DNA Is Even More Complex Than We Thought!

Illustration of the i-motif structure of DNA formed from the standard double-helix structure.
(This figure is from the scientific article being discussed.)

DNA is a wonderfully complex chemical that we are still a long way from fully understanding. Its ability to store information is amazing. Experiments indicate that a single gram of DNA (a gram is approximately the mass of a U.S. dollar bill) can store 500,000 CDs worth of information! It uses a complicated system of alternative splicing so that a single region of the molecule can store the information needed to produce many different chemicals (see here and here, for example). It is so complex that even the best chemistry lab in the world cannot produce a useful version of it. In the end, the best human science can do is make tiny sections of DNA and then employ yeast cells to stitch those segments together so that they become something useful.

In 1953, American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick published a landmark paper describing the structure of DNA that we have all come to know: the double-helix. Since then, however, scientists have discovered at least 10 other structures that DNA can take on. One of the more interesting ones is called the i-motif structure, which is illustrated above. Rather than the well-known double-helix, it is a four-stranded, interlocking ladder.

This rather bizarre form of DNA was first discovered as a structure produced in the lab, and many biochemists thought that it couldn’t exist in most living organisms (especially humans), because it tends to form in acidic conditions. Human blood is just slightly basic (pH between 7.35 and 7.45), so it was thought that i-motif DNA wouldn’t be found in human cells. However, a new paper provides very strong evidence that i-motif DNA not only exists in human cells, but that it is constantly forming and unforming based on what is going on in the cell!

The researchers decided to look for this form of DNA in human cells by making an antibody that would bind only to the i-motif form of DNA. They tagged the antibody with a fluorescent dye that would glow green when the antibody attached. They demonstrated that the antibody was faithful to bind only to that form of DNA, and they put the antibody in the nucleus of a human cell. Using a microscope, they were able to see antibodies glow in several different places, indicating that i-motif DNA was, indeed, present in the nucleus.

What’s even more remarkable, however, is that the glowing regions turned on and off. This indicates that the i-motif structure was being made from the double-helix form and then transformed back into the double helix form. Why? There’s no solid answer to this question, but the researchers noticed that i-motif DNA tended to form a lot during transcription. If you don’t recognize that term, in order to make a protein, the cell must read the “recipe” for that protein from the DNA and then send that recipe to another place in the cell to make the protein. The first part of that process (reading the DNA) is called transcription, and the second part (turning it into a protein) is called translation. That means i-motif DNA is formed more frequently when the cell is starting the process of making a protein.

Because of this, the researchers suggest that the i-motif form of DNA provides some sort of regulation in the production of proteins. After all, the cell not only needs to know how to make proteins, but it also needs to know when to make them and how much to make. The “how” part is something we know pretty well. The “when” and “how much” parts are still quite mysterious to modern science. We have uncovered (and partially understood) some of DNA’s regulatory mechanisms, but as this new discovery of i-motif DNA in human cells indicates, we still have a long way to go.

DNA is just one of the many marvels in Creation that testify to the design ingenuity of the Creator, and the more we learn about it, the more I stand in awe!

Another Mother’s Day Drama

“Following Mommy” by Heldara Baltica (click for credit and license)

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and once again, I came up with a short skit for church in honor of the event. Over the years, I have created several Mother’s Day skits, and I have posted two of them (see here and here). Interestingly enough, the first link is my most-viewed post for this year. Since that indicates at least some interest in Mother’s Day skits for church, I thought I would go ahead and post this new one as well.

Before I share the script, I would like to make a couple of notes. The only “set” I used for this skit was a single chair at center stage. I had a spot on the chair, and it was “loose” enough for the father to be seen well as long as he stayed close to the chair. You can put crumpled-up sheets of paper around the chair to indicate that Jack has been working hard, but that’s not necessary. Also, both readings (the bad poem at the beginning and the heartfelt note at the end) can be written in Jack’s notebook already, so that he need not memorize either piece. Finally, there is no reason for Jack to be a young man. You could change the name to Jill and use a young woman instead.)

As always, you are free to use this skit in any way that might edify the body of Christ. I would like to be credited if possible, but more importantly, I would like Christ to be glorified.

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It is Now a Risk to Promote Free Speech in Science!

Artwork by Newtown grafitti (Click for license)

Dr. Adam Perkins is a personality researcher at King’s College London (KCL). On March 16 of this year, he was scheduled to give a talk to a group on campus. However, that same day, the college’s events office informed him that they had deemed his talk a high-risk event and did not have time to organize the security that kind of situation would require. Thus, the talk would have to be postponed. What was the title of this high-risk talk? It was:

The Scientific Importance of Free Speech

Why in the world would that title cause KCL’s events office to consider the event to be risky? As far as I know, the office hasn’t answered that question. Perhaps it got skittish after thugs stormed into a debate that was taking place at KCL and violently stopped it. Perhaps they were afraid that the group which arranged the talk (the KCL Liberterian Society) was so controversial that any event it arranged would have to be treated as high-risk. Perhaps they thought that promoting free speech in science is just too controversial.

