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Rewrite the Textbooks (Again): Origin of Mitochondria Blown Up


With the inexorable march of science, the predictions of evolution, which evolutionists were certain of, keep turning out false. This week’s failure is the much celebrated notion that the eukaryote’s power plant — the mitochondria — shares a common ancestor with the alphaproteobacteria. A long time ago, as the story goes, that bacterial common ancestor merged with an early eukaryote cell.

And these two entities, as luck would have it, just happened to need each other. Evolution had just happened to create that early bacterium, and that early eukaryote, in such a way that they needed, and greatly benefited from, each other. And, as luck would have it again, these two entities worked together. The bacterium would just happen to produce the chemical energy needed by the eukaryote, and the eukaryote would just happen to provide needed supplies. It paved the way for multicellular life with all of its fantastic designs.

There was only one problem: the story turned out to be false.

The story that mitochondria evolved from the alphaproteobacteria lineage has been told with great conviction. Consider the Michael Gray 2012 paper which boldly begins with the unambiguous truth claim that “Viewed through the lens of the genome it contains, the mitochondrion is of unquestioned bacterial ancestry, originating from within the bacterial phylum α-Proteobacteria (Alphaproteobacteria).”

There was no question about it. Gray was following classic evolutionary thinking: similarities mandate common origin. That is the common descent model. Evolutionists say that once one looks at biology through the lens of common descent everything falls into place.

Except that it doesn’t. Over and over evolutionists have to rewrite their theory. Similarities once thought to have arisen from a common ancestor turn out to contradict the common descent model. Evolutionists are left having to say the similarities must have arisen independently.

And big differences, once thought to show up only in distant species, keep on showing up in allied species.

Biology, it turns out, is full of one-offs, special cases, and anomalies. The evolutionary tree model doesn’t work.

Now, a new paper in Nature has shown that the mitochondria and alphaproteobacteria don’t line up the way originally thought. That “unquestioned bacterial ancestry” turns out to be, err, wrong.

The paper finds that mitochondria did not evolve from the currently hypothesized alphaproteobacterial ancestor, or from “any other currently recognized alphaproteobacterial lineage.”

The paper does, however, make a rather startling claim. The authors write:

[O]ur analyses indicate that mitochondria evolved from a proteobacterial lineage that branched off before the divergence of all sampled alphaproteobacteria.

Mitochondria evolved from a proteobacterial lineage, predating the alphaproteobacteria?

That is a startling claim because, well, simply put there is no evidence for it. The lack of evidence is exceeded only by the evolutionist’s confidence. Note the wording: “indicate.”

The evolutionist’s analyses indicate this new truth. How can the evolutionists be so sure of themselves in the absence of literally any evidence?

The answer is, because they are evolutionists. They are completely certain that evolution is true. And since evolution must be true, the mitochondria had to have evolved from somewhere. And the same is true for the alphaproteobacteria. They must have evolved from somewhere.

And in both cases, that somewhere must be the earlier proteobacterial lineage. There are no other good evolutionary candidates.

Fortunately this new claim cannot be tested (and therefore cannot be falsified), because the “proteobacterial lineage” is nothing more than an evolutionary construct. Evolutionists can search for possible extant species for hints of a common ancestor with the mitochondria, but failure to find anything can always be ascribed to extinction of the common ancestor.

This is where evolutionary theory often ends up: failures ultimately lead to unfalsifiable truth claims. Because heaven forbid we should question the theory itself.

Photo: Mitochondria, shown in red, by NICHD/U. Manor, via Flickr.

Cross-posted at Darwin’s God.