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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?

Weird Evolution Tales

Evolutionary theory leads to some fantastic tales. Since evolution is often presumed to be a fact that explains everything in biology, and is itself not subject to testing or doubt, everything in biology must be viewed through an evolutionary lens. This hard-core stance on evolution often leads to assertions and explanations that appear contrived, if not preposterous, to Darwin doubters. Here are some recent examples of weird evolution stories that made it past the logic inspectors simply because evolution is unquestioned.

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.

Cells Have Dimmer Switches

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 […]

Political Science 101: Doubt Scientific Claims

Science goes through a chain of messengers from data to consumer. In between are fallible scientists, who speak often in incomprehensible jargon and often only partially understand what they observe, but often wish to gain notoriety with a major discovery (or need to publish or perish). Next, the institutional press offices decide what is significant and try to digest the jargon to layman level. The predigested stories are then delivered to science reporters, who sometimes sensationalize the filtered stories to make a name for themselves. Finally, the media outlets, prone to peer biases, dress up the products to grab the eyes of readers of their newspapers, magazines, or web pages. How much of the real scientific data remains at the end of this game of Telephone? Sometimes the bias is clearly evident, but often the product is delivered with all the presumptive authority of science. Once in awhile, a reporter comes clean about the dirty work involved.

If This Is Evolution, What Is Trivia?

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

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.

Humans Are Devolving

“We are all mutants,” proclaimed a headline on Science Daily. “First Direct Whole-Genome Measure of Human Mutation Predicts 60 New Mutations in Each of Us.” The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute press release reported 60 new mutations per individual, received from parents – a “striking value” the article characterized the “unexpected findings”.

Stem Cell News

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.

Evolution Against Intuition

As a general theory of life, evolution promises to explain everything. Not all observations fit neatly into that assumption. How do evolutionists respond when surprising or counter-intuitive observations require integration into the theory? Sometimes the only answer is that they evolved because they evolved. These 10 examples (with encore) can provide case studies for the discerning.

Genetic Entropy Confirmed

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

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.

Fossils Support Evolution! (Because Evolution Is Assumed)

Fossils come in a variety of manifestations – not always bone.  They could be leaf imprints, whole animals trapped in amber, footprints, or mineral traces made by once-living organisms.  Some recent fossil finds are having trouble fitting into evolutionary theory.  But one thing about those Darwinists: they always find a way. Graph fight:  Evolutionists have […]

Why Stuff Evolves: Not Having Stuff Would Be Terrible

The delicate yet effective choreography of DNA Damage Repair was described by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in terms of amazement: “Safeguarding genome integrity through extraordinary DNA repair.”  DNA repair is essential for health: “To prevent not only gene mutations but broken chromosomes and chromosomal abnormalities known to cause cancer, infertility, and other diseases in humans, […]
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