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Thursday, October 23, 2014

And I Thought Slime Couldn’t Get Any Better!

Posted by jlwile on November 29, 2010

Velvet worms make amazing slime! (public domain image)

As a chemist, I have always loved slime. There are so many different kinds of slime and so many different ways to make it! For example, you can make slime at home using glue, water, and borax. You can also make it using water, cornstarch, and some heat. Both slimes are different, and they both bring out the kid in me. Chemistry really can produce great stuff! Of course, nature does a far better job at chemistry than even the best of today’s chemists. Indeed, the best chemists in the most sophisticated chemistry labs on earth cannot begin to make many of the sophisticated chemicals that a “simple” bacterium makes every day!


There is an obvious reason for this, of course. While chemistry has developed over thousands of years and was guided by some incredibly intelligent people, nature was made by God. As a result, you expect nature to be filled with things that put the most amazing achievements of chemistry (and science in general) to shame. Of course, that’s exactly what you find. From the best possible design for the vertebrate eye to the lightning-fast chameleon tongue, nature’s designs are significantly better than anything human science can produce. Indeed, world-renowned atheist Antony Flew had to give up his atheistic faith specifically because of the amazing design he saw in nature.

Well, it turns out that even some of nature’s slime is amazing!

A velvet worm looks like a velvet-covered slug with short, fat legs. It is a carnivore and has a very interesting means of catching prey. It has two antennae that are very sensitive to smell. Once a velvet worm catches the scent of possible prey, it follows the smell until it gets within 30 or so centimeters of the unfortunate creature. Then, it squirts slime from turrets on either side of its mouth. The slime covers the creature, and then it quickly turns into a net of sticky threads that holds the prey until the worm can amble over to it and inject poisonous saliva into the prey to kill it and begin the digestion process.

Now that might sound really gross, but it involves some pretty stunning chemistry. When the slime leaves the velvet worm’s turrets, it is just slime. However, when it hits the prey, it quickly turns into a net of sticky threads. For many years, scientists couldn’t even understand how this happens, much less figure out how to make such interesting slime. Well, even though we still can’t come close to making anything like the velvet worm’s amazing slime, we now at least understand how the process works.

Victoria S. Haritos and colleagues recently published the results of an in-depth analysis of velvet worm slime in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.1 In that study, they looked at the genes that were active in the glands that make the slime, and they matched those genes to proteins that are actually found in the slime. They showed that there are three categories of “active ingredients” in the slime. Two of them appear in small concentrations and are thought to be antiviral and antibacterial agents used to make the prey fit to eat.

The last category of active ingredient is the one that makes the slime so cool. It is a collection of long proteins that are in various disordered shapes. As a result, when mixed with water, they simply form goo. Goo is nice to shoot, but it isn’t really effective at holding prey. This isn’t a problem, however, because the proteins are capable of forming very orderly shapes, as long as there is not a lot of water present. Well, the very act of traveling through the air causes the goo to lose water due to evaporation, and then when the goo spreads out on its target, it loses even more water to evaporation. As a result, the long proteins transform from a disordered mess to a highly-structured series of fibers, which hold the prey quite effectively. Haritos and colleagues figured out that the proteins can do this because of certain very specific sequences of amino acids that are found throughout each molecule.

The chemistry of all this is quite fascinating, of course, but as is usually the case when I read about such intricately-designed systems in nature, I have to relate it back to the issue of origins. According to evolutionists, velvet worms are “primitive” creatures. Indeed, according to scientifically irresponsible dating techniques, they were supposed to have been on the planet more than 500 million years ago!2 Nevertheless, they have a means of catching prey that is so sophisticated, we are just now beginning to understand how it works. Clearly, these amazing animals are anything but primitive!

References

1. Victoria S. Haritos, et al., “Harnessing disorder: onychophorans use highly unstructured proteins, not silks, for prey capture,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277:3255-3263, 2010
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2. Ross Piper, Extraordinary Animals : An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press, 2007, pp. 111
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Comments

6 Responses to “And I Thought Slime Couldn’t Get Any Better!”
  1. NoOneKnows says:

    “The chemistry of all this is quite fascinating, of course, but as is usually the case when I read about such intricately-designed systems in nature, I have to relate it back to the issue of origins.”

