I know what I’m going to be reading tonight

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Carl Zimmer has the big news: the first draft of the chimpanzee genome is being published in Nature today. This is fantastic news, and it’s difficult to under overstate the importance of this. We want many different organisms sequenced to sample diversity, but having the sequence of two closely related species is going to be incredibly useful. Aren’t you just itching to see what the differences are?

Sadly, I just finished slapping Phil Skell around for his blindness to how evolution informs biology. I suspect he’s going to be dully oblivious to this event, too.

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Given Nature’s publication of the chimp genome, I figured that I’d share one of my all time favorite figures from a scientific paper. It is from Gagneux et al. (1999) Mitochondrial sequences show diverse evolutionary histories of African h... Read More

This question was voiced by children visiting the London Zoo last week as it opened a new exhibit featuring Homo sapiens side by side with their primate relatives. The zoo had a message to convey: Seeing people in a different Read More

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Be sure to check out the article about the 500,000 year old chimpanzee fossil find as well.

And Ichthyostega, too!

I hope you mean that it’s difficult to OVERSTATE the importance of this.

At the same time, there are cautions to be considered that deal with scientists over-stating the “significance” of these data.

Forbes quotes Bob Waterson as saying “It’s going to tell us important things about who we are and what we are – medically, socially, and so forth. It’s a pretty stunning achievement.”

The reality is rather more prosaic - genomers have lots of spare capacity and are looking for genomes to sequence (and so get more money for more sequencing). The methodology is now becoming quite routine.

While the data will be useful, I doubt whether it will really tell us much directly about “who we are”.

Scientists should be more careful when they sling their hype.

In related news, one of my hometown rags had an article on ID this weekend that I just noticed. Pretty standard stuff (but at least even-handed and makes an attempt to portray that scienctists are answering the criticism) until you get to the end of the piece.

MSU experiment

It is unreasonable, mainstream scientists say, for design advocates to demand that every tiny detail of evolution be filled in before they accept it. Behe said he might find the mainstream scientists’ argument compelling if they were to observe evolutionary leaps in the laboratory. He pointed to an experiment by Richard E. Lenski, a professor of microbial ecology at Michigan State University, who has been observing the evolution of E. coli bacteria for more than 15 years. “If anything cool came out of that,” Behe said, “that would be one way to convince me.”

Behe said that if he was correct, then the E. coli in Lenski’s lab would evolve in small ways, but would never change in such a way that the bacteria would develop new abilities.

In fact, that is what appears to have happened. Lenski said his experiment was not intended to explore this aspect of evolution, but that nonetheless, “we have recently discovered a pretty dramatic exception, one where a new and surprising function has evolved,” he said.

Lenski declined to give any details until the research is published. But, he said, “If anyone is resting his or her faith in God on the outcome that our experiment will not produce some major biological innovation, then I humbly suggest they should rethink the distinction between science and religion.”

Behe said, “I’ll wait and see.”

It looks like there’s a lot of interesting reading in the near future. BTW, there’s a CyberSurvey attached to that article. Feel free to vote and respond to the comments.

In related news, one of my hometown rags had an article on ID this weekend that I just noticed.

That’s a reprint of Kenneth Chang’s NY Times article from ~ 9 days ago.

I don’t like the way they gave the impression that Lenski’s pending is the only disproof of Behe’s assertion.

As someone sitting next to me stated, it doesn’t matter how much of a change E. Coli went through, it won’t be enough for most people.

However, it is good that it was Behe who pointed to Lenski’s work in the first place, and Lenski is able to report back saying “Gotcha!”

Indeed, it is exactly as Mr. Narins just pointed out.

No matter how startling the change is that Lenski has observed in his E. coli cultures, religious apologists will still say, “But it’s still a bacterium.”. Whenever biologists document an evolutionary change so unambiguously that even creationists must agree that it occurred, their fallback is to adjust the arbitrary boundaries of their repertoire of God-given “types” so that the change happened within a type.

For example, if a lab cat were to give birth to a dog, creationists would shout, triumphantly, “But it’s still a carnivore!”.

A quote from Darwin’s time which still expresses the feelings of evolution haters everywhere–not to mention the depth of their understanding of evolution.

“Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.”

Bishop Wilberforce’s wife, after having Darwin’s theory explained to her.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on August 31, 2005 1:11 PM.

From the Quote Mines: Phil Skell was the previous entry in this blog.

Critique of Behe and Snoke Available is the next entry in this blog.

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