The mainstream media avoid any hint of questioning Darwinian evolution, of course. On the contrary, they cast skeptics as bad citizens. The science news itself, though, tells a different story, if you read it carefully. Here are nuggets of news to chew on. The subjects vary tremendously, but from different directions they converge on intelligent design.
Leah Crane writes in New Scientist, “We’ve found 4,000 exoplanets but almost zero are right for life.” Any surprises there? An Earth so finely fit for millions of species bears the hallmarks of a privileged planet. “We have found more than 4,000 planets orbiting distant stars,” she writes, “but it turns out that probably none of them have the right conditions for life to evolve, making Earth even more special than we thought.” Evolutionists predicted otherwise. Score one for ID.
A video clip posted by Nature allows you to watch in time-lapse “How white blood cells choose the quickest path through your body.” Like blind mice in a maze, these flexible germ-fighting cells feel their way through complex tissues and always seem to find the best route. Scientists gave them mazes to solve and were quite astounded. Given parallel routes of differing diameters, the cells explored them all, then selected the widest one, retracting the other feelers to follow the leader. This not only gets them to their destination the fastest, but ensures the nucleus will have room to pass.
The lowly duckweed is a remarkable aquatic plant. The fast-growing floating mats of duckweed, which often blanket ponds, inspire engineers because of their ability to purify water and generate energy for industrial applications. But duckweeds have another unusual trait deeper inside the cells: they have remarkably low genetic diversity, caused by “an extremely low mutation rate.” One hears echoes of Behe’s book Darwin Devolves in this:
Although mutations are the raw materials for evolutionary changes, they are often accompanied by fitness impairments. Evolutionary researchers have hypothesized that natural selection in species with large populations drives the mutation rate to as low as possible. According to this hypothesis, a species with a very large population size may under certain conditions evolve an extremely low mutation rate — which in turn can result in a very low genetic diversity. Until now, however, scientists had not been able to show this connection in eukaryotes, i.e. organisms whose cells have a nucleus.
Mutations are usually considered random. Do organisms have the ability to control their own mutation rates? If so, they must be regulating mutations from inside. Perhaps a pillar of neo-Darwinism is crumbling.
“Why do Cambrian creatures look so weird?” asks Mara Grunbaum at Live Science, pondering artwork of the odd worm Hallucigenia. She says it looks like a “spiky worm with legs like noodles.” Why indeed! But then her explanation gets weirder still. Calling on an evolutionary biologist from Harvard, she writes, “541 million years ago, worm-like animals developed the first simple muscles.” Her expert responds:
“And all of a sudden, bam,” [Javier] Ortega-Hernández said. “We have these marine sediments which are just teeming with activity and life.”
The unasked follow-up question should be, how did the worms “develop” muscles? Then comes this: “This time — often referred to as the Cambrian explosion — gave rise to many lineages of animals that are still with us, including some of the first mollusks and arthropods.” The explosion “gave rise” to animals? How? Isn’t that the question?
Speaking of the Cambrian explosion, another treasure trove has been found in China. Not too far from the famed Chengjiang bed, the new Qingjiang fossil site rivals the Burgess Shale for preservation and variety. Science Magazine says that 53 percent of species at the site represent previously unknown taxa. Only about 8 percent of the species also appear at Chengjiang. Some arthropods are so well preserved that details of their delicate antennae show up in clear relief, along with exceptionally preserved arthropods, cnidarians, ctenophores. Because of Qingjiang’s “extreme abundance of the fossil material and the exceptionally high fidelity of anatomical preservation,” this will be a site to watch. Allison Daley notes that in Burgess Shale-type deposits, “nearly all major animal phyla” appear. “The earliest members of our own phylum, the chordates, are found as small fish-like creatures.” Phys.org has photos of workers excavating the site. The original paper by Fu et al., with good photos, is in the same issue of Science.
Feather mites seem like a curse for birds. But now, scientists at the University of Alberta see a blessing instead: the tiny arachnids crawl around and clean the feathers: “Microscopic analysis shows feather mites may be beneficial to birds — not harmful, as previously thought.” Crawling around like little Roombas, feather mites eat the bacteria and fungi that could cause disease. That’s why birds with feathers heavily infested with mites “have plumage that is in excellent condition.” The mites, in turn, get food that the feathers collect. Zoo keepers will need to reconsider whether dusting their wild birds with chemicals is beneficial.
Cilia in the News
There’s a reason why cilia grow a certain length and stop, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have found. The little whip-like protrusions line our airways, sweeping out dust and debris. In order to synchronize and beat most efficiently, they must reach and maintain a certain length. People with short cilia develop disease conditions. Studies under the microscope showed that “most mechanical metrics, including force, torque and power, increased in proportion to the length of the cilia, but there was a ‘sweet spot’ in terms of efficiency.” Readers may remember the cilium as one of Michael Behe’s irreducibly complex molecular machines in Darwin’s Black Box. Twenty years later it’s discovered that cilia not only are built well, but grow well. When the scientists removed a cilium, it took about 90 minutes to regrow to its optimum length. Their paper in the Biophysical Journal supplies the details.
There’s never a shortage of good news about the imitation of nature’s designs. Here are a few:
- Iridescent fish scales are giving scientists ideas at CEN.ACS.org ideas for creating color-changing devices. The principle involves altering gaps between parallel layers, which alters the wavelength of refracted light.
- A shrimp’s claw is giving researchers at Texas A&M ideas for underwater plasma generation. The pistol shrimp snaps its claw shut so fast it creates a cavitation bubble that emits light as it collapses. Hmmmm. Watch the one-minute video to see the shrimp and the engineer’s model.
- The kingfisher bird has to dive after fish rapidly without busting its beak. Japanese scientists looked into the physics of this, and redesigned the noses of their bullet trains, BBC News reports. The trains used to emit a loud boom when going through tunnels, causing disturbances to passengers, wildlife and people. A cute video clip shows how the bird’s design solved the problem.
- Aspens on Mars? Researchers at the University of Warwick, inspired by the quivering motion of aspen leaves in the lightest breezes, concluded that this type of motion could “save future Mars rovers.” How? It could continue to power delicate sensors on Mars rovers without the need for bearings, “in environments with extreme cold, heat, dust or sand.” Clearly, biomimetics is out of this world!