Tag Archives: laboratory

Bacteria ‘invent’ new enzyme in the lab under scientific supervision

The importance of this cannot be overstated. There are levels of understanding of evolutionary theory. In Chemistry, my chosen field, you learn the “basics” of chemistry about 5 times before you’re done with an undergraduate degree. Every time you re-learn it, you learn all of the problems with the old way you learned it and all of the ways the new way of understanding is better. It’s unrealistic to teach graduate chemistry to elementary school students – they need the context of a few benign simplifications in order to approach the deeper understanding. It’s the same way with evolution. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but I understand that there are levels of subtlety and that the simple explanations are not the whole story.

One of the most hard-to-believe concepts is that biologcal ‘designs’ come from the vast sea of probability. How could randomness produce an invention? Doesn’t invention require intelligence? It all comes down to amplification. Looking for a fully formed functional enzyme in the sea of randomness would take forever (almost literally). But if you had a way to amplify every useful step along the way from any random junk all the way to something useful, then the whole thing can happen pretty fast.

How fast? About 30,000 generations. Scientists have put bacteria in an environment where it would be advantageous to invent an enzyme. The bacteria did it in 30,000 generations. That’s ‘macro-evolution’ on a pertri-dish. It’s a terrible blow to those who have touted the idea of ‘irreducible complexity,’ and people who consider evolution to be an unproven hypothesis.

Of course, they hold themselves to a different standard of truth, so there’s really no basis for rational argument. I’m not sure about it being a ‘miracle,’ but I will concede this: the wow factor is really high for the feat of making critters invent an enzyme on cue.

-Peter

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myths, pseudoscience and the water powered car

 

I am perpetually amused by conspiracy theories and pseudoscience for several reasons. Most of it is good for a laugh. A tiny minority of it highlights some legitimate gap in scientific understanding. Also, I think it’s good mental exercise to try to understand a strange world view. Most institutions (scientific, religious) see a lot of danger in allowing yourself to sink into a false mode of thinking. But I take the view of Thomas Jefferson:

“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

There was an interesting narrative in the popular understanding of science: “the myth of the oppressed underdog.”
The notion is that scientists are dogmatic and refuse to tolerate new ideas. The article above does a great job of discussing this narrative and why it is false in most cases, but I would like to highlight one argument: most of the alternative, new ideas postulated by “oppressed underdog” scientists contradict each other. The implication is that ‘establishment’ science is justified in ignoring at least the vast majority of alternative scientists. But just because a theory is disprovable on evidence doesn’t mean it is worthless. It can be an interesting exercise. It can be a teaching tool. But I suppose it may be dangerous for the gullible.

Here’s my favorite example. Take water and electricity. Split it into hydrogen and oxygen. Burn the hydrogen and oxygen. Make water and generate electricity! It’s like an infinite circle. But like Escher’s infinite waterfall, it only works in the imagination. Philip Ball did a great explanation of why this myth keeps popping up.



-Peter