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Biotech Science

Bacteria Make Major Evolutionary Shift In the Lab 1185

Auxbuss sends us to New Scientist for news sure to perplex and confound creationists: scientists have watched a new, complex evolutionary trait develop in the lab. "A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers' eyes. It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait. And because the species in question is a bacterium, scientists have been able to replay history to show how this evolutionary novelty grew from the accumulation of unpredictable, chance events."
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Bacteria Make Major Evolutionary Shift In the Lab

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  • This is why ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:59PM (#23733761)

    This is why doctors ask people to finish the entire bottle when prescribing antibiotics. This is also why we should ban antibacterial hand soaps for domestic use - because when you bathe a population of microbes in something for millions of generations, the odds are that eventually a spontaneous mutation will occur.

    All the anal-retentive clean freaks will just have to figure out how to live with the notion that they - like everyone else - carry microbes on their skin.

  • Re:Remember... (Score:5, Informative)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:00PM (#23733785)
    Hell, even for humans it means ~6.7
  • Nylon Bug (Score:3, Informative)

    by Camel Pilot ( 78781 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:02PM (#23733863) Homepage Journal

    It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait

    Didn't the nylon eating bacteria already demonstrate that a complex trait can arise in short order? Actually I think it was industrial waste products from the nylon manufacturing process but still the same.
  • Re:First! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thyrteen ( 1084963 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:07PM (#23733999)
    For those of you who didn't RTFA, the new evolution which they claim occurred was the ability to metabolize citrate, a substance in the culture medium that e. coli were previously known to be unable to metabolize, and this occurred in one of twelve populations that were spawned from a single parent bacterium. I think it's pretty interesting :)
  • by Sciros ( 986030 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:18PM (#23734315) Journal
    Well, "evolutionary theory" (which includes natural selection) is in the scientific sense, a theory. In the colloquial sense, that translates to "fact." The colloquial sense of "theory" does not apply to the theory of natural selection any more than it applies to gravity, indeed.

    I think that rather than defending the strength of the word "theory," we need to recognize that there is indeed more than one sense to the word, and creationists like to use the "weaker" sense when referring to evolutionary theory, when in reality they're wrong to do so. It's yet another disingenuity on their part. When they say "evolution is only a theory," they are either disingenuous or misinformed. There is no other alternative, because they are not using the word "theory" in the scientific sense.
  • by Krinsath ( 1048838 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:20PM (#23734351)
    Actually, it will someday be "not a theory" I refer you to the example above of gravity. Newton proposed the Theory of Gravity, which has since been tested, observed, and (more or less) universally accepted as true by the scientific community. Hence it is currently the Law of Gravity. You also have the Laws of Thermodynamics from Sir Issac which have similarly been observed, tested and validated over the centuries.

    When a theory is proved to be cogent, and repeatedly true in empirical testing over a long period of time it becomes a scientific law. Evolution is a long, long way from that status (given that biology is a much more "fluid" field compared to physics) but as the GP points out, this is another step closer.

    Not to be overly pedantic, but it's not relegated to just being a theory forever. :)
  • Re:amusing (Score:3, Informative)

    by Strilanc ( 1077197 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:21PM (#23734377)
    It's becoming more commonplace for "creationist" to by default mean "young earth creationist", and that is what the GP was most likely referring to (definitely seems that way based on the context).

    Strictly speaking, you're correct because "God created the universe" and "the theory of evolution is true" can both be true.
  • Re:Two words (Score:3, Informative)

    by ElizabethGreene ( 1185405 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:22PM (#23734447)
    Obligatory link to here [].
  • Re:Pros and Cons (Score:3, Informative)

    by Strilanc ( 1077197 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:24PM (#23734493)
    Spontaneous generation is a type of abiogenesis, but abiogenesis is not spontaneous generation. Abiogenesis refers to any theory about how life arose from non-life. Lookup abiogenesis on wikipedia for more.
  • Re:Grow up. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jzanu ( 668651 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:26PM (#23734573)
    Funding. Science is expensive.
  • Re:Never Be Enough (Score:2, Informative)

    by KungFuSoi ( 315593 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:50PM (#23735319)
    not all unicellular organisms belong to the same species. there are a variety of criteria to determine speciation. invisible differences between (invisible) organisms does not mean they cannot be of different species. even in fruit flies, it takes training to differentiate visually melanogaster from simulans from yakuba etc.

    creationists distinguishing "macro" and "micro" is just their attempt at using semantics to deny evidence. no one has agreed on a standard definition of species; a creationist could pick and choose a definition to refute an argument as convenient.

