Playing Fast and Loose with Evolution
August 10, 2011
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
August 2, 2011
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
August 1, 2011
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
July 31, 2011
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
July 16, 2011
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
July 11, 2011
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.
Cells Have Dimmer Switches
June 30, 2011
A metaphor has been emerging among biophysicists: cells have rheostats or dimmer switches. The metaphor implies that some cellular regulatory processes are not just on or off; they have continuous ranges of values that can be finely tuned for the need of the organism. It's been years since our first report that gene expression is […]
If This Is Evolution, What Is Trivia?
June 24, 2011
Some science news articles appear confident about evolution, but offer little evidence except trivial change . Sometimes, they even offer evidence that contradicts their expectations. If this is evolution, what is trivia?
Follow the Leader: Nature
June 21, 2011
Ever since biomimetics (the imitation of nature) gradually emerged around 2002 and really took off in 2005, it has not slowed down. Over 90 previous entries in these pages have reported teams all over the world seeking out natural designs for ideas. The reports have accelerated in recent years to the point where there is only space for short summaries that give a taste of the wide variety of engineering work taking inspiration from plants, animals, and even cells. You yourself might inspire some inventor. Here are a few more highlights from recent adventures in biomimetics.
Stem Cell News
June 20, 2011
Stem cells continue to be hot subjects for research. They are divided into two basic “political” parties: embryonic stem cells (ES), which raise ethical issues about tampering with human life, and adult stem cells (AS), found throughout the body, which have no ethical issues and show the most progress for therapy. The latter include the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), coaxed from adult cells to recover the ability to differentiate into multiple tissue types. Even though AS is leading, some scientists are still demanding federal funding for ES.
Genetic Entropy Confirmed
June 5, 2011
In Darwinian evolution, variations must add new information to produce innovations. Neo-Darwinism ascribes those variations to genetic mutations. In 2005, geneticist John Sanford (Cornell) argued that the accumulation of mutations always decreases fitness in a process he called “genetic entropy.” The downhill trend is amplified by a number of factors, including selection interference and epistasis (interactions between mutations). Now, genetic entropy from epistasis has received support by two new papers in Science.
Biological Information Symposium a Success
June 4, 2011
Friday morning June 4, participants were on their way homes across America and in Europe from a successful conference entitled Biological Information: New Perspectives. They had come to hear leading lights in the Intelligent Design movement deliver 27 scientific presentations on a variety of subtopics under the umbrella theme of information in biology. From all appearances, everyone had a great time of fellowship, encouragement and intellectual stimulation. No protesters or critics detracted from the event—partly because it was not widely advertised, in order to protect the identity of those wanting to take part without jeopardizing their careers.
Embryonic Stem Cells Left in iPS Dust
May 23, 2011
A few years ago, scientists were clamoring for access to human embryos for stem cell research. Now, the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from human skin and other adult tissues has sidetracked interest in embryonic stem cells. The momentum is clearly going with iPS. Is there any longer a need for embryonic stem cell research? (includes 9 bullet topics)
Intelligent Design Found in Bacteria
May 1, 2011
Poetry has been found in a bacterial genome. We know it was intentional, because we know the poet who did it: Christian Bok. The BBC News tells how Bok “encoded his verse into a strip of DNA and had it inserted into a common bacterium, E. coli.” Would scientists of the future be able to […]
Embryonic Stem Cell Decision Overturned
April 30, 2011
Judge Lamberth’s decision to block federal funding of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research last fall (09/03/2010) has been overturned by a 2-1 vote in a federal appeals court. PhysOrg called this a “major victory to President Barack Obama’s administration.” Theistic evolutionist Francis Collins, head of the NIH, expressed delight at the reversal. The earlier decision […]