Friday, May 08, 2009

The ICR tackles Salmonella and Flunks Evolution 101

Brian Thomas, the science writer for the ICR has an article on Salmonella research that is reported in the April issue of Agricultural Research. He writes this:
Salmonella bacteria became a health threat relatively recently, when chicken eggs were infected by the migration of the bacteria from chickens’ digestive organs to their reproductive organs. Geneticists are working to characterize differences between the harmful and innocuous strains of Salmonella. Although they have termed these dissimilarities “evolutionary,” the genetic differences are very minor and involve a breakdown rather than a gain of genetic information, which actually contradicts an evolutionary scenario.
How in the wide world of sports does this contradict an evolutionary scenario?? Evolution is "descent with modification." It is not upward, it is not downward, it is not sideways. It is just modification. Through mutations and selection, one strain gave rise to another. That is exactly what evolution is. You don't have to have a gain of genetic information for it to be evolution. You just have to have a change in the genome. Go back and review your Hardy-Weinberg!! He continues:
Lead researcher Jean Guard-Bouldin found that the potentially high rate of cell division in Salmonella means that it can produce many generations in a short time, thus giving the opportunity for polymorphisms to stack up. But after all the years and all the generations that have transpired since this bacterium has been identified, Salmonella strains remain “apparently identical.”1 This fact alone strongly favors the creation model, which holds that God engineered this organism so that even after millions of generations it could retain its identity with stunning fidelity.2
Or maybe it is just genetically stable because it is optimized for its environment and there are no selective pressures acting against it. He then says this:
Even though the USDA report used the word “evolution” five times, it contained no discovery or data that exemplifies, resembles, or illustrates the kind of upward development that is most often meant by that term.
Say it with me again: "Descent with modification. Descent with Modification. Descent with modification." It is clear that Mr. Thomas has had no education in evolution or if he has, did not learn much. This is the kind of badly-conceived, badly executed writing that the ICR continues to pump out, oblivious to what the article actually said, which was this:
While the hybrid strain that recently emerged had the ability to contaminate the internal contents of eggs, it also had a problem: It was carrying incompatible viruses within its genome. As a result, says Guard Bouldin, 'The hybrid strain split very quickly into two lineages, each carrying one virus. Except for the different viruses, the two strains had identical genomes, and both contributed to the beginning of the pandemic. Both of the newly split lineages continued to evolve by accumulating small changes in their genomes. They eventually began to vary in their ability to contaminate eggs, to survive on the farm, and to challenge our ability to understand their association with chickens." 1
That is exactly what evolution is: two populations varying genetically over time. That Mr. Thomas is unable or unwilling to grasp evolution's central tenet speaks volumes of the ICR's ability to write authoritatively about this topic. No wonder the Texas Higher Education Commission said "no" to the ICR when asked about handing out diplomas. Their writers lack a basic understanding of biology.

1Ausmus, S. (2009) Tracking Salmonella's evolution from innocuous to virulent. Agricultural Research, 57(4): 8-9

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