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Ready, Steady, Evolve 911

Stront writes "New Scientist is reporting that plants and animals can 'bottle up' evolution until they need it. A certain protein 'hides away' mutated genes acting like a genetic valet, however in extreme environments, such as high temperature or noxious chemicals, the cleaning process breaks down and the mutations are released all at once. This goes some way to explaining examples that are considered to defy standard evolutionary theory, such as the Bombardier Beetle."
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Ready, Steady, Evolve

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  • Hmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Drunken Coward ( 574991 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @07:59AM (#4342947)
    Doesn't this kind of go against the theory of natural selection? I mean, if the mutated gene is hidden, then there really isn't a difference between the inferior and superior versions, so the gene pool won't be improved.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ergo98 ( 9391 )
      While natural selection makes some sense, and can clearly describe extreme survival abilities (for instance the common example is bacteria and antibacterial agents, and the eventually immunity thereof), in a lot of natural cases it doesn't offer a complete explanation. I'm not a man of religion myself, but I do find there to be some giant "leaps of faith" in the belief of the current explanation of evolution, and many of those who fervently put it forth as the one-true-way are no different than cultists.

      Mind you this "pent up evoloution" really doesn't make sense for non-reducable systems: If evolution is trial and error, then how would evolution know what to queue up? It could be a queued up sequence of disastrous changes. Or are we to believe that evolution queued up random delta logs in every creature, and an infinite number of changes leads to the Bombardier Beetles defensive system as one random lucky draw?
      • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sgage ( 109086 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:26AM (#4343080)
        " If evolution is trial and error, then how would evolution know what to queue up? It could be a queued up sequence of disastrous changes."

        Evolution most definitely does NOT know what to queue up. And yes, it might queue up disastrous changes. A lot of natural selection takes place very early in embryonic development, and the real disastrous changes are eliminated right then and there (reabsorption, miscarriages, spontaneous abortions).

        That said, as an ardent evolutionist with an MS in population genetics, I sometimes have to wonder about things like the bombardier beetle. The genome has its own "grammar", and the simple model, while a decent big picture, doesn't (yet) cover the incredible complexity and subtlety of what's going on.
        • Yeah, creationists often use the complexity of some organs to refute the supposed incremental nature of evolution. However, it may be that biologists just haven't discovered the intermediate forms of the organs. They've already postulated some intermediat e forms - like the gills on water-bound insect larvae enlarging to skate across the surface of the water and then enlarging again to become wings.

          I'm sure that the bombardier beetle's defense mechanism had some sort of intermediate form as well. I find it highly unlikely that something like that would just lie dormant almost perfectly encoded in the genome.

          Maybe there needs to be a new field of Probabilist Evolutionary Biology. I would think that computer simulations using genetic algorithms could prove whether or not this could happen in nature.

          • Re:Hmm... (Score:3, Informative)

            by EllisDees ( 268037 )
            >I'm sure that the bombardier beetle's defense mechanism had some sort of intermediate form as well.


      • parahydroxybenzene (Score:5, Informative)

        by X-rated Ouroboros ( 526150 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @11:05AM (#4344173) Homepage

        I'm doing the traditional /. thing and not actually reading the article, but I assume it's the old news on heat-shock and chaperone proteins being shown to be a general case.

        This isn't "saving up" mutations. This is a system for supressing aberrant mutations breaking down in stressful environments. The True Believers out there would like to phrase this to illustrate the cleverness of natural selection, but this is the failure of a beneficial system leading to a honking buttload of mutants appearing. Nothing more. Yes, throwing a bunch of random solutions at the problem may find an answer and allow a population to continue living in a stressful environment, but it's a bit assuming to try to say the system has evolved to break down in this manner (though it is a rather elegant failure mode).

        As for the bombardier beetle...
        Hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide, when mixed, turn brown over the course of a couple minutes and won't taste very good. Various beetles besides the Bombardier Beetle use the chemicals, uncatalyzed, merely for the foul taste. Evolution can work in as many steps as it likes increasing the foulness of the taste without any delightful imagery of exploding beetles occurring to anyone.

        Of course the page linked to is slow to abandon such delightful imagery so, while it is kind enough to mention that nothing very exciting happens unless you add a catalyst, it likes to give the impression that without that catalyst (or "anti-inhibitor", if you please) the beetles would die a horrible death in the manner of a piece of popcorn, though not quite as tasty.

        Let me let you in on another "secret". There can be huge ranges of activity in classes of closely related proteins. This is especially true of the enzymes responsible for catalyzing naturally occuring reactions between simple chemicals. This is a bit of a problem for the Creationist because their idea of the beetles stumbling across a highly efficient enzyme and blowing themselves to bits for generations is very useful. Having them stumble across a weak version that merely made them taste a little worse than their competitors when an attacker mixed the chemicals together is hardly an exciting idea. Nor is it exciting for this weak enzyme to follow the same path of increasing the foulness of the taste that the parahydroxybenzene glands went through.

        Of course, once this enzyme reaches a certain level it does get to be dangerous to the beetles. Chance encounters with learning predators that may have only have caused injury become fatal due to the beetles' own defense mechanism (though, because the added foulness of taste deters predation, this is still beneficial to the species, though not to the individual). Any solution is beneficial, as the alternative is death. The apparent winner is to excrete the chemicals, which isn't surprising as some of the other Brachinus species do this without the fun of superheating. Coevolution of improvements to the catalyst and to the ejection system gives us what we have today.

        Unfortunately, answering one set of Creationists' call to provide an explanation is met with catcalls of "just-so-story!" from another set. It's really best to ignore them as a group... which, hey, is what I'll be doing.

        • by Bobartig ( 61456 )
          Well put. Creationist Science, much like Christian Science*, is NOT a science. So much of the "Creationist Science" rhetoric seems more like academic attrition than any science at all. They look for increasingly hard to explain phenomena, with no regard for the larger, more patternistic (or evolutionarily "behaved") systems out there, then refute the entire theory of evolution by pointing wildly at their red herrings.

          Their inappropriate use of the word "science" maligns the reputation of legitimate science for academics and researchers everywhere.

          P.S. you didn't miss much in the article, its repetitious, involves lots of exploding beetles, and eventually resorts to name calling (an ad hominum attack as a result of ad hominum attacks),

          * I have nothing against Christian Scientists. It is a legitimate religion. Additionally, all the Christian Scientists I know agree with the sentiment that their faith is indeed not a science.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Informative)

      by theduck ( 101668 )

      Doesn't this kind of go against the theory of natural selection? I mean, if the mutated gene is hidden, then there really isn't a difference between the inferior and superior versions, so the gene pool won't be improved.

      Not really. Suddenly hostile environment would probably kill off a large proportion of the population in a short time (evolutionarily speaking). If any hidden combination of genes expressed themselves then and even slightly affected the odds of survival then the resulting population would be replete with this set of genes.

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sgage ( 109086 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:21AM (#4343059)
      Natural selection doesn't work on genes, it works on phenotypes - the expression of those genes. If a bunch of mutations are "hidden" for a time, but then suddenly expressed in a time of "need" (i.e., rapidly changing environment), selection can then do its thing.

      This finding in no way goes against natural selection.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mainguym ( 611910 )
      You're assuming that all of the changes would be positive. The Bombardier beetle is a positive example (I Guess), but, it also makes sense if you assume that these rapid changes could cause mass Extinction. That could explain why dinosaurs don't exist anymore.

      Of course it could also be used to explain why there is a missing link... The climate changed drastically and a rapid number of changes occurred that won't readily be in the fossil record because the rate of change was too fast.

      Maybe, maybe not, I wasn't there, but I could believe it. The problem is, I couldn't read the article, don't know much about genetics, and not knowing how the research was done, they could have been trying to massage facts for a theory to reach the same conclusions. I.E. torture the facts until they say what we want.

  • by koh ( 124962 )
    --however in extreme environments, such as high temperature or noxious chemicals, the cleaning process breaks down and the mutations are released all at once.

    So that's why reading slashdot made me evolve so fast ! Thanks again guys, I like my new body (too bad I turn to stone at night now...)
  • "thinking" (Score:4, Funny)

    by squaretorus ( 459130 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:04AM (#4342965) Homepage Journal
    According to evolutionary "thinking" there must have been thousands of generations of beetles improperly mixing these hazardous chemicals in fatal evolutionary experiments, blowing themselves to pieces. Eventually. we are assured, they arrived at the magic formula, but what about the development of the inhibitor?

    Never trust any arguement that has to resort to putting thinking in quotes! Especially if the word 'god' is on the same page!
    • Re:"thinking" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by aug24 ( 38229 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:25AM (#4343075) Homepage
      It's a crappy argument anyway. The substances are unstable, not explosive (see later in the article), and the evolution order could easily be:
      • Develop nasty chemical as poison
        Develop inhibitor in other tissues so as not to poison self
      • Develop squirty technique for nasty chemical
      • Develop another nasty chemical as poison.
      • Add second nasty chemical at squirt time which makes it nastier
      • Develop anti-inhibitor as some of the inhibitor will leak into the nasty chemicals

      Did I miss anything? Oh yeah, anyone who thinks postulating God is a smaller step than postulating evolution is fooling themselves big time.

      My copy of NS is back at home, so I can't comment on the new stuff, just the old rubbish about 'The bombadier beetle couldn't have evolved' <sigh>


      • Re:"thinking" (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:32AM (#4343118)
        I particularly liked "Everything in evolution is supposed to make perfect sense and have a logical purpose" Says who? The whole freaking point of evolution is that it is a choatic process with an ordered outcome. I expect there were lots of little beetles blowing themselves up at some point. Guess what? Those beetles didn't produce any offspring, and thats why you don't see any. The ones that didn't blow themselves up produced offspring. Oh look, more beetles.

        The fear of evolution is partly based on the idea that man is perfect, and then from that the fear that a perfect being could have evolved from chaos.

        The flaw is believing that man is perfect.
  • It's a theory... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mwongozi ( 176765 ) <slashthree@@@davidglover...org> on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:04AM (#4342967) Homepage
    You can't "defy" a theory. That's why it's called a theory. Theorys "evolve" (heh) until they finally fit all the available facts, and then we can be fairly sure that that is what is really happening.
    • by kzinti ( 9651 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:35AM (#4343138) Homepage Journal
      You're confusing two different meanings of the word theory. One meaning is of hypothesis or conjecture, as in a suggested explanation yet to be proven right or wrong.

      Another meaning is of governing principles as in "theory of operation". I have a book at home call "Loudspeakers: Theory and Design". The author does not offer hypotheses about how speakers work; he has no doubt as to whether they work and how they work. He's not writing conjecture - he's writing science and engineering - the general body of rules governing the operation of loudspeakers, which the author collectively refers to as their "theory of operation". This second sense of the word can be defied.

      In the days of Darwin, the word "theory" in "Theory of Evolution" probably may have refered to the first sense of the word, as a hypothetical explanation of the origin of all species, including ours. But talk to a biologist or naturalist today and he'll tell you they have no doubt but that evolution is a fact; how it works, its principles of operation, is something they're still exploring and trying to explain.

      This confusion between the meanings is something the Bible-thumbers love to exploit (I'm not lumping you in with them, though). They jump up and down and shout about how evolution is just a "theory" and that their half-baked Creation Science theories deserve equal consideration in the schools. Don't buy it. Evolution is a fact. We're sure of the big picture; it's just some of the details that we haven't worked out yet.

      • But talk to a biologist or naturalist today and he'll tell you they have no doubt but that evolution is a fact; how it works, its principles of operation, is something they're still exploring and trying to explain.

        Hmmm...that sure is odd. I could have SWORE one of my teachers, (a tenured professor in the biology department who has a PHD in Chemistry and Biology nonetheless), believes evolution is a crock and believes that creation (or "intellegent design", as he says) is the most viable explaination, and believes evolution has too many flaws in it to really be considered a viable theroy. Oh yea, I attend an accredited public college.
    • by KILNA ( 536949 ) <kilna@kilna.com> on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:36AM (#4343142) Homepage Journal
      I love the folks who like to tell you that "evolution is just a theory". The statement is rather loaded. It is a theory, yes. But so is the theory of gravity, and the round-earth theory. Just because a concept happens to be a theory doesn't preclude it from also being an observable fact. So far, evolutionary principles are a visisble, reproducible phenomenon, and has been observed [talkorigins.org] in the laboratory and in the field [santarosa.edu]. Most importantly, you could disprove evolution right now if you could show verifiable supernatural causality for what we observe in speciation. Creation "science" has no outlet to invalidate it, offers no verifiable causality for speciation, and presumes the existence of a supernatural event to explain the natural world. That's not even a theory, its a fairy tale.
    • Natural selection is easily falsifiable, as Darwin himself noted. One example: if an organism displays an adaptation which is of more benefit to some other organism than to itself--if horses evolved saddles--natural selection goes poof.

      Natural selection doesn't go poof, though.

      An aside: I consider it irresponsible that the story link is not balanced by a more mainstream view, and by mainstream I mean Google's opinion, not mine--why not the TalkOrigins site, which comes up first in Google on bombardier beetle evolution?
      • Re:It's a theory... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by drudd ( 43032 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @10:57AM (#4344114)
        The real problem with discussing natural selection is it assumes we're smart enough to understand the ENTIRE picture...

        If a horse evolved a saddle, no, it doesn't provide the horse with an advantage in the wild, but if it helps it be adopted by humans and through that relationship fed, protected from predetors, and allowed to breed, then the saddle was a beneficial adaptation by the horse.

        Look at aphids and ants... the ability to secrete sugar is not a particularly useful ability for the aphid, but the ants then enter into a symbiotic relationship, helping protect and nurture the aphids.

        Another good example is the breeding of dogs. There are many breeds which now are totally unsuited for life in the wild (short legs, terrible arthritic joints, etc). These are not traits which are inherently useful to the dog, but we seem to like them. Just because we were the ones selecting the properties we liked, and not a life/death struggle in the wild, doesn't make it any less evolution.

        Nature doesn't care how (or why!) the organism survives and procreates, only that it does.

  • More info please! (Score:3, Informative)

    by inputsprocket ( 585963 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:05AM (#4342974)
    It's a bit difficult to comment on a story, when the story requires subscription to the print edition of a magazine to view it! That, or wait a week until the story is released to the masses.

  • Evolution (Score:4, Informative)

    by e8johan ( 605347 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:08AM (#4342989) Homepage Journal
    A simple proof of evolution is to look at genetic programming (for example here [genetic-programming.org], here [genetic-programming.com] and here [geneticprogramming.com]).
    Just look at the classic example of ants collection food. It is beautifully described in John R. Koza's [genetic-programming.com] great books (1 [amazon.com], 2 [amazon.com] and 3 [amazon.com]) on the subject.
    Just imagine adding a fermone layer to freeciv [freeciv.org] and let the random search for a superior player begin.
    • Re:Evolution (Score:2, Insightful)

      by skubalon ( 579506 )
      Programming itself implies, no, requires a programmer. So I ask you, who did the genetic programming?
      • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

        by e8johan ( 605347 )
        The basic process of producing enzymes from the DNA/RNA is just a simple chemical process, i.e. the laws of the nature (which are due to quantum effects if you want to go all the way, as far as we know it today anyway).
        As for genetic programming, you are right, someone has to provide a set of common rules, building blocks, whatever, but a random process actually reaches a solution through selection of the fitest, which I find nice...
      • Re:Evolution (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jone1941 ( 516270 )
        We've all heard that a million monkeys, banging on a million typewriters, would eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare.

        So, as soon as you throw a moderator on that equation (survival) all of a sudden you have a learning algorithm that throws away anything that isn't any good.

        Sorry I couldn't help myself. =)
    • Come on moderators, this is a blatant troll!

      Genetic algorithms are not proof of evolutionary theory. They merely demonstrate that, under very controlled conditions, the application of "survival of the fittest" and random mutations in a "gene pool" can allow solutions to develop in a way analogous to natural selection.

      You can't make a jump from that to proving the theory of evolution by natural selection. Indeed, it's highly unlikely that that theory will ever be proved beyond doubt, and many people (not just loonies) expect it to be debunked sooner rather than later. (Personally, I don't hold that view.)
      Genetic algorithms are interesting - I've had fun with them myself. But they *prove* exactly nothing.
      • Ok, it is not a proof, sorry for using such a provocative word - I did not mean to start a flame war. However, I feel that it shows that a random process, with a selection of the fittest can provide good solutions to problems.
      • >But they *prove* exactly nothing.

        I proves that the theory of natural selection is an applicable concept and can be applied to another problem domain.

        It is as good as a proove of a theory gets.
        Natural Selection explains the current situation and lead to verifyable conclusions (GA).

        It's not very hard to get the first thing right,
        the second one is the tricky one.
        Creationism, Solipsism, The Gian Goat are all theories, but usually lack the second requisite to be called scientific.

        General Relativity was a fancy theory, until it let to new conclusions, which were proven.

        Of course, it does not prove that it is really the driving concept behind evolving life, but that is true for every scientific theory. And like any scientific theory it is bound to be modified, to accomodate new facts.
    • I don't think anyone disputes that evolution *can* happen. The big question we have is whether or not evolution is responsible for our presence, and in particular if it is a reasonable and plausible explanation for our existence. That it can be an explanation does not mean it is.

      The Creationists argument is that God created the universe, which cannot be disproved because God is omnipotent in that universe and hence can contrive existence and truth. Many Creationists wish to prove their conjecture, however, by disproving every other plausible explanation, such as evolutionary theory.

      Which strikes me as remarkably short sighted; I would tend to believe that a creationist would understand that their deity is riddled with enigmas with plausible explanations, and fully capable of providing alternative theories to creationism itself, if for nothing else than plausible deniability. Proof of God would undermine the need for faith.
  • Bombardier Beetle (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spakka ( 606417 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:08AM (#4342990)
    ...examples that are considered to defy standard evolutionary theory, such as the Bombardier Beetle.

    Only if you're a creationist.

    debunking [talkorigins.org]
  • by jeek ( 37349 ) <jeekNO@SPAMjeek.net> on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:09AM (#4342992) Homepage
    Of course, the mutations are also released when your Pokemon hits a certain level (depending on the Pokemon), or is exposed one of several rare stones, or even becomes extremely attached to its trainer.

    Shredder has many vials of a substance called "Mutagen" that can also release these mutations.
  • All these examples where the standard theory failed showed the basic flaws of the evolution theory. Now they bring up a extremely complicated theory to get the "standard theory" right. Ironically it contradicts itself the evolutionary theory by such plants and animals with "hidden genes" are more prone to get gene-defect diseases like cancer etc. So that's basically a huge evolutionary drawback which should have eliminated by evolution.
    Sorry pals. The standard evolution theory by Darwin is basically flawed. I'm not one of these air-heads who doubt carbon dating etc. But we have record in all older human of a superior alien power interfering which life on this planet. Why should this be in fact wrong ? The acients surely saw something and misinterpreted it, without having much knowledge about the world. However humans are not cracked up such much as they seem to be so it's very unlikely that this is all made up.
    You guy defending the evolution theory so keenly are in fact a new kind of religious zealot - you just replaced the trinity with natural sciences.
    I wonder when the first fires will burn and the whitchhunts start.
    • by sgage ( 109086 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:33AM (#4343122)
      "Ironically it contradicts itself the evolutionary theory by such plants and animals with "hidden genes" are more prone to get gene-defect diseases like cancer etc. So that's basically a huge evolutionary drawback which should have eliminated by evolution."

      No, because there is nothing evolutionarily "bad" about cancer, so long as you don't get it until you've had offspring.

      "But we have record in all older human of a superior alien power interfering which life on this planet."

      So aliens came and jiggered with life on earth - cool. One then simply wonders... how did this superior alien lifeform come about? Infinite regress...

      "You guy defending the evolution theory so keenly are in fact a new kind of religious zealot - you just replaced the trinity with natural sciences.
      I wonder when the first fires will burn and the whitchhunts start."

      Total sensationalist bullshit. There are many, many excellent popular books on the subject. Why not educate yourself? Or wait for the aliens to take you away...

    • Hey! Your website is down!
  • by unixfan ( 571579 )
    Well, this was demonstrated already in the 50's. So it's nice to see that someone is picking up on it.
  • Trilobyte (Score:2, Funny)

    by nmg196 ( 184961 )
    Ok it's experiment time:

    I'm going to get a fish tank, some water, air, soil etc and then sterilise the whole lot while it's sealed in the tank, so there can't possibly be any life in there whatsoever.

    I'm then going to watch the tank and wait to see how long it takes until I get a Trilobyte.

    It might take a while longer to get a bombadier beetle or a Neanderthal man though...

    Obviously I'll set up a web cam pointing at the tank so you guys can watch too...

    Nick... ...from the Insitute of people-who-have-way-too-much-free-time-on-their-ha nds.
  • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:27AM (#4343085) Homepage
    Bombadier Beetle FAQ [talkorigins.org]

    There's no great mystery; all of the chemicals are common, other beetles exist that excrete them separately; and the temperatures and pressures are not really that great (only just above boiling). So what?

  • Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by interstellar_donkey ( 200782 ) <pathighgate@nosPam.hotmail.com> on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:27AM (#4343088) Homepage Journal
    Ignoring all the people who want to get into a creationist vs. evolution debate, I find this very interesting. (For the record, I'm a Christian who is interested in science.)

    I've always been curious about evolution, but have found a problem in it that I havn't been able to get around.

    We can see natural selection at work withen a species before our eyes in a matter of generations, but have yet to see any dramatic jump that evolutionary theory supports.

    Could this be the answer? Could these stored up Genes have enough in side of them to not only modify a breed of species, but create an entirly new one? I'd love to see more research on this.

    If so, we have discovered the final missing link in evolutionary theory.

  • To date, there has been no observed beneficial mutation. Clearly then, organisms that receive a mutation are less likely to survive than (already healthy) organisms that don't, so perhaps this is just a mechanism to protect the organism against mutations.

    And I think the protein breaksdown under the conditions stated simply because not many creatures have evolved to live in volcanos or toxic waste dumps.
  • Creationism (Score:2, Funny)

    by pubjames ( 468013 )

    This type of topic on Slashdot always creates lots of posts bashing Creationists. Because of this, I would like to give you a rational, logical expanation about the beliefs of Creationists, to dispel the ignorance displayed here on Slashdot.

    What is a Creationist?
    A Creationist believes that living things were designed and created by God, rather than a process such as evolution.

    So God is a designer and creator?
    Yes, this is fundamental to the beliefs of Creationists.

    What is God? An old man with a big white beard?
    That's just silly. God is everywhere, he is a spirit. You can't see him.

    You said God was a designer and creator. Why?

    What's he do it for?
    Erm. What? Oh I know this one! You mustn't question the doings of God, they are unexplainable by mere mortals?

    So this invisible and unexplainable thing you call God created all living creatures, but you can't explain why?
    You must have faith.

    And you think that's a more sensible explanation of life on Earth than evoluton?
    I've got my faith. I don't have to question it.

    So what about the fossil record? Did God create that?
    [Hands on ears] La la la la la la la la...
  • that darned beetle (Score:3, Informative)

    by ChrisJones ( 23624 ) <cmsj-slashdotNO@SPAMtenshu.net> on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:34AM (#4343124) Homepage Journal
    I'm not entirely convinced that the Bombadier Beetle is a good argument against evolution, even before this theory.
    There are many organisms that use what would be lethal chemicals to disorient, disable and/or kill their prey and/or predators. If you think of the squillions of beetles in the world (and there really are billions and billions of them), then look at the amount of time they've existed (a very very long time), is it really that surprising that such a feature could evolve?
    Something as advantageous as being able to secrete chemicals that predators don't like gives you such a massive advantage over your defenseless peers that natural selection is going to promote that feature very aggressively, then one beetle arrives that has slightly too powerful secretion methods that squirt the chemical rather than simple secreting it onto their exoskeleton. Now you have an even bigger advantage, you can deter your predator before it has you in it's mouth. Again, natural selection is going to promote that quite aggressively because you're less likely to be injured and unable to reproduce further.
    I admit that the leap from there to squirting two different chemicals so they meet at a precise point and react is a little greater, but it only has to happen by random chance once, after that natural selection (less other random chances of death) will take care of making it the predominant feature.
    Given the incredible amount of specialisation nature displays elsewhere, the bombadier beetle doesn't seem to be too out of the ordinary. I would suggest that something like bioluminesence is equally impressive/unlikely.
  • I'm just finishing up Darwin's Radio [gregbear.com] by Greg Bear, which starts from a pretty similar proposition: that evolution happens (or at least can happen) in big leaps, regulated by the genes themselves and triggered by stress.

    The story deals with what happens to the human race when those genes come out for the first time since we took over from the Neandertals. (Probably not the best summary, but God it's early.)

    Not a bad book -- I wasn't too compelled by the first half, but now that I'm on the downhill stretch I'm more and more engrossed. A neat idea, and one that looks like it may have some basis in fact. (Scary thought, given the human race's reaction in the book to what happens...)

  • All I can say is if the defense mechanism of the beetle was created by an intelligent designer, with blueprints and all, like Slartibartfast or something, S/he/it must be having a ball. "Ok, we/I create these things that eat beetles, but on the other hand lets make the beetle so it squirts hot crap in the predators face so it really has to work for it's dinner!! Won't that be a rip!!! Hehehe. Then let's make these humans have to toil away for their food also, and blame all their troubles on, hmmm, SIN! Yeah, that's the ticket, they used to live a life of eternal luxery in a fantastic garden but because of this 'sin' thing the now have to slave away to get food, shelter and clothing. Then we'll make those who beleive that stuff work against those who are trying to alleviate suffering, yeah, this'll keep those 'humans' hopelessly confused, just the way I designed it!!"
  • In the description of the bombadier beetle, they make a huge deal about each muscle, and valve that has to be there to have this happen. If you think about it, how many muscles, and valves and widgets do we have inside just so we can rip a good fart? Really, that's not a troll, it's a serious question. They say it like the beetle has to think about throwing switch A, and mixing chem B, when it probably thinks about it as much as you do when you cut the cheese.
  • Missing the Point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BoBaBrain ( 215786 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:37AM (#4343152)
    "This goes some way to explaining examples that are considered to defy standard evolutionary theory, such as the Bombardier Beetle."

    OK, I'll bite. Time to feed the Trolls...
    The bombardier beetle never defied standard evolutionary theory. It may have defied belief, but that's a different matter entirely. If anything, the bombardier beetle, and countless other amazing species, show the awesome power of something as simple as random mutation and selection.
    • Weak faith (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 )
      My question isn't creationism vs evolution but why creationists can only see God working like some Las Vegas magician causing things to pop out of thin air. Why can't they believe that evolution is God's mechanism for creation? Creation didn't stop 7000 yrs or so ago (when bible literalists believe the world was made) but is an ongoing process.

      Hundreds of years ago these same people would've been saying that "There's no proof that planets orbit the sun" or that "The surface of the earth isn't slowly moving". As more scientific knowledge comes in they are forced to drop dearly held beliefs and move on to new ones. Eternal "truths" don't work very well when they are based on the current temporal world. Instead of tying their faiths to the physical world they should focus on the philosophical and spiritual worlds where they should've been all along.
  • by jukal ( 523582 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:38AM (#4343158) Journal
    however in extreme environments, such as high temperature or noxious chemicals, the cleaning process breaks down and the mutations are released all at once

    however in extreme environments, such as day before the deadline, the manager process breaks down and all the kludges are released all at once.

  • If you doubt the theory of evolution just take at your friends (I am addressing geeks on this one). Their bodies are already adapting to their environment:
    - the most highly tuned muscles in their bodies are their hands/fingers (how many geeks have "hardbodies"?)
    - most wear glasses (what is there to see more than 18 inches away?)
    - they do not use vocal speech effectively (excluding expletvies that are equally applied to machines and other humans)
    - have you seen the children of real geeks!

    Wait! you complain - I know some exceptions to these observations. Of course you do - they are by definition not real geeks, or will be culled from the herd over time.

    I can't wait to see what people look like 1000 years from now - extra fingers?, permanent near sightedness?, no legs?
  • by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:40AM (#4343169) Journal
    Yeah. Creationists are always quick to point out
    what they percive as "intelligent design".

    On the other hand, they completely ignore that nature is far more abundant with "unintelligent design" - especially at the molecular level.

    Intelligent design would be to use the same enzyme in all animals. Today, you have the same enzymes, but they have differences, not in function, but in all kinds of non-important ways.

    Strangely (for the creationist), these differences are larger between, say a human and a bacteria than between two different types of bacteria.

    Oh, and that beetle example is bulls**t. Read some non-biased information somewhere
    instead of that pseudoscientific creationist crap.
    (someone linked to a faq at talk.origins, probably a good place to start.)
  • The linked article quote Duane Gish, one of the premier proponents of Creationism. Before anyone puts too much stock in what he has to say, it should be noted that Gish has a record of misrepresenting facts. [atheists.org]

  • You've probably elevated yet another bit of creationist propaganda to the top of google. Of course, most of the Google results for "bombardier beetle" appear to be creationist tripe... I imagine those guys have never read the story of the Babel fish, or they'd stop looking so hard for "proof".

