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Clutching at Evolutionary Straws

Photosynthesis research on yellowtops: Macroevolution in progress.
Kutschera U, Niklas KJ.
Institut fur Biologie, Universitat Kassel, Heinrich-Plett-Str. 40, 34109 Kassel, Germany.

My emphasis.

The vast majority of angiosperms, including most of the agronomically important crop plants (wheat, etc.), assimilate CO(2) through the inefficient C(3) pathway of photosynthesis. Under ambient conditions these organisms loose about 1/3 of fixed carbon via photorespiration, an energetically wasteful process. Plants with C(4) photosynthesis (such as maize) eliminate photorespiration via a biochemical CO(2)-pump and thus have a larger rate of carbon gain. The genus Flaveria (yellowtops, Asteraceae) contains not only C(3) and C(4) species, but also many C(3)-C(4) intermediates, which have been interpreted as evolving from C(3) to fully expressed C(4) metabolism. However, the evolutionary significance of C(3)-C(4)Flaveria-intermediates has long been a matter of debate. A well-resolved phylogeny of nearly all Flaveria species has recently been published. Here, we review pertinent background information and combine this novel phylogeny with physiological data. We conclude that the Flaveria species complex provides a robust model system for the study of the transition from C(3) to C(4) photosynthesis, which is arguably a macroevolutionary event. We conclude with comments relevant to the current Intelligent Design debate.

Oops. These guys must not have received the memo from the National Center for Selling Evolution (NCSE) saying True Scientists aren’t supposed to dignify Intelligent Design by calling it things like debate or controversy. After all, the evidence supporting NeoDarwinian evolution is already overwhelming. What does this make it, overwhelming ne plus ultra evidence? Or maybe new and improved overwhelming evidence? We already know the chance worshippers are consumed with thoughts of intelligent design. It’s unusually refreshing when they actually admit they’re thinking about it.

They also must have missed the memo stating that only knuckle dragging Young Earth Creationist hillbillies make a distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. The official party line is that there is no boundary. It’s all evolution and it’s all the same evolution just more of it. Oops again.

If it wasn’t seriously debatable they wouldn’t bother clutching at straws like this to build a case. And what a straw it is. C3 photosynthesis is used by agronomically important grasses such as rice and wheat while C4 is used by agronomically important grasses such as corn. The difference is that C4 grasses can survive in a more arid hotter environment. The similarity is they’re all still grasses. Where’s the macroevolution in that?

Update:

C3, C4 and CAM. Regulation of The Activity of Photosynthesis

My emphasis.

C4 plants belong to numerous, phylogenetically not related monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous families. Moreover have C4 activities also been detected in the blue-green alga Anacystis nidulans as well as in some dinoflagellates.

Since the alternative C3 or C4 is accompanied by considerable changes of the leaf anatomy has it to be assumed that the genetic potential for both pathways is quite common in the plant kingdom and that, depending on the ecological needs, one way is chosen by a species while a related species may choose the other one.

A well-studied example is the genus Atriplex, where both ways are realized. The C3 plants belong to one phylogenetic group, the C4 plants to another. In some cases can hybrids of C3 and C4 species be generated.

In several plant species of the genera Zea, Mollugo, Moricandia, Flaveria, etc. occur both types of CO2 fixation within one plant. In younger plants is usually the C3-, in older ones the C4 pathway taken. The amount of C4 is controlled by environmental factors.

Bungles like missing the research quoted above kind of makes you wonder what the researchers and peer review were doing instead of looking at previously published work that shoots large gaping holes in the hypothesis. Triple ne plus ultra oops.

But we should at least give the authors credit for trying real hard making a seriously deficient effort to present some of the legendary overwhelming evidence for macroevolution. In the meantime we concede that microevolution happens. We’re interested in how microevolution like this adds up to macroevolution of novel cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans. I’m sure that how rice evolves into corn is an interesting bit of esoteric trivia for botanists but the debate – and there is most certainly a debate – is about how bacteria evolve into rice.

