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From a 2011 Paper on Bacterial Flagella, Little Comfort for Darwinists

14.cover.gifAn email correspondent pointed out a 2011 paper to me, "Structural diversity of bacterial flagellar motors," published by the European Molecular Biology Organization. The paper looks at bacterial flagella from a wide phylogenetic distribution using "electron cryotomography" — a pretty new technique that they say allows them to get greater detail more easily.

They write in the abstract that "While a conserved structural core was observed in all 11 bacteria imaged, surprisingly novel and divergent structures as well as different symmetries were observed surrounding the core." To my reading, though, the more striking fact is the first part of their sentence — that all flagella had the same necessary components in the same relative spatial relationships.

The second part of the sentence, that there are differences too, is interesting. But beyond showing somewhat altered shapes and unidentified regions of photographic density, the role of the novelties are unknown.

It seems to me the bigger story is the finding of a strongly conserved core occasionally tricked out with a few decorations. The authors mildly hint that there are renegades out there who would use the flagellum for nefarious purposes ("…the occasional misrepresentation of the motor as an invariant, ideal machine"), which probably leads them to emphasize the novelty. But this study should offer little comfort to Darwinists.

Michael J. Behe

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael J. Behe is Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978. Behe's current research involves delineation of design and natural selection in protein structures. In his career he has authored over 40 technical papers and three books, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, which argue that living system at the molecular level are best explained as being the result of deliberate intelligent design.