One of the problems that science textbook authors face is the fact that science is constantly changing. As we learn more about the Creator’s handiwork, we find that the science we have taught as fact is actually incorrect. Sometimes, this is because the experiments upon which those facts are based were in error. Sometimes, it’s because our interpretations of those experiments were in error. Sometimes, it’s a result of making conclusions that go beyond what the experiments actually tell us. The practical upshot of all this is that some of the things you are reading in your science textbooks are wrong.
I recently found out that something I (and most other authors) have taught about DNA is probably wrong. Most people know that DNA is a double helix. As shown in the illustration above, those two helixes wind around each other, with the information-bearing units (called nucleotide bases) inside. In order for cells to use the information in DNA, those helixes have to be separated so that the sequence of the nucleotide bases can be read. That means the helixes need to be held together when DNA is not being used, and then they must be separated when it is time for the cell to read the DNA.
How does that happen? Well, according to most textbooks (including mine), it is because the nucleotide bases form hydrogen bonds with one another. Hydrogen bonds are weaker than true chemical bonds, but they can hold things together. As I say it in my textbook, Exploring Creation with Biology, 2nd Edition:
…the attraction between the atoms in hydrogen bonding is about 15% as strong as the attraction between two atoms that have a true chemical bond linking them. Thus, the hydrogen bonds in DNA are strong enough to keep the two chains together in a double helix, but they are significantly weaker than a true chemical bond. Since they are weaker than a true chemical bond, it is rather easy for the two helixes in DNA to unravel.
This sounds great, but a recent study indicates that it’s probably not true. If nothing else, it doesn’t tell the entire story.
A Tale of Two 19th Century Gentleman Scientists Living in the 21st Century in Six Short Scenes
By Eden Cook
~January 21, 20—~
It has been said, though by whom I cannot say, that every good story starts with a bad decision, and that is precisely what a certain Mr. Tobias Newton was thinking he had made in accepting the chairmanship of the S. O. O. S. S. Like so many societies of its kind, the Something-or-other Science Society had been founded with the best of intentions. It was to be a society for the local pursuers of all branches of scientific knowledge to aid one another by exchanging ideas, hypotheses, and data, and for some time this was what it had been. In past times Newton had brought those who were flagging in their scientific zeal to the society meetings and it almost never failed to invigorate their studies, but now it had fallen into disrepair due to that same lack of zeal on the part of its leading members. It could now be best described as a meeting of rather glum persons, mostly men and mostly chemists, who came together to complain of the weather, their health, and the lack of available Cesium. Newton had hoped to be able to revive the society that he had enjoyed so much in the past by accepting the position of chairman, but he found that instead of influencing the members for good, their persistent pessimism was wearing away his resolve.
Hence it was a rather dejected Mr. Tobias who arrived back at his extensive Edwardian abode. It was a house with that strange sort of charm peculiar to antiquated buildings which have not yet been allowed to fall into disrepair. But to one so accustomed to its premises as Newton, these finer qualities were for the moment swallowed by his many other preoccupations. Not the least of these other worries was the guests he had coming to stay with him. His cousin, Rutherford—a chemist—was coming to visit Newton later that week. In general Newton felt inept at entertaining company, but he was always at his ease around his cousin. The trouble was not (as it so often was) Rutherford, but his much younger lab assistant who simply went by Tertius. Newton knew next to nothing about the young scientist, but in all probability he would be a sorry addition to their customary twosome. But whether he really was or not, Newton needed to try to make his cousin’s assistant feel welcome, and we will leave him to attempt that very thing.
When a scientist refuses to see the design that is so obvious in nature, it can lead to all sorts of incorrect conclusions. Consider, for example, transposable elements in DNA. Often called “transposons,” they jump around in an organism’s genome. In other words, they are in different places in different cells of the same organism. Those who have their naturalist blinders on initially thought that they were useless – part of the “junk DNA” that represents all the evolutionary “flotsam and jetsam” that has accumulated over hundreds of millions of years. Dr. Leslie Pray, writing in Nature Education, puts it this way:
Transposable elements (TEs), also known as “jumping genes” or transposons, are sequences of DNA that move (or jump) from one location in the genome to another. Maize geneticist Barbara McClintock discovered TEs in the 1940s, and for decades thereafter, most scientists dismissed transposons as useless or “junk” DNA. McClintock, however, was among the first researchers to suggest that these mysterious mobile elements of the genome might play some kind of regulatory role, determining which genes are turned on and when this activation takes place.