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32 Responses to Clutching at Evolutionary Straws

  1. I wish I had access to this paper. C3/C4 photosynthesis is what Todd Wood has investigated for his models of diversification (see A Baraminological Analysis of Subtribe Flaveriinae (Asteraceae: Helenieae) and the Origin of Biological Complexity.

  2. I’m also terribly curious, if they discuss design, if they bothered to examine design theorists’ take on this, even if they are YEC.

  3. 3
    The Scubaredneck

    A slight correction should be made in that C4 plants are adapted more for heat, such as the tropics, rather than aridity. C3 plants, in contrast, tend to favor cool, moist habitats.

    The Scubaredneck

  4. Seems like good old Kutschera. He is very close to become the RD of Germany, and has played the most active role in rigorous ad hominem attacks against Dr. Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, a respected research fellow at Max Planck Institute.

    check out his site:

    http://www.weloenning.de

  5. I read the abstract for the Todd Wood paper. A YEC who believes it evolved. Genetic information probably front-loaded.

    Is there a reason we should view C3 to C4 as significant to the ID debate?

  6. Given the widespread distribution of C4 in the biosphere, ancient and modern and that many species have both how do we say it evolved in the species referred to in the paper?

    from http://www.biologie.uni-hambur.....24/24b.htm

    “C4 plants belong to numerous, phylogenetically not related monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous families. Moreover C4 have activities also been detected in the blue-green alga Anacystis nidulans as well as in some dinoflagellates.

    Since the alternative C3 or C4 is accompanied by considerable changes of the leaf anatomy it has to be assumed that the genetic potential for both pathways is quite common in the plant kingdom and that, depending on the ecological needs, one way is chosen by a species while a related species may choose the other one .

    Doesn’t sound like evolution to me!

  7. They say it is “arguably a macroevolutionary event”. In reality all they are proposing is the same old rigamarole. They have some plants with similarities and then conclude that the similarities display “arguably macroevolution”. What they need to show is one species mutating into a new species. They then have to prove that the new species is not a product of breeding or microevolution. Otherwise their claim is just speculation. It’s just another guy trying to make a name for himself by claiming to have the slain the ID dragon.

  8. I asked Kutchera to send me the paper. Just receivd it. Fig 4 shows the phylogeny of C3/C4. Carefully considering the branches, the phylogeny may as well be explained as independent loss of one of the fotosystems, or parts there of. Alternatively, one has to assume indepenent acquisition of genetic systems via, for instance, hybridization.
    Two similar fotosystems present in one organism indicate genetic redundancy on which natural selection acts only weakly. One of the systems may degrade, usually the most complex system.

  9. I have access to the article, and I have read it carefully. In my opinion, it is an incredible amassment of theoretical and higly abstarct reasonings, all of them based on pure suppositions, and whose only support are multiple citationc and references from similar articles, mostly from the same author(s).
    In brief, the concept is that the C3 pathway is old and imperfect, that the C4 pathway is the true jewel of evolutionary creativity, and that the existence of a mixed pathway in Flaveria species is overwhelming proof of macroevolution.
    Well, I am not an expert in the field, but the authors clearly state a couple of interesting things:

    1) “Over the past decades, it has become very apparent that more than 90% of all land plants, including most crop species (wheat, barley, etc.) assimilate CO2 via the onestep C3 ‘‘Chlorella-type’’ pathway of photosynthesis.”

    2) “In terms of the distribution of C4 species, 75% are monocots (Poaceae and Cyperaceae). The remaining 25% of all known C4 species is found in the Brassicaceae, Cruciferae, Aizoaceae, Amaranthaceae, Chenopodiaceae and Asteraceae
    (Apel et al., 1997; Kadereit et al., 2003).
    The evolution of C4 species in so many phyletically diverse families inevitably raises the question, Why? Certainly, convergent evolution provides strong circumstantial evidence for adaptation by means of natural selection.”

    This is just to give you an idea of the general tone. Now, I am probably stupid, but it seems to me that they are affirming that 90% of all land plants are still obstinately sticking to a gross and unpractical way of utilizing CO2, while about 10%, the smart ones I suppose, have seen the light of evolutionary truth. Maybe we have to wait a few billion years to see the intelligent plants gain their due place in the world. But we know, justice is never quick on this imperfect planet.
    Moreover, the superiority of C4 is so overwhelming that NS had to find it many separate times, in different kinds of plants, through the providential and astounding tool of “convergent evolution”. We are therefore allowed to witness a very diversified élite of intelligent plants in the desolate crowd of the retarded majority.

