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Evolution Fits Any Data

At first blush, it might seem a wonderful thing when many different kinds of evidence can be explained by one simple, elegant theory. Actually, though, too much confirmation can be a theory’s downfall. When a theory explains too much – even opposite things – it really explains nothing. For instance, everything in the universe can be explained by the phrase, “Stuff happens.” Such a theory is useless, even if true. That’s why any theory that explains too much should be looked at askance. Here are some recent observations offered in support of the theory of evolution:

Human Genome Individuality Adds New Questions

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 Embryonic Stem Cells Obsolete?

Adult stem cells can apparently do everything embryonic stem cells can – and they are moving regenerative medicine forward faster, with more results. Since the use of human embryos for research is ethically repugnant to many people, what motivations remain to continue the practice? Here is a rapid-fire list of stem cell news this month:

Are Biological Clocks Like Paley’s Watch?

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?

A Tale of Two Falsifications of Evolution

In diatribes against creationists, evolutionists have long pointed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria as examples of evolution in action. Since antibiotics were unknown before the 1920s, debaters have taunted their creationist opponents with the claim that evolution is such an observable fact, we’re watching it happen right before our very eyes. The force of that argument has been undermined with a new discovery this week that pushes the “evolution” of such resistance way back before human civilization arrived. Another article is claiming that human brain chemistry existed way, way back, “long before animals, brains and even nerve cells existed.”

Adventures in Biomimetics

The imitation of nature in engineering has become one of the hottest trends in science. Almost every week, amazing technologies are being advanced the easy way – by observing how living things do it. We all stand to benefit from the design-based science of biomimetics. Here are a few recent examples.

Pascal to Your Health

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”.

Your Rotary Engines Are Arranged in Factories

As if ATP synthase was not amazing enough, a team of scientists in Germany now tells us they are arranged in rows with other equipment to optimize performance. From electron micrographs of intact mitochondria, they were able to detect the rotary engines of ATP synthase and other parts of the respiratory chain. Their diagram in an open-source paper in PNAS looks for all the world like a factory.

Would Wood Evolve?

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.

Playing Fast and Loose with Evolution

The word evolution gets used and misused often. Strictly speaking, neo-Darwinian evolution demands that mutations and natural selection operate with no foresight or oversight, no purpose or direction, no impetus toward a desired outcome. In actual practice, scientists and reporters play fast and loose with the term, making it into a designer substitute.

Cell Chaperones Keep Proteins Properly Folded

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

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

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?

Cell Operations Amaze, Inspire

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

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.
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