Regardless of the reason, the very fact that such a speech needs to be given indicates the depths to which parts of the culture have sunk. When professors actually have to remind students how important it is for scientists to be able to openly and honestly debate their ideas, you know that something is terribly wrong.

Despite the fact that the event was cancelled, Dr. Perkins has published an abbreviated version of his talk here. While I strongly recommend that you read the entire article, here is the most important point that Dr. Perkins makes:

When one side of a scientific debate is allowed to silence the other side, this is an impediment to scientific progress because it prevents bad theories being replaced by better theories.

As I have stated before (see here, here, and here, for example), anyone who promotes censoring scientific ideas because they go against the current “consensus” is decidedly anti-science.

Michael Behe Earns a Well-Deserved Honor

Fossil of an extinct form of dragonfly that was named for Chris Moore and Michael Behe. The black line indicates a distance of 10 millimeters. (click for source, which includes a link to the license.)

Dr. Michael Behe is an icon in the intelligent-design movement. His book, Darwin’s Black Box, was an important early contribution to the intelligent-design movement, but more importantly, his most famous peer-reviewed paper put forth the idea that the majority of adaptive changes occur as a result of loss or modification of a pre-existing molecular function. This view, of course, puts a serious limit on the amount of evolutionary change that can occur as a result of random mutations guided by natural selection. The world’s longest-running evolution experiment seems to confirm this view (see here, here, and here).

Now please understand that Dr. Behe is no creationist. He believes in common descent, but his work indicates that it cannot be accomplished by random mutations guided by natural selection. In his book The Edge of Evolution, he explores how much such a process can change an organism and shows that it has severe limitations. In the end, he thinks that when the Designer created the first cell, He/She/It “front-loaded” all of the information into the cell’s genome, allowing evolution to proceed in a designed manner. I don’t think that’s a reasonable hypothesis, but I admire Dr. Behe for following the data and proposing something that most scientists find heretical. I also admire his ability to take the scorn that has been heaped on him and continue to persevere. Even though I think his particular hypothesis is wrong, he is doing science a service by challenging a hypothesis that is most certainly wrong.

As a result, I was happy to see that Dr. Behe (along with famous fossil-hunter Chris Moore) has been honored by having a species of dragonfly named after him. The fossil was in Chris Moore’s collection, but Mr. Moore didn’t know that it comes from a previously-unrecognized species. However, Dr. Gunter Bechly, world-renowned paleotologist and former curator at the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History, saw a picture of the fossil and thought it looked unique. As a result, he asked Mr. Moore to send him the fossil so that he could study it closely, and he confirmed that it did, indeed, represent a new genus and species. In his peer-reviewed paper, he officially names it Chrismooreia michaelbehei.

Why did Dr. Bechly choose this name? His analysis indicates that there is no genus for this extinct form of dragonfly, so he named the genus (the first part of the scientific name) after Mr. Moore, since he was kind enough to lend his fossil to Dr. Bechly for study. The species (the second part of the scientific name) is named in honor of Dr. Behe, because as I have written in a previous article, Dr. Bechly was originally an apologist for Darwinism. However, the works of intelligent design authors allowed him to see that the data do not support the evolutionary hypothesis, and like any good scientist, he decided to follow the data and stop promoting Darwinist propaganda. Since Dr. Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution was a major influence in this process, Dr. Bechly thought it was an appropriate honor.

Well done Dr. Behe. The honor is way overdue!

A Homeschooling Mother Looks Back on Her Journey

A Facebook friend of mine named Ginger Linthicum Narmour is finishing up her last year of homeschooling. She posted a wonderful summary of what her experience has meant to her, and with her permission, I want to share it with you. I pray that every homeschooling mother can look back at her experience with such joy and wonder!

This spring is poignant for me since it marks my very last year of homeschooling. The Lord called us so long ago as Michael and I were contemplating which educational road we should walk down with our daughter, Courtney. Living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest at the time, we walked along the beach one moonlit night and felt that call to travel a road that was unfamiliar, one often criticized and thought second-best. Armed with supplies and a few books penned by the brave veterans that paved our way, we embarked on the most beautiful journey this mama (and daddy) could have ever hoped to enjoy.

I remember hearing her first words read. I still see the new colored pencils in her hand sketching views from her upstairs window. Then the joy of adding a second student, Lindsey, and breathing the sweet, salty air on daily walks with cooing baby and budding biologist in tow, all around the Navy housing neighborhood down to the beach, the park, the library. I’m remembering the family “field trips” to apple orchards and nature estuaries and museums and whale watches and picnics at parks with trees as green and tall and lush as any this Texas girl could have ever dreamed of seeing in person. Such are the things of heaven on earth.

