Flagellum evolution in the (Australian) ABC

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on PT! A lot of life has happened lately (job, partner, baby!), and it seems like “intelligent design” and the other creationisms have been drowned out by more immediate problems, like the fate of liberal democracy in the era of Trump and corrupt populism.

However, science keeps on happening. Here is a short essay published by the Australian ABC on the evolution of complexity and on the bacterial flagellum. It is coauthored with Matt Baker of the University of New South Wales (in Sydney), who is a biochemist and experimental evolution who works on the flagellum. We are collaborating on flagellum evolution questions to combine bioinformatic/phylogenetic approaches with experimental approaches. Our short term goal is to study specific transitions, such as how flagella have evolutionarily switched between H+ and Na+ power sources (here is a preliminary paper on that).

Note to creationists: no, obviously we won’t be able to reconstruct every single mutation that happened over billions of years. But, as I’ve said before: evolutionary science, and science in general, are not about obtaining perfect, exact knowledge of every conceivable thing. They are instead about testing models against empirical data to improve our models of reality. And we can do this in the case of the flagellum or any other complex adaptation.


Baker, Matt A.B.; Matzke, Nicholas J. (2019). “Evolution or intelligent design? The story of the bacterial flagellar motor.” ABC Science, Australian Broadcasting Corporation. November 7, 2019. https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-11-07/evolution-supported-by-bacterial-flagellar-motor/11635276

Ishida, Tsubasa; Ito, Rie; Clark, Jessica; Matzke, Nicholas J.; Sowa, Yoshiyuki; Baker, Matthew A.B. (2019). Sodium-powered stators of the bacterial flagellar motor can generate torque in the presence of phenamil with mutations near the peptidoglycan-binding region. Molecular Microbiology, 111(6), 1689-1699. https://doi.org/10.1111/mmi.14246