How Bacteria Talk

Evolutionists have always wanted a “simple” life form to exist. After all, to make the leap from nonliving chemicals to living systems, there must be something that is alive in every sense of the word, but at the same time, is reasonably simple. For a long time, evolutionists wanted bacteria to represent that “simple” life form.

As I make clear in my biology textbook, however, there is no such thing as a simple life form, and that holds true for bacteria as well. The more we learn about them, the more we learn how complex they really are. One of the surprises that has emerged in the past few decades is that bacteria actually talk to one another. They have an incredibly complex means of communication, but Dr. Bonnie Bassler (a professor at Princeton University) does an excellent job of describing it in the following video:

Even though it is 18 minutes long, it is worth watching. She not only tells you how important bacteria are to nature and to you, she explains bacterial communication in a very easy-to-understand manner.

What I find interesting about it is how she and I take such a different view of what the data really mean. She says that because we now know bacteria have one language to talk to other members of their own species and a second language to talk to the bacterial community as a whole, it is clear that bacteria really “set up the rules” for communication between cells. Thus, the communication that makes your cells able to work together so that you survive is simply a more advanced version of what bacteria were able to evolve billions of year ago. I look at the same data, however, and see incredible evidence for design. Just as a common genetic code tells us there is a common designer for creation, the fact that cellular communication is common amongst all the cells in creation tells us that cellular communication is the result of a preplanned design.

Regardless of how you look at what these data mean, the facts are amazing, and Dr. Bassler does an excellent job of communicating them!

Genes aren’t Everything

These calves are identical twins
(Image in the public domain)
It is commonly assumed (quite incorrectly) that an organism’s genetics determine pretty much everything there is to know about the organism. For example, many people think that because identical twins have identical genes, they are nearly identical. Of course, ask a few identical twins whether or not they are identical people, and you will soon find out how naive a view that really is. Indeed, even something as straightforward as fingerprints are not identical between identical twins. If fingerprints are not even identical between those who have identical DNA, it is likely that very few traits are governed solely by genetics. Thus, there is clearly an interaction between an organism’s genetics and its surroundings. Genetics might give you a predisposition for some traits, but your environment will play a role in whether or not that predisposition is actually followed.

However, what if there is something more than genetics and environment? Could there be something else that affects an organism’s traits? Vicki R. Nelson and her colleagues decided to investigate this question in a rather elegant way, and the results they obtained were rather surprising.

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Go to the Ant

This little ant scares elephants! (Image from
Proverbs 6:6 tells us, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise.” As this verse suggests, scientists who have studied the ant have learned all sorts of wonderful things. I mentioned previously the remarkable mutualistic relationship between Crematogaster (also called Cregaster) ants and certain Acacia trees. The trees provide food and housing for the ants, and the ants fiercely attack anything that tries to eat their tree. As I discussed in a follow-up post, scientists who thought they would “help” Acacia trees by fencing them in to protect them from large herbivores like elephants actually ended up hurting the trees. In the end, the scientists could not improve on the protection that the ants provide the tree naturally.

This intrigued the scientists who were bested by the ants, so they wanted to find out whether or not it is really possible for the tiny Crematogaster ants to actually defend the tree from the world’s largest land animal. Thus, they conducted a follow-up study, and the results were incredible!

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Fetal Study Shows Social Interaction IN THE WOMB

Ultrasound image of one fetal twin caressing the other's back (Image from PLoS One)
Those who want to say that a child inside the womb is not a human life have to ignore some very basic science. For example, they have to ignore the plain genetic evidence, which is found in the “blueprint” that makes each person. Of course, I am talking about the person’s DNA. While not all of a person’s characteristics are based on his or her DNA, most of them are. In other words, DNA contains the overall framework that makes a person who he or she is. More importantly, there is no other organism on the planet that has a genome like a human being’s genome. Thus, as soon as a person’s DNA forms, a human life has begun. When does that happen? It happens at the very moment of conception. At that moment, when the person is composed of just one cell, a human life has begun. Probably the best statement regarding this fact comes from Dr. Jermoe L. LeJeune, the brilliant geneticist who was the first to demonstrate a link between certain diseases and chromosomal abnormalities. While testifying before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee, he said:1

To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence

If you want to believe that a baby in the womb is not a person, then, you have to ignore the plain experimental evidence. LeJeune’s quote comes from 1981, and since them, more and more experimental evidence has been stacking up to show that a baby in the womb is most definitely a human being. The latest evidence to be added to the pile comes from ultrasound investigations of twins in the womb.

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“Goldilocks Planet” May Not Exist

Not too long ago, a commenter asked about a “Goldilocks Planet” that had recently been discovered by Steven Vogt and his colleagues. The term refers to a planet that is thought to be close enough to its star to be warm, but not so close that it is unbearably hot. In other words, it is supposed to have a temperature that is “just right” for the existence of life.

Steven Vogt and his colleagues thought they had found such a planet in Gliese 581g. It is supposed to orbit a red dwarf (Gliese 581) with a period of 37 days. While this puts it very close to its star, Vogt and his team think it is hospitable to life because the red dwarf is cool compared to the sun.

In response to the commenter, I expressed my skepticism, not because I have a problem with the idea of extraterrestrial life, but because astronomers have been wrong in their assignment of “Goldilocks” status before. In addition, even if the planet is at the right distance from its star, there are a host of other conditions necessary for a planet to be hospitable to life.

Well, now there is another reason to be skeptical. The planet may not exist!