Moving back home to Texas brought blessing number 3, Caitlin, and we were now a homeschooling family of 5. What precious memories of personal phone calls with best-selling curriculum authors who shared their talents freely with me, African tents in the living room and museum visits and struggles with spelling and beautiful books read faithfully every night by a precious daddy to his beloved daughters. I can still remember their eyes watching him read. Molding soft hearts and minds; lighting those fires. What a perfect job to be blessed with!

Moving to Arkansas brought blessing number 4, Kelsey, and our little family still sat together for read-alouds and music concerts and physical science videos and math facts practice and cooking exotic meals for geography lessons. Waiting with such expectancy for the haggard mail carrier to bring us yet another box heavy with carefully-chosen books for the next year. We just couldn’t wait to start again. Ah, all the pictures taken, the memories made. A more lovely life for me would not have been possible.

Years passed, a new Virginia home, the God-inspired talents bubbling over, college successes, hard lessons learned, characters molded and mellowed, fruit ripening, blessings heaped upon blessings. The hard work, the struggles with life and the laundry and the never-ending dirty dishes and impossible curriculum fair purchase decisions, I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it.

So this last month of our school year is coming up. I see the books slowly being finished one by one and being placed on shelves or in boxes to pass on to new families who are beginning or continuing their studies. The melancholy ache of sweet times drawing to a close. I never intended to finish this journey without my beloved but the Lord has strengthened me to finish the race with happiness and joy. I am content.

Just a few more weeks to go and I will hang up my old ‘denim jumper’ and call my homeschooling days a blessed success. All I have to do is look at their beautiful faces, their beautiful souls.

Once Again, Don’t Believe Facebook When It Comes to Science!

Cyclone Larry near northeast Australia (left) and Hurricane Hernan near Mexico (right). Notice that the rotation in the Southern hemisphere is clockwise, and the rotation in the Northern Hemisphere is counterclockwise.
(Images Courtesy of NASA/GSFC, by Jeff Schmaltz and Jacques Descloitres)

A few months ago, I posted an article about how you should not believe Facebook memes and videos when it comes to science. Of course, I have seen more scientific nonsense on Facebook, but lately the following video keeps popping up on my feed:

When I see it, I generally comment that the video is a clever con. It is based on a scientific concept that is quite true, but it does not apply to situations that involve short distances. Most of my Facebook “friends” express appreciation for me pointing out the error, but one of them was adamant for a while that the video shows a real truth. In my efforts to educate him, I ended up finding a really nice video resource, which I will share after my long-winded statements on this issue.

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Earth Day Predictions that Were “Spectacularly Wrong”

Image from the Wellcome Collection gallery (click for credit)

Probably because yesterday was Earth Day, I ran across an article written by Ronald Bailey for Earth Day 2000. It reviews some of the predictions made by “environmentalists”* in the 1970s, when the first Earth day was celebrated. As Bailey noted back in the year 2000:

The prophets of doom were not simply wrong, but spectacularly wrong. (emphasis his)

There are a lot of failed predictions in the article, but I want to start with the one I highlighted in the meme above. Here is the full quote, which is found in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness:

Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine. (emphasis his)

Notice how Dr. Gunter starts. He uses the consensus argument. He says that demographers (those who study human populations) “agree almost unanimously” with his grim forecast. I have no idea whether or not that statement was correct back in the 1970s, but it is eerily similar to what we hear now in reference to global warming, AKA climate change. Climate alarmists insist that we must listen to them, because climate scientists agree almost unanimously that doom is right around the corner. In light of this fact, it is useful to note that the supposed “consensus” has been spectacularly wrong before.

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This Galaxy Has No “Need” For Dark Matter!

This diffuse galaxy, NGC 1052-DF2, has no “need” for dark matter.

Dark matter is one of those things that scientists use to make up for an observation which is inconsistent with the known laws of physics. When astronomers look at the motion of stars in a galaxy, they can use Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation to estimate how much mass must be in the galaxy to produce the motion that is observed. However, they can also use the amount of light they see coming from the galaxy to estimate how much mass is there. In general, those two masses don’t agree. The motion of the stars indicates significantly more mass than the light coming from the galaxy.

That’s where dark matter comes in. Since the matter we can see using the light that comes from a galaxy doesn’t account for the motion of the stars within the galaxy, there must be a lot of matter that is too dark to see. But if it’s too dark to see, it must be some strange type of matter that is fundamentally different from the matter we have studied here on earth. Many experiments have been done trying to directly observe dark matter, but so far, they have come up empty. Thus, if dark matter exists, its nature is a complete mystery to us. This is frustrating, since astrophysicists think that about 80% of the mass in the universe comes from dark matter!