    But the best is the part about us, about the insolent ID people. Given the premises, in fact, who could doubt that:

    “The facts that Rubisco across present-day eukaryotic hotoautotrophs is far from a ‘‘perfect enzyme’’ as well as the evidence for macroevolution in the Flaveria species complex (Fig. 4) serve as clear examples with which to counter the fallacies perpetuated by creationists and adherents of the Intelligent Design (ID)-movement.”

    Well, at least we are cited separately from the hated “creationists”, although in the same bundle. But there is more to the debate. We learn that:

    “Although some creationists and ID adherents may admit that microevolution (variation or speciation) is unquestionable, they assert that there is no evidence for macroevolution in extant populations of organisms and that living beings are ‘‘perfectly designed’’ (Kutschera, 2003, 2006a, b, c).”

    Yes, the reference is again from the same author of the article. So we know that Kutschera says that Kutschera says that IDists say that “living beings are ‘‘perfectly designed’’. What more evidence could we look for?
    It still goes on:

    “In a very real sense, Rubisco and C3 metabolism are ‘‘phyletic legacies’’ that are imperfect in many ways. All available evidence indicates that photorespiration is a resounding waste of energy and has no obvious advantage to C3 plants (Mann, 1999; Leegood, 2002). Thus, most higher plants are poorly designed from an evolutionary point of view. Even taken in isolation, this simple fact should demonstrate to any reasonable person that organisms are not invariably ‘‘perfect’’”.

    At this point, the author must have felt that he has given too much to drama, and so he closes his remarkable cognitive and literary effort with some more sound science:

    “Finally, it cannot escape notice that numerous CO2-concentrating mechanisms have evolved multiple times in the algae, pteridophytes and gymnosperms, thus providing ample evidence for adaptive convergent macroevolution in members of the kingdoms Protoctista and Plantae.”

    Just a final note: you can be sure, there is not a single trace in the article of any discussion about the supposed molecular evolutionary pathways which should have led from C3 to C3-C4 to C4. Let’s go back to waiting for the next overwhelming evidence…

  10. gpuccio

    Thank you.

    Your effort in reading this dreck and summarizing it is nothing short of heroic.

    Interestingly, this paper seems to illustrate what may be one of the most successful strategies employed by the NDE movement, namely hyponsis.

    A document is presented making a claim of proof in the first paragraph that is followed by several pages of unintelligable dribble.

    The reader falls asleep and NDE holds the field.

  11. Wow this is spectacular! The overwhelming evidence is getting, err, overwhelming. Now there is bacterial resistance, finch beak size, *and* C3-C4 photosynthesis. Oh wait, the RM aspect of bacterial resistance is now in question, finch beak changes result in no macro change, and the C3/C4 thing is pretty much all assumption. Really, the YEC guys have nothing on the Darwinists as far as faith is concerned.

  12. Tribune7, you took the words out of my mouth.

    Here’s how I was going to put it:

    Here’s what the average person with little science background reads in the quoted paragraph:

    “The vast majority of angiosperms, bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla, which is arguably a macroevolutionary event.” See, evolution has been proven!

  13. “We conclude with comments relevant to the current Intelligent Design debate.”

    I have a suggestion.
    Let’s quickly assume that this comment indicates a willingness to engage in actual debate, rather than the usual ridiculing and name-calling, and act accordingly.

    Let those who are knowledgeable in this field (I did one research paper on plants in college, many years ago, so it’s not me) engage in a respectful debate by responding to and addressing the evidence, conclusions, and inferences they present. Let those who are knowledgable demonstrate that the author’s conclusions regarding their study’s implications for ID and Darwinism are not warranted.
    Let us not fall into the easy trap of scorn and ridicule that so permeates the pro-Darwin side.
    ID proponents have deplored the failure of mainstream scientists to debate seriously; this may be an opening.