    Was this intricately-designed amazing system of velvet worm ‘designed’ by God before the fall or after the fall? Based on Genesis narrative, there was no death before Adam sinned. So it would be incredibly stupid for God to design such systems with obvious predatory characteristics. This applies to all predators, not just worms.

    Assuming the genesis narrative is only metaphorical in nature and the predators were intended all along by designer god, it does seem pretty incredible – from the perspective of velvet worm but really sadistic from the perspective of the poor insect.
    You can rationalize and try to justify all you want, but it just doesn’t add up Dr. Wile. The argument of god is logically untenable.

  2. jlwile says:

    NoOne, it’s understandable that you think “The argument of god is logically untenable,” because you clearly haven’t studied the relevant information or thought much about it. If you had, you would realize that not believing in God is not only illogical, it is unscientific.

    I know you haven’t studied the relevant information much, since most of what you say is clearly false. First, the Genesis narrative does not say there was no death before Adam sinned. A microscopically tiny minority of Christians do believe that there was no animal death before Adam sinned, but that idea is based on shoddy theology and is certainly not found anywhere in the Bible. It is also not found in the vast majority of Christian (or Jewish) theological works. Now I am not saying there definitely was animal death before Adam sinned. I am just saying the Bible doesn’t tell us whether or not there was.

    Second, assuming there was no animal death before the fall, it is inane to say “it would be incredibly stupid for God to design” predatory systems. In fact, it would be incredibly stupid for Him not to design such systems. After all, God knows a lot about His creation, so He almost certainly knew Adam would sin. If nothing else, He had a really good idea that it was a possibility, since He made Adam and thus knew him intimately. As a result, it would be stupid for Him not to design fail-safe mechanisms to make sure that the ecosystem would not fly out of balance if and when Adam sinned. Designing systems that in a post-Fall world would develop into predatory systems, then, would be the smartest thing for God to do when He designed the world. If you had even a passing familiarity with Christian philosophy, you would know this, as it is incredibly basic.

    Third, it is actually quite philosophically absurd to say that the velvet worm’s predatory system seems “really sadistic from the perspective of the poor insect.” The fact is that the predator/prey relationship is a wonderful thing. It is not sadistic to the prey or the predator. It is best for both of them, as it keeps the ecosystem in balance so that both creatures can live healthy lives until their time comes to die. Without the predator/prey relationship, the creatures that did survive would be eking out some terrible existence in a resource-depleted world. When we eat animals, we are not being sadistic. We are just doing our job in the amazing ecosystem that God has designed for us. In the same way, when the velvet worm eats an insect, it is not being sadistic to the insect. It is simply doing its job in the amazing ecosystem God has designed for it.

    In answer to your original question, then, the predatory system of the velvet worm was designed before the Fall. It might have worked as a predatory system back then, if there was animal death before the Fall. If not, it was probably an effective way for the velvet worm to gather the plant matter it ate before the Fall and then converted to a predatory system after the post-Fall fail-safes for Creation kicked in.

  3. josiah says:

    It continues to amaze me how many people argue that God must be so horrible to make the world as he did, he cannot exist. It demonstrates neither understanding of God nor anything more ponderous of ethics than instinctive reactions.

    Richard Dawkins: “If there is only one Creator who made the tiger and the lamb, the cheetah and the gazelle, what is He playing at? Is he a sadist who enjoys spectator blood sports? … Is He manoeuvring to maximise David Attenborough’s television ratings?”

    I’m not sure about the idea that such goo pistols would be used to gather plant material. If you take such a line then you have to explain how an awful lot of intricate predator designs would have helped in a vegetarian world, or else how they all adapted so quickly following the fall. It’s far simpler to assume that is just how they were made.

  4. jlwile says:

    I agree, Josiah. To claim that the predator/prey relationship is bad demonstrates ignorance of both nature and ethics.

    I am not necessarily taking the line that the velvet worm’s goo pistols were used for gathering plant material. However, if you assume no animal death before the Fall, you can easily see that God would want to develop systems that would be multipurpose so as to serve both a pre-Fall and post-Fall world. As a quick example, consider the bayonet/rifle system. It is definitely overkill for stabbing, and the bayonet makes the rifle a bit less accurate. However, as a multipurpose system that allows combat in tight quarters as well as at a distance, it is great. The velvet worm’s goo pistols could be similar – overkill for a vegetarian, but excellent as a fail-safe for when Adam sinned.

