Wasp Pharmacology

A beewolf wasp
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wasp_August_2007-12.jpg
Beewolves are solitary wasps that typically prey on bees. The females dig tunnels and then drag their bee prey into the tunnels, where they lay their eggs on the bee. That way, when the larvae hatch, they have a ready source of food. There are several species of beewolves, but one in particular, Philanthus triangulum, loves to prey on honeybees, which makes it a pest for beekeepers.

Scientists from both the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology and the University of Regensburg studied the reproductive process of this species, and they found an amazing thing: the female uses a cocktail of antibiotics to protect her young.1 Where does the female get those antibiotics? From bacteria that she cultures in her antennae!

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I Get E-MAIL

It is always wonderful to hear from students who use my courses and then experience spectacular success in university-level science courses. As readers of my blog already know, this happens a lot, and it is a nice reminder of how effective a young-earth creationist education can be.

However, every now and again I get a report about how effective a young-earth creationist education can be for pursuits other than university. Here is an example:

I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound appreciation for your stellar science products. My wife and I homeschooled our daughter through high school and used your biology, chemistry, advanced chemistry, and physics courses. Our daughter graduated last May and is now in paramedic school. Though all of the other 22 students ranging in age from recent high school graduates, to adults/post high school and college, etc. are struggling with patho-physiology and pharmacology, our daughter is not….as a matter of fact, she is excelling and earning the highest grades the instructor has ever given! She is able to converse with the medical director on a very high level having never taken any college courses prior to beginning these classes. She is affectionately known as “the overachiever”, the “guru”, and the “brain” who tutors everyone else. Thankfully, the other students do not see her as a threat, but as an asset. She feels that [your books were] wonderful preparation for the intensity of these classes, and we feel the same way.

It’s great to know that this person’s daughter is going to be out there saving lives. In addition, because of her commitment to sharing her expertise with others, there will probably be a few other paramedics out there who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to pass their training. This is all thanks to a young-earth creationist education and a student who took it seriously. It turns out young-earth creationism is not only good for science, it is good for public health!

Bacterial Batteries?

A schematic of the bacterial flagellum.
Image in the public domain.
The bacterial flagellum has become a symbol of the intelligent design movement, and rightly so. After all, bacteria are commonly recognized as the “simplest” organisms on the planet. Nevertheless, these “simple” organisms can make an amazingly well-designed locomotive system. Well, it turns out that the flagellum isn’t the only example of the amazing things that bacteria can construct. It seems that they can construct batteries as well!

I saw a blurb about this in the March 1, 2010 issue of Chemical and Engineering News, so I went online to find more information. I found this article on Nature News. According to the article, Lars Peter Nielsen of Aarhus University (in Denmark) did some experiments to see how bacteria are able to consume organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide in sediments that have very little oxygen. You see, in order to use these compounds, the bacteria have to oxidize them, which means that have to remove electrons from them. In order to remove electrons from the chemicals they consume, however, the bacteria have to “put” those electrons somewhere else. In most organisms, the electrons go to oxygen molecules. This process, reasonably enough, is called oxidation, and it is the reason you and I breathe. We take in oxygen so that we can oxidize our food, which produces energy for us to live.

It is very easy to understand how most organisms oxidize their food, because most organisms are exposed to a reasonable amount of oxygen in the air they breathe or the water in which they swim. However, there are lots of sediments (on the sea floor, for example) that are low in oxygen underneath the surface of the sediments. Nevertheless, bacteria in those oxygen-poor sediments seem to oxidize organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide just fine. Nielsen wanted to know how they accomplish this feat.

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Still MORE Problems for Abiogenesis

A hydrothermal vent deep in the ocean. Some origin-of-life researchers hope that life could arise under such conditions.
Image from the NOAA.
I have blogged a lot about the myriad problems facing the idea that life arose naturally. Even those who want to believe in it admit that all origin-of-life experiments are miserable failures, producing only minute quantities of the simplest molecules of life, along with enormous amounts of “goo” that would be detrimental to life. Stephen Meyer’s seminal work, Signature in the Cell, points out the terrible informational problems that any origin-of-life scenario faces. Dembski and Wells point out that the very existence of so many different scenarios for the naturalistic origin of life indicate just how implausible it really is.

