Charlie Darwin Was Smarter Than You

For our first June article Brian Thomas writes People Not Quite as Clever Anymore. Intriguingly this title seems to lack the usual hyperbole (anyone remember those “edible eggs”?) but this doesn’t mean that the article is correct.

Tying in with their conception of the Fall, young Earth creationists often talk about the concept of “genetic load,” or mutational meltdown. The Curse, they believe, caused mutations which they claim will go undetected by natural selection and build up over the generations until they eventually render organisms non-functional. This would exhibit itself in the form of genetic diseases, and also traits such as intelligence – it’s the root source of the common out when challenged on how Noah could have built such a large, seaworthy vessel: “people were smarter back then,” they say, “look at the pyramids.” An implication of this is that Victorians (such as Charles Darwin) would have been smarter than people living today – like the current batch of young Earth creationists, for instance. This may have something to do with their tendency to point to even older scientists, like Newton, who they claim believed as they did. Continue reading

Professor Lenski’s Amazing Citrate-Eating E. coli

These guys again

You’ve heard of Richard Lenski’s long-term E. coli experiment before, I assume. It’s widely cited as a counterexample to a subset of creationist claims, and is particularly famous for Andrew Schlafly’s hillarious attempt to challenge Lenski’s findings in 2008. RationalWiki summarises what you should already know:

On June 9, 2008, the New Scientist published an article describing preliminary results of a long-running experiment started by Lenski [ED: link]. Lenski and his team had taken a single strain of the bacterium E. coli, separated its descendants into twelve populations, and proceeded to observe their mutations over the course of twenty years (a process discussed on Lenski’s website). The E. coli were fed a measured amount of glucose every day. At one point, one of the populations exploded far beyond the parameters of the experiment. Lenski eventually discovered that this population had evolved the ability to “eat” citrate, an organic molecule which was part of the solution the E. coli lived in, but which E. coli cannot normally digest. Thus, evolution had been visibly observed, with an exquisite amount of evidence establishing the timeline along the way. Not only that, but the experiment was repeatable; Lenski started new experiments with the frozen “archives” of the population which exploded, and found that beyond a certain point, that particular population of E. coli were highly likely to evolve the ability to digest citrate. The paper also highlighted the role of historical contingency in evolution and the role of potentiating mutations.

There is an additional, less commonly known but still important fact to note: your average E. coli can already metabolise citrate, just not in the presence of oxygen. Indeed, not doing so is a defining characteristic of the species* – does this experiment then qualify as the creation of a new “kind” of organism, I wonder?

Anyway, that’s what we already knew. While the appearance of citrate metabolism was well-documented, with huge quantities of data to wade through only now (with a new paper in Nature) do we have an insight into the changes at the genetic level that allowed the phenotypic changes be observed. Perhaps in a desire to become the next Schlafly, Brian Thomas writes Bacterial ‘Evolution’ Is Actually Design in Action. Continue reading

Introducing Guliuzzism

How giraffes got long necks: The most important evolutionary question out thereIn the Randy Guliuzza lecture video that I analysed last week I missed out a few things. Somewhere in there, for example, he talks about how angels are immaterial and information has no weight. Mentioned, but glossed over, was Guliuzza’s description of the process of adaptation, which I described as “eerily reminiscent” of Lamarckism. Fortunately his October Acts & Facts article, Engineered Adaptability, elaborates further.

I did say that it was Lamarckian, but having looked over the definitions I have changed my mind. The most famous aspect of Lamarckism is that it involves the “inheritance of acquired characteristics,” such as a baby giraffe having a longer neck because its parents intentionally stretched theirs to get at food. I can’t detect traces of this in Guliuzza’s article, and he instead focuses on the concept of adaptation being innate. The closest existing concept that I can find to this is orthogenesis, but not being completely solid on definitions I’ll Christian Randy’s self-described “radically new paradigm for adaptation” Guliuzzism.

Before we get to what Guliuzzism actually is, however, we have an opening paragraph to dissect:

Doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Engineers always seem to take third place in the list of esteemed professions. Exciting television programs feature skilled surgeons or smooth, well-dressed defense attorneys, but engineers are not primetime stars. That’s too bad, because they do exciting work, as reflected in one school’s motto, “Cool stuff doesn’t just make itself.”

I don’t know about ‘esteem,’ but judging by the ratings by trust at least this is a rather strange ranking. Continue reading

Bacterial Simplification

I wonder – does the ICR have a google alert set up for “Richard Lenski,” or for “Morris”? Anyway, Brian Thomas’ April 30th article, New Theory: Evolution Goes Backward, comments on a paper called The Black Queen Hypothesis: Evolution of Dependencies through Adaptive Gene Loss, by J. Jeffrey Morris, Richard E. Lenski, and Erik R. Zinserc.

If you’re wondering, and can’t be bothered to click the link, here’s where the name comes from:

We present the Black Queen Hypothesis (BQH), a novel theory of reductive evolution that explains how selection leads to such dependencies; its name refers to the queen of spades in the game Hearts, where the usual strategy is to avoid taking this card. Gene loss can provide a selective advantage by conserving an organism’s limiting resources, provided the gene’s function is dispensable.

And so on. Read it all – it’s open access after all.

The question is, how much of that does a bacterium actually *need*? Continue reading