    any how, can you test creationism with a likelihood test? i do not know the answer to that, but i do know that you could sample dna from these new citrate metabolizing bacteria and test the hypothesis that positive selection was acting on certain parts of the genome corresponding to the appropriate enzymes and come up with a p-value. for some reason i am skeptical that you could do the same for a god-helped-the-bacteria hypothesis.
  • Re:Two words (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:56PM (#23735459) Journal
    The historicity of Jesus is hardly well established. It might be well agreed upon by scholars who make their living studying jesus, but that's entirely different. We have absolutely no first hand accounts of Jesus. All of the gospels, as well as the text by Josephus everyone seems to like were written well after Jesus' alleged death. We have no artifacts, no surviving papers (and the romans loved their bureaucracy). If you look into it, we have about as much evidence for Jesus as we do for Hercules.

    Which isn't to say Jesus didn't exist. There's also about as much evidence for Alexander the Great as there is for Jesus. Hell, even the existence of Troy was thought to be a myth until it was discovered a few decades ago. My point is history is damn hard, and nothing is well established until there's archaeological evidence.

    Personally, I do rather doubt the historical Jesus. The whole thing REEKS of myth.
  • Re:energy? (Score:5, Informative)

    by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:01PM (#23735585) Journal
    being said that they may evolve to feed on whats in abundance in their surroundings, could you feed them something that will make em' shit something out that will work in my gas tank?

    Um, actually, that's been done. Yeast have been producing ethanol from sugar for how many years now? With very little modification, virtually none if you have a FFV, ethanol will work fine in your gas tank,... :-)

  • Re:This is why ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Prof.Phreak ( 584152 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:02PM (#23735595) Homepage
    Soap isn't an issue. There are plenty of things that kill bacteria---but those things usually also kill humans. Soap doesn't need to be selective---no penicillin in soap, just chemicals that kill anything living. The trick is to have things that kill bacteria without doing harm to humans...
  • Re:First! (Score:3, Informative)

    by si3n4 ( 540106 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:27PM (#23736133)
    metabolize not synthesize .......... enough mutation took place that this substance became a survival enhancing resource (or at least not a debilitating one in the environment)
  • Re:Two words (Score:4, Informative)

    by NMerriam ( 15122 ) <> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:42PM (#23736435) Homepage

    Wake me up when puppies start having kittens.

    Indeed, such an event would completely disprove evolution, and should be noted. Such an event would be a miracle outside of biology, not macroevolution.
  • Re:Two words (Score:5, Informative)

    by snkline ( 542610 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @05:46PM (#23736535)
    Hypothetical people? Hypothetical children?

    Ahem Faith in Prayer Kills Children []

  • Re:Two words (Score:4, Informative)

    by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @06:14PM (#23737079) Homepage
    IIRC, that's kind of the reasoning C.S. Lewis used to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was who he said he was: if Jesus was legit, then end of story. If Jesus was not legit then he must have been insane to preach what he preached and challenge not just the Roman garrison in Israel, but also the Jewish priesthood in Israel.

    Generally, if you are going to pick a fight with someone, you don't go out of your way to piss off both your mark and your potential backers <grin>

    Lewis, however, could find no evidence -- other than Jesus' apparent disregard for the opinions of those in power -- that Jesus was insane, and therefore, Lewis concluded, Jesus had to be legit. I'm not satisfied that this is an entirely compelling argument, but I thought it was rather interesting, nonetheless.
  • Re:First! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Draykwing ( 900431 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @06:47PM (#23737615) Journal
    Your premises are incorrect. If it had evolved an ability to metabolize a substance that was not present, how would the scientists know? Also, natural selection merely states that those traits which give a reproductive advantage will spread. If the substance they become able to metabolize is not present, how does said ability provide a reproductive advantage?
  • Re:Two words (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sique ( 173459 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @06:59PM (#23737821) Homepage
    If I look at the Greek gods, they just seem to be an ancient version of Superman Comics. They are not so much a "Great Spirit", more an endless soap opera with some supernatural abilities thrown in to get over the weak spots of the plot.

    Completely different are the German gods. They didn't demand loyality. Whenever a god failed on you, you weren't thinking "God is testing your faith", you were just switching allegiances. Odin not helping you win? Next time you pray to Freya. That will show him!

    Another completely different type of gods are the Slavic ones. They are all in one person. Cerny Bog and Bily Bog (Black and White God) are bitter enemies to each other and fighting each other to death. But both are in fact the same person. Whenever one of both dies he's reincarnated as the other one. The Midday Wife is both Death Angel and Bringer of Eternal Luck. She is lovely and fearsome. And she is one person with the Evening, the Morning and the Midnight, who themselves are three sisters. Pretty confusing, right?

