The origin of biological complexity is a major concern for believers in unguided, random processes of nature. Some recent news articles, though, make it sound easy – no problem at all. But do their theories and experiments reflect the real world?
Multicellularity: “Scientists replicate key evolutionary step in life on earth,” trumpets a headline on PhysOrg based on a press release from the National Science Foundation. One doesn’t have to read far to get the matter-of-fact assertion: “More than 500 million years ago, single-celled organisms on Earth’s surface began forming multi-cellular clusters that ultimately became plants and animals.” Film at 11:00. No good novel is without a conflict, though: “Just how that happened is a question that has eluded evolutionary biologists.”
Why, it’s no problem at all, announced some scientists from University of Minnesota, with NSF money in hand. Sam Scheiner of the NSF’s Division of Experimental Biology called the study “the first to experimentally observe that transition, providing a look at an event that took place hundreds of millions of years ago.” They got yeast cells to evolve into clusters so quickly it’s a wonder nobody ever thought of the experiment before. “Then came the big surprise: it wasn’t that difficult,” the article said. The clusters fragmented into sub-clusters and even exhibited division of labor, with some cells committing suicide to allow others to thrive.
How did the team leap over this evolutionary hurdle? It’s elementary, as long as you centrifuge the cells for a hundred generations till they get so dizzy, they cling to one another for dear life. How that happens in nature was not explained, but “The results have earned praise from evolutionary biologists around the world.” The Scientist called it “provocative.” Why would that be? My goodness; think of the possibilities for more NSF money to centrifuge jellyfish and giraffes to see what evolves. “The first step toward multi-cellular complexity seems to be less of an evolutionary hurdle than theory would suggest,“ said George Gilchrist of the NSF, grant money in hand ready to pass around. “This will stimulate a lot of important research questions.” Indeed, “There aren’t many scientists doing experimental evolution,” the NSF said, as if that is a bad thing. Left wondering if “experimental evolution” is some kind of oxymoron, the taxpayer might be worrying that the press release will draw more research beggars to the dessicating public trough.
One little problem is that if the transition to multicellularity is so easy, why didn’t it happen more often in the last two billion years? Let them ask it: “Travisano and Ratcliff wonder why it didn’t evolve more often since it’s not that difficult to recreate in a lab. Considering that trillions of one-celled organisms lived on Earth for millions of years, it seems like it should have, Ratcliff says.” And it’s not clear what this has to do with nature, wrote The Scientist, with “just one experiment under admittedly contrived conditions.” Contrived; doesn’t that word conjure up Paley’s watch and other “contrivances of nature” he argued were evidence of nature? An article by Ed Yong in Nature News about this (Jan 16) revealed another tidbit; evolutionists believe yeast evolved from a multicellular ancestor. If so, the experiment demonstrates, at best, a return to a more complex past….
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