developing methods for estimating the amount of DNA damage (caused by thousands of years of exposure to background radiation and contamination). For this purpose, they used sequences from microorganisms and modern humans.

Critique

My main concern is that the cave conditions where the ancient DNA samples were found were, at best, poor for preserving the DNA. To conclude that it was 430,000 years old is very problematic. DNA that old would likely have very few genes that are even partly intact. The 430,000-year-old date is not based on any evidence revealed in the DNA or its environment, but rather from the long-age assumptions required to explain the problems of evolution.

Summary

Put a suit on a Neanderthal and most people wouldn’t notice the difference.

I have no reason to question the validity of the results of the sequences obtained. They conform to other comparisons showing that Neanderthals and Denisovans were fully human, albeit part of other people groups distinct from those alive today. They are part of the human family as Genesis teaches – not evolutionary precursors. Other so-called missing links, or primitive humans, were also part of the human family. In an article about genomic comparisons between so-called “primitive humans” at The Conversation on October 7, Princeton geneticist Joshua Akey said,

From the well-known Neanderthals and more enigmatic Denisovans in Eurasia, to the diminutive ‘hobbit’ Homo floresiensis on the island of Flores in Indonesia, to Homo naledi that lived in South Africa, multiple hominins abounded.”[16]

This variety is no different than the variety of humans seen today which were once called “races.” They are more accurately referred to as people groups.

My major disagreement is about the age estimate for the bone fragments used to extract DNA. The fossils were found in locations that were far less than ideal for preservation. From what we know about DNA deterioration rates, I find it hard to believe that the Neanderthal DNA recovered is more than 3,000 years old, if even that old.

References

[1] Callaway, Ewen, and Heidi Ledford. 2022. Geneticist who unmasked lives of ancient humans wins medicine Nobel. Nature 610: 16-17, p. 16.

[2] Prendergast, Mary. 2022. What’s Next for Ancient DNA Studies After the Nobel? The Scientist Oct 5).

[3] Svante Pääbo. 2014.  Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[4] Wong, Carissa. 2022. Nobel prize awarded for study of human evolution using ancient DNA. New Scientist, October 30.

[5] Gallagher, James. 2022. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to Sweden’s Svante Pääbo for his work on human evolution. BBC News, October 3.

[6] Ebersberger, I., D. Metzler, C. Schwarz, and S. Pääbo. 2002. Genome wide ccomparisons of DNA ssequences between humans and chimpanzees. American Journal of Human Genetics 70(6): 1490-1497, June. Emphasis added.

[7] Gallagher, 2022.

[8] D’ Alessio, Vittoria. 2022. Ancient DNA brings us closer to unlocking secrets of how modern humans evolved. European Research, Sept 5.

[9] “Results of Testing on Jerry Bergman.” 23 and Me. 2018.

[10] Gallagher, 2022.

[11] Williams, Shawna. 2022. Svante Pääbo awarded Nobel for Paleogenomics. The Scientist, October 3. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/svante-p-bo-awarded-nobel-for-paleogenomics-70579

[12] Sachs, Rainer, et al., 1992. DNA damage caused by ionizing radiation. Mathematical Biosciences 112(2): 271-303, December.

[13] Young, Emma. 2002. Row unravels over claim of oldest DNA. NewScientist, May 22. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2317-row-unravels-over-claim-of-oldest-dna/

[14] Frankenberg-Schwager, Marlis. 1989. Review of repair kinetics for DNA damage induced in eukaryotic cells in vitro by ionizing radiation. Radiotherapy and Oncology 14(4): 307-320, April.

[15] Frankenberg-Schwager, 1989, p. 307.

[16] Akey, Joshua. 2022. Our Homo sapiens ancestors shared the world with Neanderthals, Denisovans and other types of humans whose DNA lives on in our genes.  The Conversation, Oct 7.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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