ATP Synthase and Joseph Kuhn

The most recent two DpSU’s can be covered fairly quickly. The first, from the second of Feb, was called Sophisticated Protein Motor Defies Evolution.

Said ‘motor’ is ATP synthase, the enzyme that produces ATP (as you might guess). The paper is Subnanometre-resolution structure of the intact Thermus thermophilus H+-driven ATP synthase in Nature. It’s a highly technical paper that I don’t pretend to understand:

Here we present a 9.7 Å resolution map of the H+-driven ATP synthase from Thermus thermophilus obtained by electron cryomicroscopy of single particles in ice.

You get the picture. Mr Thomas describes the findings in a very mechanical way, so as to spin them in such a way as to justify the title and imply irreducible complexity:

A stream of protons from an acidic area flows through ATP synthase to power its spinning rotor, which in turn activates rocking cams to make ATP. It can also run in reverse, acting as a proton pump.

The device takes clever advantage of the tendency for acid to neutralize itself. ATP synthase harnesses the pressure of concentrated protons and converts it to mechanical energy as a spinning rotor and axle. It then immediately converts that to chemical energy in ATP. The full assembly includes the asymmetrical axle, six rocking cams, two stators, a bushing, a 12-part rotor, and two half-stroke cylinders.

His conclusion reads as follows:

The authors did not mention evolution in their description of this remarkable biological machine. And that’s very appropriate, since such a sophisticated system could never have resulted from natural processes. It could only be the work of a sophisticated Designer.

Again, I don’t quite understand all this stuff along the lines of “after a Glu 63 residue is deprotonated by the cytoplasmic half-channel”, but I can operate the ‘find’ function in webrowsers. I can confirm for you that there is no mention of evolution in this paper, but also that the only things mentioned by the names given by Thomas out of “the asymmetrical axle, six rocking cams, two stators, a bushing, a 12-part rotor, and two half-stroke cylinders” is the rotor. And when it comes down to it, the rotor isn’t all that amazing.

Now, this enzyme is certainly complex – and Brian is out only to make it sound more so – but as we learnt the other day, mere complexity is not out of the reach of evolution. No, it needs to be irreducably complex, specifically in such a way as to prevent evolution from evolving it. And that is not something you can claim without evidence.

While we’re here, there are two other things to note. First, as B.T. himself admits here:

…every living cell—from bacteria to brain cells—depends on one or another version of ATP synthase.

There are different versions of ATP synthase – it is not a case of there being only the one design that works. If the enzyme can change and still work, what’s to say that it could not have gradually evolved?

Second, here’s a different news item on the same protein: Moonlighting enzyme works double shift 24/7

The discovery, featured in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that plants evolved a new function for this enzyme by changing merely one of its protein building blocks.

And you can read the rest at that link. Now, if you can evolve a new function for the protein, perhaps its evolution was driven by a different function? There are many, many ways it could have been done that Mr Thomas cannot simply rule out.

Second, from the third of Feb, was Baylor Surgeon ‘Dissects’ Darwinism.

If you’ve been following The Controversy in other places beside this blog lately you’ve probably already heard about this. You may have read, for example, this post on WEIT, or these two posts on Sandwalk. To quote Dr Moran in one of those latter posts:

Joseph A. Kuhn is a physician at the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. This is a Christian medical center associated with Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Joseph Kuhn published an article in a recent issue of Baylor University Medical Center ProceedingsDissectring Darwinism.

Kuhn has an M.D. degree. He is not a scientist and he has no obvious expertise in biology and/or evolution. He is a Roman Catholic. He is definitely an Intelligent Design Creationist.

That will do for background. Mr Thomas is just singing Kuhn’s praises and parroting his points, so reading those posts will do for a refutation of him too.

I’ll comment on a footnote, however:

If curriculum writers could adequately describe some of evolution’s weaknesses, then Missouri might also use their products, assuming that the state’s currently proposed Bill No. 1276 becomes law. The bill would protect teachers who wish to discuss origins in the classroom. It proposes that authorities not hinder teachers “from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of biological or chemical evolution whenever these subjects are taught within the course curriculum schedule.” Missouri House Bill 1276, “AN ACT to amend chapter 170, RSMo, by adding thereto one new section relating to teacher academic freedom to teach scientific evidence regarding evolution,” posted on

You can read it at the link given there, or at RationalWiki – that and a number of other creationist bills have been uploaded there over the last few weeks. I (or anyone else) haven’t gotten around to writing an article on it yet, but for now all you need to know is that it’s a standard “strengths and weaknesses” (well, “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses”) Academic Freedom Act. And you can’t make a law to ‘protect’ the act of violating the US constitution, at least as far as I am aware.

They’ve finally gotten around to putting up a new That’s a Fact video. It’s about ‘dumb luck’ or something – I haven’t managed to watch it yet.


6 thoughts on “ATP Synthase and Joseph Kuhn

  1. When I was learning about how plants and animals produce ATP I was amazed at how the animal version just seems to be a derived form of the plant one – it’s pretty obvious some evolution occurred.

  2. I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. I like your blog and thought based on its content you deserved this award. If you choose to accept the Versatile Blogger Award, there are a few things you are required to do, to pass it forward. According to the requirements of the award you need to:
    • Nominate 15 other bloggers
    • Inform your nominees
    • Share 7 random facts about myself
    • Thank the one who nominated you
    • Add a picture of the award to this post

  3. Thank you both, of course, but I’ll not take you up on your offer. If I had an award I’d actually have to remember to write something… 🙂

  4. Pingback: Cavefish; Kimberlite Pipes; and the Joke’s on Frank Sherwin « Eye on the ICR

  5. Pingback: Gyres « Eye on the ICR


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