Some scientists (I count myself among them) are hesitant to accept that about 80% of the universe’s mass is made up of something we can’t detect, so they look for alternate explanations. One group suggests that on very large scales, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation is slightly different from what it is here on earth. These physicists suggest a modified version of the law, which they call Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND). If you accept their modification, the need for dark matter goes away. Another scientist suggests that if you actually apply Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation properly (taking into account that there are multiple bodies exerting gravitational force on all the other bodies and that those bodies are in constant motion), you need very little (if any) dark matter to understand why the stars move so quickly in galaxies.

Well, these three competing ideas (dark matter, MOND, and multiple-body analysis) have just been presented with a means by which they can distinguish themselves: a diffuse galaxy charmingly named NGC 1052-DF2, which is pictured above. This is the first discovered galaxy for which the mass calculated from the motion of the stars is pretty much equal to the mass calculated from the light that we see. Thus, there is no “need” for dark matter in this galaxy.

Now this galaxy is anything but a run-of-the-mill collection of stars. Most galaxies have a noticeable central region. This one doesn’t. Most galaxies have dense enough stars that there are portions through which you cannot see. This galaxy is completely see-through. Most galaxies have tight clusters of stars that orbit the outer parts of the galaxy. While this one has those clusters, they are about twice as large as the clusters seen in other galaxies. Most galaxies show evidence of a central black hole. This one doesn’t. Finally, it is part of a group of galaxies that is dominated by a very large, active galaxy known as NGC 1052. It’s possible that all these features somehow explain the apparent lack of need for dark matter.

I really hope the group promoting MOND and the scientist promoting a multiple-body solution to star motion in galaxies turn their attention to this new discovery. While I am happy to believe in dark matter if there is strong evidence for it, right now, I am inclined to believe there is an alternate solution to the “missing mass” problem in galaxies. Hopefully, further analysis of this galaxy will help us find out.

A New Feature in the Human Body Has Been Discovered!

Schematic of the newly-found human anatomical feature (Illustration by Jill Gregory licenced under CC-BY-ND – click for more information)

In one of my online biology classes last week, a student asked if I had any comments on the new organ that was just discovered in the human body. I didn’t have any comments, because I didn’t know anything about it. I expressed a lot of skepticism, saying that with all the imaging techniques available to scientists, it’s hard to imagine that an organ in the human body has been missed. However, I promised the student I would look into it, and while I hesitate to call it a new organ, it turns out that a new feature of the human body has most certainly been discovered!

You can read about it in the open-access article published by Scientific Reports. As shown in the illustration above, the researchers found that wherever tissues are stretched or compressed (like the lungs or even the intestines), there is a network of fluid-filled spaces underneath. In the illustration above, think of the part labeled “Mucosa” as the lining of an organ. Underneath that lining, there is a mesh of collagen proteins and elastin proteins (elastin is a part of the “collagen bundle” in the illustration). Those proteins have specific cells attached to them that react to CD34, a stain used to highlight a feature of certain cells when they are viewed under a microscope. In between this mesh of proteins and cells, the spaces are filled with fluid.

For a long time, anatomists have understood that there is a lot of fluid in between the cells of an organism. It is called “interstitial fluid,” and it makes up about 16% of the human body’s weight. It bathes the cells, keeping their environment reasonably constant and serving as way that cells can exchange chemicals with the rest of the body. It comes from the blood, and then it drains into the lymphatic system, where it is cleaned and returned to the blood. So the fluid found in those spaces is not new. The fact that the fluid is found in a mesh of proteins and cells and forms the sponge-like structure illustrated above was completely unknown up to this point.

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NASA’s Study Indicates Space Changes GENE EXPRESSION, not GENES!

Identical twin astronauts, Scott Kelly (right) and Mark Kelly (left).

Newsweek headlined its article, “Scott Kelly: NASA Study Confirms Astronaut’s DNA Actually Changed in Space.” The article says:

After landing, 93 percent of Scott Kelly’s genes returned to normal, the researchers found. The altered 7 percent, however, could indicate long-term changes in genes connected to the immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, oxygen deprivation and elevated carbon dioxide levels.

The Telegraph headline reads, “Nasa astronaut twins Scott and Mark Kelly no longer genetically identical after space trip.” The article states:

But new findings by Nasa have found that life away from planet Earth has exacted a surprising toll. The pair are no longer genetically identical twins.

Please understand that both of these articles are doing what is typical of the modern media when it comes to science. They are taking results that are really, really interesting, and they are hyping the results to the point where they are not telling the truth anymore. NASA did do a wonderful experiment on the genetic effects of being in space a long time, and while the results are quite remarkable, they don’t indicate that space changes a person’s genes. They indicate that space changes the expression of certain genes, and for some, that change is remarkably long-lived.

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