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The Legacy of Anti-Vaccination Misinformation

It is sad that parents are misinformed by those who are against vaccination. It is sadder still that children are not as healthy as a result. The saddest thing of all, however, is how innocent children suffer because of anti-vaccination misinformation. This year, we are witnessing the fruits of this misinformation: the suffering and death of innocent children.

According to the California Department of Public Health, there have been 4,461 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) reported throughout the state so far this year. The majority of those are confirmed cases, but 19% are considered probable cases, while 18% are merely suspected cases. This is the largest number of reported cases since 1955. At least 217 of these cases resulted in hospitalization, and 9 resulted in death!

What is causing this sudden surge of whooping cough? Well, there are actually two effects. First, like most contagious diseases, whooping cough goes through cycles of years when it is not very prevalent and years when it is very prevalent. This year is in the “very prevalent” part of the cycle. Second, over the past few years, there has been a significant reduction in the vaccination rate, due to misinformation promulgated by those who are against vaccinations.

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Peer Review: A Review

The use of peer review is standard in most scientific journals. (Image Licensed from
Peer review is one of the most important concepts in scientific publishing. When I submit a scientific article to a serious scientific journal, it is generally reviewed by people who are experts in the relevant subject in order to determine whether or not the article is worthy of publication. These people are called “peer reviewers,” and it’s their job to determine whether or not there are any errors in the paper, whether or not the paper’s conclusions are reasonable based on the bulk of the data, whether or not the conclusions and/or data are novel or interesting enough to merit publication, etc. In short, the peer-review process is supposed to ensure that only “quality” scientific articles get published in the scientific literature.

I used the concept of peer review heavily when I wrote my award-winning science textbooks. Even though I have a PhD in nuclear chemistry, I don’t know everything there is to know about chemistry. Thus, in order to ensure that my chemistry text was accurate, I had other PhD chemists (and one high school teacher) review the book to catch errors so that I could correct them. As I started writing textbooks that were further and further from my field of expertise, I had to rely on peer review more heavily.

While the concept of peer review is an excellent one, the execution of it in modern science has been questioned in many different ways. Some scientists think that peer review tends to enforce orthodoxy, making it very difficult for new and revolutionary ideas to be published. Others see peer review as a way for the reviewers to keep people they don’t like from getting published. Others say that is a way for reviewers to punish their rivals.

Over the years, several studies have tried to address the validity of the peer-review process, and unfortunately, the results have not been very good.

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Well…It’s (Probably) Not Neutrinos

NOTE: Long after this article was published, new experimental data was published indicating that the effect is not real.

Over the course of my scientific career, I have been drug, kicking and screaming all the way, to the conclusion that radioactive half-lives have probably not been constant over the course of earth’s history. Because of this, I have written about observations that indicate the half-lives of certain isotopes seem to depend on the distance between the earth and the sun. The essence of the story is that investigators have been measuring the activity of certain isotopes over several years, and there seems to be a periodic variation in their half-lives. The half-lives increase and decreased based on the season. In addition, when a solar flare was observed, a marked decrease in the half-life of one isotope was observed. As I stated in my previous post on this subject, I think the researchers have done a good job eliminating the possibility that the observed variations are due to some artifact of the experimental procedure.

So if the observed variations in half-lives are real, what is causing them? Well, the sun emits tiny particles called neutrinos as a result of the nuclear fusion that is powering it. The distance between the earth and sun would affect how many of those neutrinos hit the earth. The closer the earth is to the sun, the more neutrinos would hit the earth. In addition, the number of neutrinos hitting the earth increases during a solar flare. The observations indicate that in both cases (during solar flares and when the earth is closest to the sun), radioactive half-lives increase decrease. In other words, radioactive decay slows down speeds up when the sun is hitting the earth with more neutrinos. Based on this reasoning, some nuclear scientists have proposed that neutrinos coming from the sun are somehow inhibiting accelerating radioactive decay. [ADDITION (5/10/17): A colleague informed me that I had the proposed neutrino effect backwards, so I corrected the wording, as indicated by the deletion marks and boldfaced type.]

The viability of that explanation was recently tested by a rather clever experiment, and the results of the test indicate that neutrinos are probably not responsible for the observed variation in half-lives.

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More Evidence Supporting The Young-Earth Theory of Earth’s Magnetic Field

One of my “top five” reasons for thinking that the earth is only thousands of years old comes from studying its magnetic field. As I wrote in the post I just linked, the young-earth theory of earth’s magnetic field (often called the ‘rapid-decay theory’) not only properly reproduces the magnetic fields of the planets, it actually predicted two of those magnetic fields before they were measured. When a theory can make predictions regarding unmeasured quantities and the subsequent measurements agree with the theory, there is strong evidence that the theory is true.

The young-earth theory of earth’s magnetic field not only correctly predicted the magnetic fields of two planets before they were measured, it has made other predictions that were later confirmed by measurement. As discussed in the previous post, it predicted that rocks from Mars should show that Mars at one time had a planetary magnetic field, even though it does not have one today. That was later confirmed. In addition, it predicted that Mercury’s magnetic field has decreased since it was last measured in 1975. MESSENGER, the latest spacecraft to visit Mercury, did a “quick and dirty” measurement of Mercury’s magnetic field in 2008, and the measurement confirmed this prediction, albeit with very large error bars. I eagerly await MESSENGER’S more precise measurement to see exactly how close the young-earth theory’s prediction is to the precisely-measured value.

In the meantime, some geologists have come up with even more evidence for the validity of the young-earth theory of earth’s magnetic field.

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