    No. Gods don't have to be those almighty, evercaring, all-loving Greater Spirits. Gods are whatever the people who created them wanted them to be.
  • Re:Two words (Score:5, Informative)

    by RsG ( 809189 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @08:25PM (#23739145)
    Stalin supporting evolution? Oh boy, were you misled. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that whoever told you of the views on evolution in the USSR under Stalin was a creationist, who wanted to villify evolution.

    I suggest reading up on Lysenkoism and the effect it had on science in the Soviet Union: []

    (You'll probably want to look beyond wikipedia for the in-depth story, but it's a place to start.)

    Stalin was strongly anti-religious, but he was equally anti-evolutionary. Neither fit well with the beliefs of communism, and while Stalin probably wasn't an idealist, he needed his citizens to buy into a certain worldview. The notion of heredity doesn't gel well with the notion that all humans can be molded to the communist ideal.

    Lysenko's "science" was basically Lamarckism revisited in such a way as better fit communism. Genetics and evolutionary biology were labeled "bourgeois science". Actual evidence-based research was written off in favor of what the people in power would rather believe. Sound familiar?

    The parallels between Lysenkoism and Creationism (or Intelligent Design, to use the newspeak name for it) are striking. Both were proposed as alternatives to evolution by those who didn't want to have their worldview challenged by science, both were labeled and taught as science (despite failing to meet the scientific criteria), both had the vocal support of people in high places. The underlying "religion" was different - Lysenkoism was rooted in the quasi-religious views of Marxist-Leninism - but beyond that, they're the same story told in radically different countries.

    The major difference is scale - evolutionary biology was all but outlawed in the USSR under Stalin, whereas it has not been similarly repressed in the USA. That can be chalked up to the fact that the US doesn't have, and has never had, a party or ruler with that kind of unchecked authority.

    This little adventure into pseudoscience crippled Soviet biology for years to come. It can be argued that Russia still hasn't caught up to the rest of the world. An object lesson in why it is important to leave science to scientists, and keep faith, however deeply held, separate.
  • Re:First! (Score:2, Informative)

    by dmwst30 ( 463874 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @09:20PM (#23740033)
    1.) That's not addressing the current paper. They talk of glycerol, and this paper is about citrate utilization.

    2.) The logic in that ID response, to put it nicely, is full of excrement.
  • Re:First! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @09:38PM (#23740325)
    Where's the "-1 Moron" mod when you need it? There is no such thing as "micro" or "macro" evolution. Just different timescales.
  • Re:Two words (Score:2, Informative)

    by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) * on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @09:48PM (#23740467) Homepage Journal
    Nice idea, but based on what I remember from my humanities classes in college, probably wrong, at least to some extent.

    You are right in that religion has been used to control the masses -- that's exactly what the Roman emperor Constantine had in mind when he adopted Christianity as the state religion of Rome.

    However, studies from some of the earliest religions don't always suggest gods that are omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Try reading about Greek mythology, for example: some of the gods weren't even immortal, let alone omniscient or omnipresent. Or try reading the story of Isis and Osiris from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Osiris wasn't even very bright -- he got duped by his brother.

  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jjohnson ( 62583 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @09:49PM (#23740483) Homepage
    You're kidding, right?

    Sailors knew the earth was spherical long before Jesus came along--it's obvious when you watch ships approaching over the horizon, since they're not only smaller but the bottom is hidden by the horizon.
  • by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <<falconsoaring_2000> <at> <>> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @10:52PM (#23741343)

    Faith and prayer [] have also been shown in studies they can help. I don't have any faith and don't pray but I will admit they may offer something to those who need it.


  • Re:Two words (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sancho ( 17056 ) * on Wednesday June 11, 2008 @12:27AM (#23742399) Homepage
    Because stem cells can be harvested without aborting babies.

    Because even if you use aborted fetus tissue, people aren't going to go around having abortions just for the tissue.
  • Re:Two words (Score:3, Informative)

    by Darby ( 84953 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2008 @01:13PM (#23750479)

    I could even imagine Hitler supporting creationism provided it was a blond Nordic Adam that was created in the Garden of Eden. And belief in God would be fine if his name was Woden or Thor.

    Why would you bother making up silly nonsense when you could just look up the fact that the Nazis were an explicitly and militantly Christian organization? Belief in god was demanded of the German citizens and that god was named Jesus, or else.

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato