Percision-engineered Animals

While reading Uncommon Descent, I came across this tidbit in The Edge of Evolution:

If Dr. Kozulic’s conclusion is correct, then it would have interesting implications for the creation-evolution controversy. On a material level, living things might still be biologically related, insofar as they sprang from a common ancestral stock: in other words, common descent could still be true. However, on a formal level, each and every species of living thing would be the product of Intelligent Design and could be viewed as a separate creation, as the unique genes and proteins that endow it with its defining characteristics were essentially built from scratch. In other words: living things might share a common ancestry, but their constituent proteins certainly do not. They were created.

That conclusion would mean that even animals as similar as rats and mice, which diverged between 12 and 24 million years ago) were designed separately. The common Norwegian rat (pictured above, courtesy of Wikipedia) is popularly imagined to be just a scaled up version of a mouse. However, scientists have identified no less than 75 unique genes (69 mouse genes and 6 rat genes) for which there is good evidence of de novo origin since the divergence of mouse and rat. Each of these genes is only found in either the mouse or rat lineages. If Dr. Kozulic is correct, that means that rats and mice have to be viewed as separate designs. Ditto for humans and chimps, both of which have chemically unique proteins and genes.

There are some interesting implications here.

One of the major ones is that it’s going to be very difficult to properly design new lifeforms to fit new environments. Assuming a near-universally dead universe – which is what the evidence points to – we are going to have to build our own biospheres. It’s going to be much easier to pick out near-earthlike worlds – in size, distance from the primary, received light, magnetism – and build up a biosphere than to design new lifeforms to fit a whole new world.

It looks like all the worlds of men will have to be created patiently, in layers. First, find the right physically compatible world, where only a few changes are needed to bring it up to snuff. Then, lay down suitable algae, bacteria and moss, say; then the more basic animals, then the complex ones. To quicken the pace and make a living world as cheaply and as quickly as possible, you want to use Earthly animals and plants, with as little modification as possible.

Any serious modification is going to be costly: there are a lot of things that can go wrong, and only a few designs that work in a given organism.

Moreover, from an actual library of 6×10^12 proteins each containing 80 contiguous random amino acids, Keefe and Szostak isolated four ATP binding proteins and concluded that the frequency of functional proteins in the sequence space may be as high as 1 in 10^11 [1 in 100,000,000,000 – VJT], allowing for their discovery by entirely stochastic means [55]. However, subsequent in vivo studies with this man-made ATP binding protein showed that it disrupted the normal energetic balance of the cell, acting essentially as an antibiotic [56]. One can conclude, therefore: had this protein been formed by random mutations, the cell with it would have left no descendants. Furthermore, the probability of its formation in a cell would have been lower than 10^-11, because random DNA mutations introduce stop codons and frameshifts whereas Keefe and Szostak avoided stop codons and frameshift mutations by experimental design [55]. The importance of distinguishing the results of in vitro from in vivo studies is highlighted by the finding that only a tiny fraction, one in about 10^10, of the active mutants of triosephosphate isomerase functioned properly in vivo [57]. (pp. 6-7)

World-building is likely to become as much an art as a science, and it will be difficult to match God’s creativity. I’d love to try though!

Siew and Fischer succinctly described the issues at stake: “If proteins in different organisms have descended from common ancestral proteins by duplication and adaptive variation, why is that so many today show no similarity to each other?” And further: “Do these rapidly evolving ORFans correspond to nonessential proteins or to species determinants?”

There are so many technical considerations that will have to be kept in mind, and our minds are so limited, that I’m personally very glad that computing technology will continue to soar into the future. Can you imagine a team of, say, a hundred hard-core Creationists attempting to create an entirely new world without the aid of computers?

If I were a betting man, I’d put good money on Creationists – as a Christian religion focused on creating living worlds across the stars, rather than the blindingly obvious objective truth that life needs information (and thus, an Intelligent Designer) to come into being – being the only ones willing to enliven a nearly-dead universe. Who else is going to risk an ageless life on such a risky venture?

With faith, you can afford the price of failure – “So I die and enter God’s presence. Is this supposed to terrify me?” Without faith, you are going to cling to what you have. And with nanobots and 3D printers and total VR worlds and flawless sexbots and the illusion of Perfect Safety, ageless non-believers will have a host of reasons to stay right where they are.

Why risk it all on a dream?


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