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High Tech, Low Life — The Amazing Flagellum

As Stephen Meyer puts it in a brief video, the bacterial flagellar motor that Michael Behe spotlighted in Darwin’s Black Box is a marvel of nanotechnology. Yet this miniature motor is found in some of life’s humblest organism. Moving up the scale to more complex forms, obviously the wonder increases.

On the other hand, as microbiologist Scott Minnich points out here, the flagellum is so effective at doing its job that if human swimmers could move that fast, we’d be setting some crazy new Olympic records — 20 body lengths per second, which is to say, on our scale, some 120 feet per second. That’s fast.

Dr. Minnich mentions two top Olympic swimmers, Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps. Interestingly, someone did the math on Phelps and computed that he swims about 1 body length per second, compared to a gold fish that swims at 4.5 body lengths per second.

So the flagellum is way out of ahead of the fastest human swimmers, and well ahead of a goldfish. It’s not the speed alone that’s impressive, however, but the incredible micro scale. [Update: Thanks to thoughtful reader Per for a correction here regarding sailfish.]

As we point out in the new hour-long documentary Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines, the flagellum is just one known molecular machine whose irreducible complexity defies Darwinian explanations but fits well with the hypothesis of intelligent design. Get your copy of Revolutionary now on DVD or Blu-ray!

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David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



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