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More Ways of Information-Sharing Found in Living Things

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Information

Sharing of information is not evolution. It’s like sharing library books instead of writing new ones. Biologists are continuing to uncover ways that living things pass around what they know. This is not good for Darwinism, which requires new information to arise by chance.

Fishing for DNA

Science Daily uses the analogy of fishing with rod and reel to illustrate what bacteria do to acquire information they need. 

A new study from Indiana University has revealed a previously unknown role a protein plays in helping bacteria reel in DNA in their environment — like a fisherman pulling up a catch from the ocean.

The discovery was made possible by a new imaging method invented at IU that let scientists see for the first time how bacteria use their long and mobile appendages – called pili – to bind to, or “harpoon,” DNA in the environment. The new study, reported Oct. 18 in the journal PLOS Genetics, focuses on how they reel their catch back in. [Emphasis added.]

Pili (singular, pilus) are tiny extensions from the cell membrane that grow out and then retract. Why should a bacterium invent a way to defeat antibiotics when it can fish for it? The paper indicates two issues for ID vs Darwinism: (1) information is shared, and (2) molecular motors do the work.

Almost all bacterial species use thin surface appendages called pili to interact with their environments. These structures are critical for the virulence of many pathogens and represent one major way that bacteria share DNA with one another, which contributes to the spread of antibiotic resistance. To carry out their function, pili dynamically extend and retract from the bacterial surface. Here, we show that retraction of pili in some systems is determined by the combined activity of two motor ATPase [i.e., ATP-spending] proteins.

This is a far cry from claims by Darwinians decades ago that the rise of antibiotic resistance represents “Darwinian evolution in action before our eyes.”

3-D Printing Vitamins

The promise of making your own household goods by 3-D printing them hasn’t quite arrived, but in theory, you could make a complex object of any shape, like a car part or tool, on your 3-D printer if you had the code for it. A recent paper in PNAS suggests that something similar happens in yeast. In this case, a prokaryote shares information with a eukaryote. Carla and Paula Gonçalves found a way that eukaryotic yeasts which lost the code for vitamin B1 can retrieve it from bacteria and make their own again.

Food is the only source of the essential vitamin B1 for humans, but many microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria can synthetize it themselves. Here we report on a group of yeasts that have lost part of the vitamin B1 biosynthetic pathway in the past but have managed to rebuild it by capturing multiple genes from bacteria through horizontal gene transfer (HGT). We show a mosaic pathway composed of yeast and bacterial genes working coordinately to accomplish the synthesis of an essential nutrient. This involved adaptation of the bacterial genes to the very different expression rules in their new environment using several different mechanisms. Our results endorse HGT as an important mechanism for evolutionary adaptation in eukaryotes.

The authors can call it “evolutionary adaptation” to please the censors, but it’s really information sharing. Nothing evolved. The yeast didn’t re-invent the vitamin B1 synthesis pathway; they lost it (as Behe would say, they “devolved”), and so they borrowed genetic instructions from bacteria to get back to where they used to be. The authors’ very few instances of the words “evolved” and “evolution” in the paper seem superfluous to any serious consideration of causation or explanation. 

Tiny Tunnels for Passing Information

Picture information-sharing tunnels at the nanometer scale. These would be way too small to see, so it would require indirect imaging techniques to observe them in action. A team of scientists possibly uncovered “a novel mechanism in mammalian inter-cellular cytoplasmic transfer and communication” between mammalian cells. It’s just a preprint in bioRxiv, so the story will need further verification, but if observations confirm what the scientists think they are seeing, “tunneling nanotubes” and “fine and often branching cell projections” pass “organellar cargo” from cell to cell. In their experiments, healthy cells were found “pumping” material to malignant cells.

Discrete, rapid and highly localized transfer events, evidenced against a role for shed vesicles. Transfer coincided with rapid retraction of the cell-projections, suggesting a hydrodynamic mechanism. Increased hydrodynamic pressure in retracting cell-projections normally returns cytoplasm to the cell body. We hypothesize ‘cell-projection pumping’ (CPP), where cytoplasm in retracting cell-projections partially equilibrates into adjacent recipient cells via micro-fusions that form temporary inter-cellular cytoplasmic continuities.

Cells can not only use protrusions to “pump” but also to “poke” neighboring malignant cells. In Nature, Kendall Powell discusses the growing realization among microbiologists that cells can “evict, kill or cannibalize less-fit rivals.” To do that, cells must have methods of sensing who is good and who is bad, and cooperating as a team. The burgeoning field of “cell competition” uses the Darwinian lingo of fitness and competition, but this really sounds more like a case of what Marcos Eberlin calls Foresight: the ability to foresee problems and have mechanisms in advance to deal with them.

Human Genetic Sharing

The best-known case of genetic information sharing is, of course, sexual reproduction. Humans are all one species, Homo sapiens, so everyone is genetically compatible. But what about alleged human ancestors with other species names? Can they share genes?

One of the most astonishing developments in paleoanthropology in the last two decades was the discovery of Neanderthal DNA within us. As the myth of Neanderthals being “other” members of Homo began to crumble, first it was small bits of Neanderthal DNA, then more and larger segments. Next, Denisovan DNA was found mixed in with Neanderthal and living human genomes. Now, New Scientist reports, “Long strand of DNA from Neanderthals found in people from Melanesia.” Some paleoanthropologists are thinking that all three groups were genetically compatible with Homo erectus and other “archaic” humans.

Michael Marshall suggests that there’s function, not just randomness, in these cases of genetic mixing:

“The archaics have contributed to the success of humans that left Africa,” says Eichler. Neanderthals and Denisovans lived in Europe and Asia for hundreds of thousands of years before modern humans emerged from Africa, so they would have evolved adaptations to the different climates, foods and diseases. These useful genes “were kind of test-run in our precursors”, says Eichler. “They’re basically borrowed.”

Predictably, Marshall remains Darwinian in his thesis, but it’s not necessary to assume that the Africans invented their adaptations by chance mutations and natural selection. ID research could approach the same observations with Foresight in mind: humans have always had engineered mechanisms that could adapt to a wide variety of circumstances. If African meets European and they get twinkles in their eyes, why, there’s a quick way to share their library books.

So, scientists continue to find ways that organisms share pre-existing genetic information. Old Darwinian paradigms continue to fall as observations reveal useful information passing through tunneling nanotubes, pili, and secretion systems from cell to cell. Organisms wouldn’t borrow useless junk. If they are found reeling in DNA or passing it through secret passageways, it must be a good read.

Photo: Library shelves, by Susan Yin via Unsplash.