    Ho ho.
  • Too bad Gould didn't live just a few more months to see this. I haven't read the article, but the idea would certainly seem to support Punctured Equilibrium. I would hope that he at least had access to some of the data before publishing.
  • by pythorlh ( 236755 ) <pythorNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 27, 2002 @08:57AM (#4343260) Journal
    And it's been a theory for a good twenty years at least in evolutionary biology. It explains why we find a lot of fossils of different species, but very few fossils that qualify as a "missing link" between species. This just gives a reasonable explanation for the mechanism which produces punctuated equilibrium.
    • Actually this new theory/evidence just provides a little extra bang to punctuated equilibrium. It could already be explained based purely on natural selection. In that case, the triggering factor is also stress - a form which had been favorable and therefore selected for in an environment is no longer so favorable when the organism's environment changes in some way, at which point natural selection starts weeding out that species, unless a series of mutations occurs that gives it an edge. Of course, such a major change in a species will itself have a marked effect on the environment, thus triggering changes in other species, and so forth. An evolutionary domino effect. The more dramatic the change, the more dramatic the effect. One of the most pronounced examples of this was after the dinosaurs were killed off, when mammals rapidly evolved in response to so many empty ecological niches.
  • The DNA of rocks and chemicals ISN'T stored away...!?!
  • I've always wanted to believe that a true scientist does not care what the truth is just so long as he knows that he's got it. Find the answer, deal with the ramifications later. I've also liked to believe that any intellegent person will evaluate an idea on its own merits rather than pick from whatever popular ideas are currently available.

    Enter evolutionary theory. It seems that to show any skeptisism is to be labled a creationist. Who decided that those were the only options? Regardless of the validity of any other ideas out there, modern evolutionary theory does have trouble neatly explaining some observations. As a result, the theory is continually becoing more complex (There is really not sufficient room to go into detail so I apologize). At some point, skeptisism is appropriate.

    Years ago, people widely believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and anyone who didn't think so was automatically labled a heretic. Rather than concede that the Earth was moving, planets were plotted as moving in epicyclic patterns. This was a real mess to explain in the context of known physics. As far as I know, Gallileo was not an atheist yet I believe he was excommunicated for suggesting that the Earth moved.

    Now it's the opposite problem. To challenge evolutionary theory is to be labled a creationist, even though evolutionary theory is looking more and more like planets moving in epicycles everyday.

  • New Scientist is reporting that plants and animals can 'bottle up' evolution until they need it.

    1. Find these animals.
    2. Put the evolution in real bottles.
    3. Sell it.
    4. PROFIT !!!
  • by MarvinMouse ( 323641 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @09:10AM (#4343324) Homepage Journal
    Bombardier is building cars now? (The Bombardier Beetle)

    Wow, Now that's evolution that cannot be easily explained. ;-)
  • I read the article about the bombardier beetle and it made me wonder:

    If this little fellow was the product of intelligent design, would not that same intelligent design extend to the other creatures around it? ...and to the ecosystem in which it lived? If so, why design a defense against predators when one could just as easily design predators that would not want to sup on our poor beetle?

    Or did the "designer" just want to sit back and guffaw at the pain and suffering inflicted on one of his creations by another?

  • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @09:34AM (#4343478)
    Everyone, please read this article at Scientific American: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense [sciam.com]. It states 15 common statements/questions that creationists pose to try and discount evolution, and answers them all quite nicely.
  • by jest3r ( 458429 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @10:19AM (#4343840)
    I think the evolutionists still win according to this article on the Bombardier Beetle: [talkorigins.org]

    A step-by-step evolution of the bombardier system is really not that hard to envision. The scenario below shows a possible step-by-step evolution of the bombardier beetle mechanism from a primitive arthropod.

    1.Quinones are produced by epidermal cells for tanning the cuticle. This exists commonly in arthropods. [Dettner, 1987]

    2.Some of the quinones don't get used up, but sit on the epidermis, making the arthropod distasteful. (Quinones are used as defensive secretions in a variety of modern arthropods, from beetles to millipedes. [Eisner, 1970])

    3.Small invaginations develop in the epidermis between sclerites (plates of cuticle). By wiggling, the insect can squeeze more quinones onto its surface when they're needed.

    4.The invaginations deepen. Muscles are moved around slightly, allowing them to help expel the quinones from some of them. (Many ants have glands similar to this near the end of their abdomen. [Holldobler & Wilson, 1990, pp. 233-237])

    5.Some invaginations (now reservoirs) become so deep that the others are inconsequential by comparison. Those gradually revert to the original epidermis.

    6.In various insects, different defensive chemicals besides quinones appear. (See Eisner, 1970, for a review.) This helps those insects defend against predators which have evolved resistance to quinones. One of the new defensive chemicals is hydroquinone.

    7.Cells that secrete the hydroquinones develop in multiple layers over part of the reservoir, allowing more hydroquinones to be produced. Channels between cells allow hydroquinones from all layers to reach the reservoir.

    8.The channels become a duct, specialized for transporting the chemicals. The secretory cells withdraw from the reservoir surface, ultimately becoming a separate organ. This stage -- secretory glands connected by ducts to reservoirs -- exists in many beetles. The particular configuration of glands and reservoirs that bombardier beetles have is common to the other beetles in their suborder. [Forsyth, 1970]

    9.Muscles adapt which close off the reservoir, thus preventing the chemicals from leaking out when they're not needed.

