Study Finds Molecules Evolving in Wrong Direction
How Powerless Natural Processes are to Generate Complicated Working Machinery
by Brian Thomas, M.S.
Which is more complex—a typical man walking across a street, or a blind man carrying a legless man across the street?
The blind and legless partners are more complex simply because they have more interacting parts. But this increased complexity not only results in less functionality, it also doesn’t provide any additional information about how sight and mobility could have originated.
Evolution is supposed to explain how complicated biological machines, such as legs and eyes, developed without an intelligent person to design and build them. A paper in Nature described one way nature may have added complexity to a biological machine. However, the study also showed how powerless natural processes are to generate complicated working machinery.
Biologist Joe Thornton, University of Oregon professor and the study’s senior author, has a laboratory with facilities dedicated to “reconstructing history with the experimental strategies of molecular biology and biochemistry to rigorously test hypotheses about the mechanisms of evolution,” according to his university website.
His latest attempt involved rebuilding hypothetical protein components of the ring-shaped base of a vital molecular machine called V-ATPase, which is found in yeast. The idea was that if his team could reconstruct “prior” versions of this protein, then they could put together a story explaining each evolutionary change that led to today’s V-ATPase structure.
But the best they could do was to explain how it de-evolved. The version of V-ATPase found in today’s yeast appeared to the researchers to be like the previously mentioned blind and legless men—damaged versions of an originally more effective V-ATPase…
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image credit: Ricardo Mancía