Now whether or not there is such a thing as a Nanotyrannus is actually a matter of debate. Some paleontologists think the fossils are really from a juvenile Tyrannosaurus. So it might be a different species, or it might just be a juvenile form of an already-known species. Regardless of which is correct, it is well accepted that these fossils have been found in Cretaceous rock that is supposed to be about 65 million years old. It’s hard to understand how any cellular material could have survived for that long without being fossilized. Nevertheless, the cells that Armitage has extracted from the fossil are soft, as shown in the video below.
Of course, it is always possible that the cell is not really from the dinosaur. However, that’s a bit hard to believe. It came from a bone, and it has all the visual characteristics of an osteocyte, which is a bone cell. I can’t think of any possible contaminant that has the size, shape, and filipodial extensions that you see in the video. Also, remember that Armitage previously extracted soft bone cells from a Triceratops fossil. Thus, if this is a contaminant, it must be common to two completely separate fossils (or somehow introduced by Armitage’s process, which once again, is hard to believe).
I think it is reasonable to conclude that Armitage is, indeed, isolating soft dinosaur bone cells. He plans to make a presentation at Lower Columbia College in Longview Washington, on October 5th 2019, at 7 pm. In that presentation, it looks like he will also discuss how the soft tissues from which his cells are isolated react to stains for DNA and RNA. I won’t be able to make it, but I sincerely hope that it is recorded and that Armitage eventually writes another article about his continuing research!
I don’t normally write on topics like this, because studying human behavior is a tricky subject. There are all sorts of different explanations for a given behavioral characteristic in people, and trying to isolate a specific cause is difficult, to say the least. However, there has been a lot of news about the recent study that concluded there is “no gay gene,” and I have gotten several questions about it. As a result, I decided to read the study and share my thoughts.
First of all, it’s not surprising that there is no gay gene. In fact, researchers have said that for years. If there were a single gene that heavily influenced whether or not a person is homosexual, it would have been easy to find and discovered years ago. Also, even something as simple as the color of your eyes is governed by at least eight different genes. Thus, to think that something as complex as sexual behavior is governed by one gene is naive at best. So that specific result of the study is not even interesting, much less newsworthy. What makes the study newsworthy is its size, its scope, and the fact that its conclusions are very weak.
The study is massive in two ways. First, the main study looked at 477,522 individuals, but then it repeated the study using three smaller datasets that were composed of 15,142 individuals. Whenever you study people, the more people you have, the less uncertain your results will be. Thus, the sheer number of individuals in the study makes it important. Second, the study compared the entire genomes of the individuals. In other words, they looked at all the DNA found in the nucleus of the individuals’ cells. That’s a massive amount of data for a massive number of people!
What it tried to do is compare single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) among the individuals to see if they could be correlated with sexual behavior. If you aren’t familiar with the term, SNPs are the most common variation between sets of human DNA. Genetic information comes in sequences of DNA building blocks called nucleotide bases. There are roughly three billion nucleotide bases in one strand of human DNA. An SNP is a change in one of those nucleotide bases.
Psychological research is difficult for many reasons. Whenever you deal with people, you have to try to control for all sorts of variables that affect each subject, and those variables are often significantly different in different subpopulations. In addition, some of outcome measures are subjective, at best. As a result, psychological studies often have conflicting results. However, this one seems to do a good job getting over those hurdles. It contains a lot of subjects (40,337) who were randomly selected, leading to an averaging-out of at least some of the variables. Also, it used the results of the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), which was done in 2016. This survey was given to the people who know the subjects best: their caregivers. It also asks a lot of fairly objective mental health questions, such as whether or not the subject was ever diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
The survey also asked the subjects’ caregivers the following questions:
a) On an average weekday, about how much time does [child’s name] spend in front of a TV watching TV programs, videos, or playing video games?
b) On an average weekday, about how much time does [child’s name] spend with computers, cell phones, handheld video games, and other electronic devices, doing things other than schoolwork?
The researchers added the results of both questions to get the total amount of screen time the subject has each weekday. They then correlated that number to the mental-health-related questions on the survey. The results were rather alarming.