Now origin-of-life researchers face another huge problem – oxygen. You see, most evolutionists who accept scientifically irresponsible dating methods are confident of the fact that earth’s atmosphere didn’t have much oxygen in it until about 2.4 billion years ago. At that point, according to the evolutionary narrative, the evolution of photosynthesis allowed the carbon dioxide in earth’s ancient atmosphere to be converted into oxygen. This is called “The Great Oxidation Event,” and it is crucial to any evolutionary narrative.1

Why is this “Great Oxidation Event” crucial to evolution? Because all origin-of-life scenarios currently under consideration require earth’s atmosphere to be very low in or completely devoid of oxygen when life first evolved. A significant amount of oxygen would destroy any hopes of producing the molecules of life, as reactions with oxygen would convert them into chemicals that would not be useful in the chemistry of life.

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More on Slime Molds

About a month ago, I wrote about an interesting study on slime molds.

This organism is surprisingly intelligent!
(Image from KeresH at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dog_vomit_slime_mold.jpg)

Even though they have no brain or other kind of “central processing unit,” they can figure out what the most nutritious food is for them, and they can adjust their shape and eating habits to make sure they get as much nutrition as possible.

These results surprised many scientists, because slime molds are supposed to be primitive creatures.

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Young-Earth Creationism Is Good for Science

There is a great article on the Creation Ministries International website called “Why Young-Age Creationism Is Good for Science.” The author (Brent W. Smith) makes some excellent points, so I would like to summarize what he says and then add one thought. You can tell Mr. Smith is a philosopher by how he summarizes his argument:

The basic idea is that [young-age creationists] offer to the current origins science establishment a competing rational viewpoint that will augment fruitful scientific investigation through increased accountability for scientists, introduction of original hypotheses, and general epistemic improvement.

If you don’t know what “epistemic improvement” means, you just need to know that epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and limitations of knowledge. It attempts to understand how we know things, how knowledge is acquired, and what knowledge actually is. Thus, in this case, “epistemic improvement” means an improvement in our understanding of what we can know through scientific inquiry.

Obviously, young-earth creationism will improve the epistemology of science, because it continually argues with the establishment about what we can learn from scientific data. For example, the fact that soft tissue has been found in fossils that are supposedly millions of years old can lead us to make one of (at least) two different conclusions: (1) Soft tissue can be preserved over time periods previously not thought possible or (2) The fossils aren’t really millions of years old. Those who believe in a billions-of-years old earth tend to support option (1), and young-earth scientists tend to support option (2). Each side tends to look for data that support its position.

If it weren’t for young-earth creationists, option (2) would not be considered. Thus, scientists would assume that option (1) is what we can learn from the data, and they would go on their merry way, never wondering if the data could mean something else. Young-earth creationists, however, will collect data to try to support their position, which will at least allow for some evaluation of what we can learn from the fact that soft tissue has been found in these fossils. If option (1) ends up being correct, then at minimum, there has been an evaluation of what this fact tells us rather than just an assumption of what it means. If option (2) ends up being correct, then a long-running mistake in science will be fixed. Either way, science wins!

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Some Evolutionists Just Never Learn

You would think by now that even evolutionists would finally admit that there is very little (if any) DNA in a living organism that could be described as “junk DNA.” However, they are still out there doing it. For example, in a rather pathetic attempt to refute Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell, evolutionary biologist Dr. Francisco Ayala made the following statement:

There are also lots and lots of DNA sequences that are nonsensical. For example, there are about one million virtually identical Alu sequences that are each three-hundred letters (nucleotides) long and are spread throughout the human genome. Think about it: there are in the human genome about twenty-five thousand genes, but one million interspersed Alu sequences; forty times more Alu sequences than genes. It is as if the editor of Signature of the Cell would have inserted between every two pages of Meyer’s book, forty additional pages, each containing the same three hundred letters. Likely, Meyer would not think of his editor as being “intelligent.” Would a function ever be found for these one million nearly identical Alu sequences? It seems most unlikely.