    10.Hydrogen peroxide, which is a common by-product of cellular metabolism, becomes mixed with the hydroquinones. The two react slowly, so a mixture of quinones and hydroquinones gets used for defense.

    11.Cells secreting a small amount of catalases and peroxidases appear along the output passage of the reservoir, outside the valve which closes it off from the outside. These ensure that more quinones appear in the defensive secretions. Catalases exist in almost all cells, and peroxidases are also common in plants, animals, and bacteria, so those chemicals needn't be developed from scratch but merely concentrated in one location.

    12.More catalases and peroxidases are produced, so the discharge is warmer and is expelled faster by the oxygen generated by the reaction.

    13.The walls of that part of the output passage become firmer, allowing them to better withstand the heat and pressure generated by the reaction.

    14.Still more catalases and peroxidases are produced, and the walls toughen and shape into a reaction chamber. Gradually they become the mechanism of today's bombardier beetles.

    15.The tip of the beetle's abdomen becomes somewhat elongated and more flexible, allowing the beetle to aim its discharge in various directions.

  • by sgage ( 109086 ) on Friday September 27, 2002 @11:54AM (#4344576)
    Every so often, a biological/evolutionary/ecological topic comes up on Slashdot. Now, folks here are mostly engineers of one sort or another, not biologists, and it shows.

    I have an MS in ecology and population genetics, but have also made my living in the CS field for years (to pay the mortgage, you understand :-) As someone who has way more than dabbled in both fields, I can say that a hard engineering mindset does not lend itself to understanding the biological sciences in general, and ecology/evolution in particular.

    Evolution (and I've taught college courses on the subject) is not engineering. To understand it, you need to understand ecology, genetics, biochemistry, lots of general biology, etc., etc. There are few topics with more misunderstandings, by people who think they understand it all, and don't. Including some people in the field, har har.

    Finally, regarding the Creationists and the "irreducible complexity" thing. As the Theory of Evolution got traction in the intellectual world, the Creationists always pointed out something we didn't understand as proof of a Creator. As more and more became understood, they retreated to the next thing. This was called the "God of the gaps" approach - if we don't understand NOW what's going on, it must be GOD!

    That's how I feel about "irreducible complexity". It will be found to be reducible. Well, maybe, mabye not. Where is it written that talking monkeys should necessarily come to understand the Cosmos in all its glory? That's what we are, boys and girls. For all our wonderful accumulated knowledge, there's an infinite ocean of subtlety out there... there's no guarantee that it's all accessible to our brand of cognition or any other computation either.

    We return you now to your regularly scheduled trollfest...

    • I agree with you about the reducibility of most allegedly irreducible complexity. But I'm going to nitpick almost everything else you said to death.

      I think it's very wrong to generalize about "engineers" using those who post on Slashdot as a representative sample. On any given topic, including computer-related topics, a large number of /. posts exhibit a surprising degree of ignorance. I think, as with anything else (like TV news), when it's a field you're more familiar with, you're much more likely to notice the errors, as well as more likely to be judgemental about those errors.

      Actually, I think it can be a mistake to even label someone "an engineer" and make significant assumptions of their strengths and weaknesses based on that. Most intelligent, thinking people (note I'm excluding well over 50% of the general population here) have multiple interests and strengths, and it's only the most narrow of these who have limited their life's scope to only those topics which directly affect their work.

      As for talking monkeys, we are conceptualizing, abstracting, self-aware monkeys. Those qualities tend to make the particular animal family we belong to somewhat irrelevant.

      Which brings me to understanding the cosmos - it's easy to prove that we aren't capable of understanding it in any complete sense. However, given time and access to sufficient information, we are capable of developing theories which encapsulate and communicate the essence of what's going on. It's difficult to imagine any rational, detectable process, which does not involve a deity, being impenetrable to the application of analysis and logic, and to the development of appropriate theories.

      The idea that "there's no guarantee that it's all accessible to our brand of cognition or any other computation" tends to imply that there's an unknowable deity or equivalent process doing things that we can't possibly understand, and which defy logic. I don't think that's likely to be correct. What will stop us from knowing something are simply physical and logical limitations - we can't know what preceded our universe, or what's outside our universe, or what it's really like inside a black hole, etc. Some of these questions are essentially meaningless, at least to us. Already, at the quantum level, we're reduced to describing particles as clouds of probability - but this doesn't necessarily reflect a gap in our understanding at all. You could argue that the inside of a black hole or the exact nature of an electron are not "accessible to our brand of cognition", but it seems more likely that these things are fundamentally not accessible to three-dimensional creatures occupying four-dimensional spacetime in this particular universe.

      Another physical limitation is the degree of complexity our brains are capable of entertaining. Our theories are all compressions of reality, and we never have access to nor time to process all possible relevant information. Our theories are always only simplified models and approximations. So it's a given that our understanding on any particular topic is always limited. But the flip side of that is that we are capable of coming to some understanding, however limited and gross, of any topic that is physically accessible to our inspection.

"The C Programming Language -- A language which combines the flexibility of assembly language with the power of assembly language."