  14. jb, that works!

  15. …that living beings are ‘perfectly designed’

    I’d like some citations where IDers claimed that living beings were “perfectly designed.” I’m pretty sure they make it clear, and always have, that:

    INTELLIGENT DESIGN DOES NOT MEAN OPTIMAL DESIGN

    Especially when we have no objective criterion of optimality, since we don’t know all constraints.

  16. At least they tried to give some type of empirical evidence, however meager it was. Most darwinists I debate, don’t think it worth their while to actually stoop to empirical evidence since evolution is so overwhelmingly confirmed in their view. Most of the time they just call me an IDiot and don’t even address the hard evidence i have presented to them.

  17. I wrote a few words about this paper on my blog (it’s in German): http://evolution-schoepfung.bl.....neues.html

    Here is a very interesting comment by Markus Rammerstorfer, also someone who writes for my blog:

    “I criticized Kutscheras claims about C3/C4 already in
    2003 (which he is aware of):

    http://rammerstorfer-markus.batcave.net/C3C4.htm

    In the years after 2003 my position was vindicated in
    major aspects by two papers:

    (1)

    RACHMILEVITCH et al. (2004): “Nitrate assimilation in
    plant shoots depends on photorespiration”
    PNAS vol.101/no.31/11506-11510

    (2)

    TCHERKEZ et al. (2006): “Despite slow catalysis and
    confused substrate specificity, all ribulose
    bisphosphate carboxylases may be nearly perfectly
    optimized” PNAS vol.103/no.19/7246-7251

    (See also comments of Steven Gutteridge and John
    Pierce in the same issue)

    Kutschera quotes *none* of these two relevant papers
    who show that there may be a good reason for this
    “wasting” process of photorespiration (1) and that the
    structure of rubisco is not suboptimal (2).

    And correct: As everyone can see by reading textbooks:
    C4 plants are not superior to C3 plants. Superiority
    depends on the context – the climate in this case.

    Moreover: Some plants have the potential to express C3
    and C4-Ways. Eleocharis vivipara is one example for
    this. Depending on the location (Land/water) this
    plant expresses C3 or C4. …

    Kuschera also writes:

    “The data set and detailed analyses of McKown et al.
    (2005) show that C3 photosynthesis is the ancestral
    condition and that a latent genetic predisposition for
    the evolution of C4 photosynthesis exists in the genus
    Flaveria.” p.88
    http://www.evolutionsbiologen......iklas3.pdf

    “latent genetic predisposition” is not the same as the
    origin of new complex traits by undirected
    evolutionary processes.

    The Kutschera paper is for free under

    http://www.evolutionsbiologen......iklas3.pdf

  18. “Perfectly designed” can’t be answered by ID. If I look at my notebook, I may ask why the battery doesn’t last 500 hours. There is a perfectly good reason, but I may not know why.

  19. “I have a suggestion.
    Let’s quickly assume that this comment indicates a willingness to engage in actual debate, rather than the usual ridiculing and name-calling, and act accordingly.”

    But that’s not the case, trust me!
    Kutschera is the top-”expert” on anti-evolutionism in europe and he really uses ALL gainable weapons …

  20. gpuccio

    Wow! Heck of a fine job.

  21. For Kutscheras Paper see:

    http://www.evolutionsbiologen......iklas3.pdf

    I criticized Kutscheras claims about C3/C4 already in 2003 (he is aware of that):

    http://rammerstorfer-markus.batcave.net/C3C4.htm

    In the years after 2003 my position was vindicated in major aspects by two papers:

    RACHMILEVITCH et al. (2004): “Nitrate assimilation in plant shoots depends on photorespiration”
    PNAS vol.101/no.31/11506-11510

    TCHERKEZ et al. (2006): “Despite slow catalysis and confused substrate specificity, all ribulose bisphosphate carboxylases may be nearly perfectly optimized” PNAS vol.103/no.19/7246-7251

    (See also comments of Steven Gutteridge and John Pierce in the same issue)

    Kutschera quotes *none* of these two relevant papers who show that there may be a good reason for this “wasting” process of photorespiration and that the structure of rubisco is not suboptimal.