But the fact is that functions have been found for these Alu sequences and other sequences like them. It is amazing that an evolutionary biologist doesn’t seem to know this.

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99%? 95%? 87%? 70%? How Similar is the Human Genome to the Chimpanzee Genome?

I recently got an E-MAIL from a student who heard a “university professor” say that the human and chimpanzee DNA are 99% similar. She asked whether or not the professor was correct and, if not, how similar is human DNA to chimpanzee DNA?

Well, the answer to her first question is quite easy. The professor was horribly wrong. The nonsensical idea that human and chimp DNA are 99% similar comes from misinterpreting a 1975 paper by Mary-Claire King and A. C. Wilson. 1 This groundbreaking (for its time) article compared several proteins in chimpanzees to their equivalent proteins in humans.

In case you don’t know, proteins are complex molecules that are composed of many smaller molecules (called amino acids) linked together. The primary structure of a protein is simply the order in which its amino acids link up. King and Wilson showed that in many, many proteins, the difference in the primary structures of chimpanzee and human proteins was about 1%. Since DNA determines the order of amino acids in each protein an organism makes for itself, they made the reasonable inference that for the portions of DNA that code for those proteins humans and chimpanzees are 99% similar.

However, the genes that code for these proteins make up a tiny, tiny fraction of the human or chimp genome, and only SOME of those proteins were studied. Thus, the idea that one can extend that number to the entire genome and say that human and chimp DNA are 99% similar is just absurd.

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Still more on the AP article

Apologia has gotten all sorts of E-MAILs and calls regarding the AP article, and they are overwhelmingly positive. Apologia has sent me some of the E-MAILs, but I thought I would post excerpts from one of them, because it shows how even state-certified teachers understand the effectiveness of the biology book I co-authored.

The E-MAIL started off pretty normally:

I am a home schooling ninth grader currently using Apologia’s Biology book and looking forward to Chemistry next year.

The student went on to say what other Apologia courses she had taken and how much she enjoyed them. However, this was the part that was really interesting:

As my homeschool education is also state approved, my books must be looked over to ensure that they meet state standards, and my work must be also graded by state teachers. The teachers who looked over my Biology curriculum were “extremely impressed” with the quality of the material and the assignments that reinforce the material. They were also very pleased with the Physical Science curriculum and easily gave me an A for the work. I currently have an A in Biology as well.

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Dr. Coyne Won’t Debate

The AP article that tried unsuccessfully to discredit the biology text I co-authored as well as the biology text published by Bob Jones University Press is still causing a bit of a stir. This morning, a radio talk show host name Adam McManus sent an invitation to both me and Prof. Jerry Coyne to be on his show to debate the merits of the article. Of course, I agreed right away, since I have no fear of debating anyone on the creation/evolution issue. After all, the facts are on my side. Why wouldn’t I want to debate them?

Well, Dr. Coyne refused to be on the program with me. Mr. McManus then wrote him back trying to convince him that he should do the debate. Mr. McManus even implied that Dr. Coyne seemed afraid to debate. Dr. Coyne still refused, claiming that it wasn’t fear. He said he would be glad to appear by himself, but not with me, because that would give me an air of legitimacy that he does not want to give me.

I find that attitude very interesting. I am not sure why debating someone gives him or her an air of legitimacy. In fact, I think not debating someone gives him or her an air of legitimacy. After all, if you are willing to publicly debate someone, it generally means you think you have the ability to show that the person’s position is wrong. If you refuse to debate someone, it looks more like you are afraid of that person’s arguments. To me, that makes the person’s case look more legitimate and, in fact, superior to yours.

So….even though it is not going to be nearly as interesting, I will be on by myself on March 24th at 5:00 Central time. Dr. Coyne might be on after me or at some other time. I don’t know. The station is AM 630, KSLR.