Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

30% of gorilla genome contradicts Darwinian prediction of human and ape phylogeny

The latest episode of ID the Future discusses a recent (March 2012) paper about the gorilla genome.

Details:

On this episode of ID The Future, Casey Luskin discusses how the recent complete sequencing of the gorilla genome has challenged conventional thinking about human ancestry and explains what neo-Darwinists are doing to try to minimize the impact of this new information. Says Luskin: “There is not a clear signal of ancestral relationships that is coming out of the gorilla genome once you add it into the mix.” Tune in to hear about this interesting development!

The MP3 file is here.

Rather than summarize this short 10-minute podcast, I wanted to excerpt a post of Evolution News about it.

Excerpt: (links removed)

A whopping 30% of the gorilla genome — amounting to hundreds of millions of base pairs of gorilla DNA — contradicts the standard supposed evolutionary phylogeny of great apes and humans. That’s the big news revealed last week with the publication of the sequence of the full gorilla genome. But there’s a lot more to this story.

Eugenie Scott once taught us that when some evolutionary scientist claims some discovery “sheds light” on some aspect of evolution, we might suspect that’s evolution-speak for ‘this find really messed up our evolutionary theory.’ That seems to be the case here. Aylwyn Scally, the lead author of the gorilla genome report, was quoted saying, “The gorilla genome is important because it sheds light on the time when our ancestors diverged from our closest evolutionary cousins around six to 10 million years ago.” NPR titled its story similarly: “Gorilla Genome Sheds Light On Human Evolution.” What evolutionary hypothesis did the gorilla genome mess up?

The standard evolutionary phylogeny of primates holds that humans and chimps are more closely related to one-another than to other great apes like gorillas. In practice, all that really means is that when we sequence human, chimp, and gorilla genes, human and chimp genes have a DNA sequence that is more similar to one-another’s genes than to the gorilla’s genes. But huge portions of the gorilla genome contradict that nice, neat tidy phylogeny. That’s because these gorilla genes are more similar to the human or chimp version than the human or chimp versions are to one-another. In fact, it seems that some 30% of the gorilla genome contradicts the standard primate phylogeny in this manner.

The Evolution News post then cites New Scientist and Nature’s comments on the study.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about a study like this – the last time was about the chimpanzee genome and the paper was published in Nature – the most prestigious peer-reviewed journal.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Convergence detected in the genetic structure of bats and dolphins

We have to start this post with the definition of convergence in biology.

In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

It is the opposite of divergent evolution, where related species evolve different traits.

On a molecular level, this can happen due to random mutation unrelated to adaptive changes; see long branch attraction. In cultural evolution, convergent evolution is the development of similar cultural adaptations to similar environmental conditions by different peoples with different ancestral cultures. An example of convergent evolution is the similar nature of the flight/wings of insects, birds, pterosaurs, and bats.

All four serve the same function and are similar in structure, but each evolved independently.

Jonathan Wells explains the problem that convergence poses for naturalistic evolution:

Human designers reuse designs that work well. Life forms also reuse certain structures (the camera eye, for example, appears in humans and octopuses). How well does this evidence support Darwinian evolution? Does it support intelligent design more strongly?

Evolutionary biologists attribute similar biological structures to either common descent or convergence. Structures are said to result from convergence if they evolved independently from distinct lines of organisms. Darwinian explanations of convergence strain credulity because they must account for how trial-and-error tinkering (natural selection acting on random variations) could produce strikingly similar structures in widely different organisms and environments. It’s one thing for evolution to explain similarity by common descent—the same structure is then just carried along in different lineages. It’s another to explain it as the result of blind tinkering that happened to hit on the same structure multiple times. Design proponents attribute such similar structures to common design (just as an engineer may use the same parts in different machines). If human designers frequently reuse successful designs, the designer of nature can surely do the same.

I’m a software engineer, and we re-use components all the time for different programs that have no “common ancestor”. E.g. – I can develop my String function library and use it in my web application and my Eclipse IDE plug-in, and those two Java programs have nothing in common. So you find the same bits in two different programs because I am the developer of both programs. But the two programs don’t extend from a common program that was used for some other purpose – they have no “common ancestor” program.

Now with that in mind, take a look at this recent article from Science Daily, which Mysterious Micah sent me.

Excerpt:

The evolution of similar traits in different species, a process known as convergent evolution, is widespread not only at the physical level, but also at the genetic level, according to new research led by scientists at Queen Mary University of London and published in Nature this week.

The scientists investigated the genomic basis for echolocation, one of the most well-known examples of convergent evolution to examine the frequency of the process at a genomic level.

Echolocation is a complex physical trait that involves the production, reception and auditory processing of ultrasonic pulses for detecting unseen obstacles or tracking down prey, and has evolved separately in different groups of bats and cetaceans (including dolphins).

The scientists carried out one of the largest genome-wide surveys of its type to discover the extent to which convergent evolution of a physical feature involves the same genes.

They compared genomic sequences of 22 mammals, including the genomes of bats and dolphins, which independently evolved echolocation, and found genetic signatures consistent with convergence in nearly 200 different genomic regions concentrated in several ‘hearing genes’.

[...]Consistent with an involvement in echolocation, signs of convergence among bats and the bottlenose dolphin were seen in many genes previously implicated in hearing or deafness.

“We had expected to find identical changes in maybe a dozen or so genes but to see nearly 200 is incredible,” explains Dr Joe Parker, from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and first author on the paper.

“We know natural selection is a potent driver of gene sequence evolution, but identifying so many examples where it produces nearly identical results in the genetic sequences of totally unrelated animals is astonishing.”

Nature is the most prestigious peer-reviewed science journal. This is solid material.

There is an earlier article from 2010 in New Scientist that talked about one of the previous genes that matched for hearing capability.

Excerpt:

Bats and dolphins trod an identical genetic path to evolve a vital component of the complex sonar systems they use to pursue and catch prey.

The finding is unusual, because although many creatures have independently evolved characteristics such as eyes, tusks or wings, they usually took diverse genetic routes to get there.

Analysis of a specific gene has now demonstrated that although bats live in air and dolphins in water, where sound travels five times faster, they independently evolved a near-identical gene that allows them to accept high-frequency sound in the ear – vital for sonar.

The gene makes prestin, a protein in hair cells of the cochlea, which is the organ in the inner ear where sonar signals are accepted and amplified. Prestin changes shape when exposed to high-frequency sound, and this in turn deforms the fine hair cells, setting off an electrical impulse to the brain. So the protein has the important jobs of detecting and selecting high-frequency sounds for amplification.

When researchers examined the molecular structure of the prestin gene from a range of animals, they found that the variants in echolocating bats and dolphins were virtually indistinguishable.

Indistinguishable genes in animals that don’t share a common ancestor? Maybe a better explanation for the evidence we have is – common designer.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paul Davies: the hard problem of the origin of life is not “complexity” – it’s information

Check out this column on the origin of life from the radically leftist UK Guardian, written by agnostic cosmologist Paul Davies. (The same Paul Davies who is occasionally quoted by William Lane Craig)

Excerpt:

The origin of life is one of the great outstanding mysteries of science. How did a non-living mixture of molecules transform themselves into a living organism? What sort of mechanism might be responsible?

[...]Most research into life’s murky origin has been carried out by chemists. They’ve tried a variety of approaches in their attempts to recreate the first steps on the road to life, but little progress has been made. Perhaps that is no surprise, given life’s stupendous complexity. Even the simplest bacterium is incomparably more complicated than any chemical brew ever studied.

But a more fundamental obstacle stands in the way of attempts to cook up life in the chemistry lab. The language of chemistry simply does not mesh with that of biology. Chemistry is about substances and how they react, whereas biology appeals to concepts such as information and organisation. Informational narratives permeate biology. DNA is described as a genetic “database”, containing “instructions” on how to build an organism. The genetic “code” has to be “transcribed” and “translated” before it can act. And so on. If we cast the problem of life’s origin in computer jargon, attempts at chemical synthesis focus exclusively on the hardware – the chemical substrate of life – but ignore the software – the informational aspect. To explain how life began we need to understand how its unique management of information came about.

[...]Sara Walker, a Nasa astrobiologist working at Arizona State University, and I have proposed that the significant property of biological information is not its complexity, great though that may be, but the way it is organised hierarchically. In all physical systems there is a flow of information from the bottom upwards, in the sense that the components of a system serve to determine how the system as a whole behaves. Thus if a meteorologist wants to predict the weather, he may start with local information, such as temperature and air pressure, taken at various locations, and calculate how the weather system as a whole will move and change. In living organisms, this pattern of bottom-up information flow mingles with the inverse – top-down information flow – so that what happens at the local level can depend on the global environment, as well as vice versa.

[...]The way life manages information involves a logical structure that differs fundamentally from mere complex chemistry. Therefore chemistry alone will not explain life’s origin, any more than a study of silicon, copper and plastic will explain how a computer can execute a program. Our work suggests that the answer will come from taking information seriously as a physical agency, with its own dynamics and causal relationships existing alongside those of the matter that embodies it – and that life’s origin can ultimately be explained by importing the language and concepts of biology into physics and chemistry, rather than the other way round.

The point of me posting this is simple. The thing to be explained in the origin of life is not a cake, where you can jumble ingredients together and get something. The thing to be explained is information. The origin of life is a programming problem, not a cooking problem. Where did the software come from – the first basic program that allowed for the basic functions of life, like self-replication.

Dr. Davies is hoping for a naturalistic solution to the problem, because he is a naturalist. But at least he is clear about specifying the thing that needs to be explained. A lot more clear than the journalists who explain intelligent design as the belief that some things are too complex to have evolved. But that’s wrong. The real question is: where did the information come from?

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jonathan Wells is interviewed about his new book on Junk DNA

Note to regular readers – don’t forget that the William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss debate is tonight at 7 PM Eastern time. And you can watch it online here. It is also being live-blogged here.

From Uncommon Descent. The interviewer is science journalist Denyse O’Leary.

Excerpt:

What caused the change of view about junk DNA? Can you suggest a couple of key findings?

In a word, evidence. The first to emerge was the fact that almost all of an organism’s DNA is transcribed into RNA. (So although most of it may be non-protein-coding, it codes for RNA.) From a Darwinian perspective, this is surprising: Why would an organism struggling to survive devote so many of its internal resources to producing supposedly useless RNA? Indeed, since 2003 it has become clear that non-protein-coding RNAs perform many essential functions in living cells.

Pseudogenes constitute one type of so-called “junk DNA.” These are segments of DNA that resemble segments that elsewhere (or in other organisms) code for protein. Yet RNAs transcribed from some pseudogenes have been found to function in regulating how much protein is produced by the DNA segments they resemble. Repetitive DNA, in which a non-protein-coding sequence is repeated many times, is another type of so-called “junk DNA.” Yet repetitive DNA is now known to regulate many essential functions, including embryo implantation in mammals.

There is also growing evidence that non-protein-coding DNA can perform functions that are independent of its sequence. One example is the region of a chromosome (called a “centromere”) that attaches it to other structures in the cell. Another example is the retina in the eyes of nocturnal mammals, in which non-protein-coding DNA acts like a liquid crystal to focus scarce rays of light.

Some claim that ID theorists predicted the finding and others claim they didn’t. What’s your take?

The literature doesn’t lie. Design theorist William A. Dembski wrote in 2004, “For years now evolutionary biologists have told us that the bulk of genomes is junk and that this is due to the sloppiness of the evolutionary process. That is now changing. For instance, researchers at the University of California at San Diego are finding that long stretches of seemingly barren DNA sequences may form a new class of noncoding RNA genes scattered, perhaps densely, throughout animal genomes. Design theorists should be at the forefront in unpacking the information contained within biological systems.” (The Design Revolution, p. 317.) At the time, biologists such as Dawkins, Coyne, Avise and Collins were still claiming that most of our DNA is junk.

Last week there was a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Science that discussed the problem of genetic similarities in different organisms that do not share a common inheritance. Evolution News talked about that here.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Science Daily reports on genetic convergence in bats and whales

We have to start this post with the definition of convergence in biology.

In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

It is the opposite of divergent evolution, where related species evolve different traits.

On a molecular level, this can happen due to random mutation unrelated to adaptive changes; see long branch attraction. In cultural evolution, convergent evolution is the development of similar cultural adaptations to similar environmental conditions by different peoples with different ancestral cultures. An example of convergent evolution is the similar nature of the flight/wings of insects, birds, pterosaurs, and bats.

All four serve the same function and are similar in structure, but each evolved independently.

Jonathan Wells explains the problem that convergence poses for naturalistic evolution:

Human designers reuse designs that work well. Life forms also reuse certain structures (the camera eye, for example, appears in humans and octopuses). How well does this evidence support Darwinian evolution? Does it support intelligent design more strongly?

Evolutionary biologists attribute similar biological structures to either common descent or convergence. Structures are said to result from convergence if they evolved independently from distinct lines of organisms. Darwinian explanations of convergence strain credulity because they must account for how trial-and-error tinkering (natural selection acting on random variations) could produce strikingly similar structures in widely different organisms and environments. It’s one thing for evolution to explain similarity by common descent—the same structure is then just carried along in different lineages. It’s another to explain it as the result of blind tinkering that happened to hit on the same structure multiple times. Design proponents attribute such similar structures to common design (just as an engineer may use the same parts in different machines). If human designers frequently reuse successful designs, the designer of nature can surely do the same.

I’m a software engineer, and we re-use components all the time for different programs that have no “common ancestor”. E.g. – I can dump develop my String function library and use it in my web application and my Eclipse IDE plug-in, and those two Java programs have nothing in common. So you find the same bits in two different programs because I am the developer of both programs. But the two programs don’t extend from a common program that was used for some other purpose – they have no “common ancestor” program.

Now with that in mind, take a look at this post from Evolution News.

Excerpt:

Earlier this year I wrote about how convergent genetic evolution is highly unlikely under neo-Darwinism, but makes perfect sense if you allow common design. An article in ScienceDaily titled “In Bats and Whales, Convergence in Echolocation Ability Runs Deep,” points to evidence that, in my opinion, might be best explained by common design.

According to the standard mammalian phylogeny, the common ancestor of bats and whales was not capable of echolocation. Thus, the ability to echolocate must have evolved independently, and bat and whale echolocation is often cited by evolutionists as a textbook example of convergent evolution. However, the ScienceDaily article reports that these similarities are not just phenotypic but extend down into the level of the gene sequences:

two new studies in the January 26th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, show that bats’ and whales’ remarkable ability and the high-frequency hearing it depends on are shared at a much deeper level than anyone would have anticipated — all the way down to the molecular level

Just as I noted that convergent genetic evolution was said to be “surprising” under neo-Darwinian thinking, this article reports, “The discovery represents an unprecedented example of adaptive sequence convergence between two highly divergent groups and suggests that such convergence at the sequence level might be more common than scientists had suspected.”

The typical Darwinist tack is to call similar structures “superficially similar”. I.e. – the appearance (phenotypes) are similar, but at the genotype (code) level, there is nothing in common. They have to say that because there is no common ancestor who shares the structure, so the biological information CANNOT be similar. A naturalistic theory can’t accommodate similarities at the genetic level unless there is a shared common ancestor who has those instructions. But guess what? When you actually take a closer look at the evidence… the biological information IS similar between bats and whales – AND THEY DON’T SHARE A COMMON ANCESTOR. So it exactly like the software design scenario, where the designer has put the same bits into two programs that were developed independently and don’t extend from a common program.

The Science Daily article explains more:

“The natural world is full of examples of species that have evolved similar characteristics independently, such as the tusks of elephants and walruses,” said Stephen Rossiter of the University of London, an author on one of the studies. “However, it is generally assumed that most of these so-called convergent traits have arisen by different genes or different mutations. Our study shows that a complex trait — echolocation — has in fact evolved by identical genetic changes in bats and dolphins.”

[...]“We were surprised by the strength of support for convergence between these two groups of mammals and, related to this, by the sheer number of convergent changes in the coding DNA that we found,” Rossiter said.

Read the whole thing at Evolution News. This is quality work by Casey Luskin.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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