    And correct: As everyone can see by reading textbooks: C4 plants are not superior to C3 plants. Superiority depends on the context – the climate in this case.

    Moreover: Some plants have the potential to express C3 and C4-Ways. Eleocharis vivipara is one example for this. Depending on the location (Land/water) this plant expresses C3 or C4. …

    Kuschera also writes:

    “The data set and detailed analyses of McKown et al. (2005) show that C3
    photosynthesis is the ancestral condition and that a latent genetic predisposition for the evolution of C4 photosynthesis exists in the genus Flaveria.” p.88

    “latent genetic predisposition” is not the same as the origin of new complex traits by undirected evolutionary processes.

  22. gpuccio:

    A: Great job!

    B: I feel there may be some equivocation on the part of the paper’s authors (albeit unintentional). In the Bible the word perfect often means “complete” as in having everything the perfect object needs rather than “without flaw” which is our common usage. It would seem that this often leads the evolutionist to argue that a competent god would not create an object with apparent flaws when scripture points to designed systems that function as intended within a greater whole. I should also note that many Christians (and even many creationists) do not understand this.
    Thanks

  23. C3 plants are more efficient than C4 plants under cool and moist conditions and under normal light because they require less machinery (fewer enzymes and no specialized anatomy compared to C4).

    C4 plants are more efficient then C3 plants under high heat and light conditions.

    From http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/css/330/two/

    How is one more perfect then the other?

  24. Davescot, “the debate…is about how bacteria evolve into rice.”

    And how bacteria became bacteria in the first place. I’ll settle for a cell, any cell.

  25. Excellent points all.

    It is possible that it is C4 that represents the original state of photosynthesis and that C3 is the result of change in environmental pressures?

    Much like all other degredations to the genome, what we see is that optimal design(not perfect) is dragged down by less optimal environmental changes?

  26. 26
    The Scubaredneck

    Michaels7,

    C3 is definitely the ancestral state of photosynthesis and C4 and CAM are definitely the more derived pathways. Both C4 and CAM are specific adaptations to specific environmental situations: C4 to hot climates and CAM to arid climates. In both cases, C3 plants don’t do well.

    Particularly interesting are plants like pineapples, which are facultative CAM plants. When conditions are dry, they do CAM photosynthesis and then do C3 when conditions are wet enough.

    The Scubaredneck

  27. sry for the double-post. But my entry did not appear and so I asked “cristopher saint” if he could post for me. Now I see that my own comment eventually also appeared. Until now it was never a problem for me to publish a comment on this blog. I assume it has something to do with the review process of the comments here.

  28. Markus

    I’m not sure what happened. A third party service “Akismet” is the first reviewer of all comments and trackbacks. Proprietary software of theirs examines comments and looks for telltale signs of being spam (keywords, suspicious sources, too many links, etc.). If they think it might be spam they return it with a special tag and it’s placed in a holding cell waiting for a blog adminstrator to make the final determination. For whatever reason the comment in question of yours came back from Akismet marked as spam. I wish I could tell you why but I don’t know why.

  29. Scubaredneck,

    “Both C4 and CAM are specific adaptations to specific environmental situations: C4 to hot climates and CAM to arid climates.”

    What adaptations for photosynthesis is found in artic regions?

  30. 30
    The Scubaredneck

    Michaels7,

    The trick in the arctic is to grow fast and reproduce quickly. The growing season is very short but very intense due to long days. As a result, both C3 and C4 plants have found niches, although I believe that C3 plants tend to dominate. I don’t think any specific photosynthetic adaptations have been identified for arctic regions, however. That might make for a nice research project…

    The Scubaredneck

  31. Michaels7

    re plants adapted to the arctic

    You sure asked the right person about that. Scubaredneck is a botanist in Alaska. :)

  32. 32

    I’m sure that how rice evolves into corn is an interesting bit of esoteric trivia for botanists

    I’m sure it would be very interesting to discover evidence for rice turning into corn, given that it hasn’t (to my knowledge; please correct me if I’m wrong) been proposed by any actual botanists–the idea is that they’re both descended from the same grass, which may or may not have resembled one of them more than the other.

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