    Also, it could possibly be that the goo pistols worked very well for gathering plant material. Suppose the velvet worm was a fruit-eater before the Fall. Once again, I am not necessarily taking that line, but let’s assume it was. Under that scenario, shooting the goo pistol at a fruit and having the net cling to the fruit could produce just the extra weight needed to cause a just-ripened fruit to fall off the plant and onto the ground. The net could then serve as a marker that says, “That’s mine.” The point is that the Creator is certainly smarter and more creative than you, me, or anyone else. Thus, He could easily create systems that served both pre-Fall and post-Fall purposes equally well.

  5. NoOneKnows says:

    Sorry for the delay in replying to this post. I have been busy.

    First, Genesis narrative doesn’t clearly state anything. It is subject to multiple interpretations and ppl tend to believe what makes most sense to them. Few people, (ex:http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/03/02/satan-the-fall-good-evil-could-death-exist-before-sin), would interpret it as no death before fall while few others (like http://www.answersincreation.org/death.htm) contradict it and most others don’t care. How to determine whose view is accurate when the source is at best ambiguous? Everyone is certain their view is correct.

    Second, there is a reason some ppl believe in no death before fall. It is to rationalize their pre-concieved notion that god’s creation was originally perfect and there was no suffering before fall. Similar to your argument about god’s fail safe mechanism for predatory features. You are just trying to rationalize without a shred of evidence (empirical or scriptural) to support your argument.
    Also, the agument that god knew about the fall in advance and entire genesis story is a logical paradox. Only a religiously brainwashed mind can accept it. Moreover, if you observe the predatory features of many animals, they are anything but a supplementary fail safe mechanism.

    Third, if there was animal death before fall scenario. Your statment that “We are just doing our job in the amazing ecosystem that God has designed for us” is hilarious. I do hope you realize that most of the meat humans consume doesn’t come from natural eco systems but farms specifically raised for our consumption.BTW, based on your argument, even cannibalism can be justified. After all, humans are the most over populated creatures on earth depleting its natural resources at an alarming rate. I’m sure, you would appreciate the “beauty” of predatory systems when you are part of the hunted.

    To conclude, you have a justification whether there is death before fall or not. This fails condition of falsifiability. In other words, you already arrived at a conclusion and trying to justify it by constructing backward arguments. This is a perfect example of rationalization (please look it up if you are not sure what it is). It seems useless to expect a rational discussion here where logical falacies seem to be the norm.

  6. jlwile says:

    NoOne, of course the Genesis account requires interpretation. Any account written in a language that is very old requires interpretation. You were the one who claimed, “Based on Genesis narrative, there was no death before Adam sinned.” I am glad that you are now backing off that claim. You have already learned something! I hope the learning continues, but based on the rest of your comment, I am not sure that it will.

    Unfortunately, you are the one who is attempting to rationalize. Rather than accepting what the data clearly indicate, you try to come up with any reason to turn away from the clear conclusions of science – that this world was designed. As a result, you feebly assert things that have no basis in rational thinking or logic. Instead of ignoring evidence (like you do), I use evidence (both scientific and Scriptural) to support my case.

    It is certainly not a logical paradox to assume that God knew about the Fall (or as I said before, at least knew it was a strong possibility) before He created. Indeed, it is a direct logical consequence of the idea that the Creator understands His creation. Given that He understands His creation, it only makes sense that He would design failsafes to deal with possible eventualities. I am sorry that your faith causes you to misunderstand such straightforward logic.

    You might find obvious statements “hilarious,” but that doesn’t make them any less true. Indeed, in eating animals, we are certainly taking part in the great ecosystem that God has created for us. Even farming accomplishes this. Given that animals like ants and termites also farm (ants even domesticate aphids), it is clear that farming is a part of the great ecosystem God has created. I am not surprised that you don’t understand this, given the amount of science and logic you are forced to ignore in order to desperately hold onto your faith!

    Your statement that eating animals would somehow support cannibalism demonstrates your ignorance of basic ecology. Balance in ecosystems is built on organisms eating members of OTHER SPECIES, not other members of the same species. If you would clear the irrationality from your mind long enough to actually study science seriously, you would understand this.

    Since your faith doesn’t allow you to understand science or logic, it is not surprising that you can’t recognize rational discussion when you read it! However, since you did demonstrate a bit of an ability to learn in your first paragraph, I do have hope. Keep reading, and you might one day understand BOTH science and logic!

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