Home » Intelligent Design » Is this Irreducible Complexity?

Is this Irreducible Complexity?

The argument against Behe’s characterization of the bacterial flagella as demonstrating “irreducible complexity” has been attacked by Nick Matzke and others on the grounds that the flagellar proteins have simply been “coopted” from already existing flagellar proteins.

A recently discovered organism found in “a little lake 30 kilometer south of Oslo in Norway” has caused a stir. An analysis of its genome has found that it has almost, if not completely, nothing in common with any known organisms. It is seen as a new ‘branch’ on the putative “Tree of Life.”

Quoting from the article:

When researchers from the University of Oslo, Norway compared its genes with all other known species in the world, they saw that the protozoan did not fit on any of the main branches of the tree of life. The protozoan is not a fungus, alga, parasite, plant or animal.

“We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique! So far we know of no other group of organisms that descend from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species. It can be used as a telescope into the primordial micro-cosmos,” says an enthusiastic associate professor, Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi, head of the Microbial Evolution Research Group (MERG) at the University of Oslo.

Nevertheless, we’re told in the Science Daily article that:

The protozoan from Ås has four flagella. The family it belongs to is somewhere between excavates, the oldest group with two flagella, and some amoebae, which is the oldest group with only one flagellum.

Now, although scientists have chosen (why?) to call this organism “The Protozoa,” it actually belongs at the base of all eukaryotes, which means that it is not really a “protozoa”, and hence likely does not share so-called “common descent” with bacteria.

The family tree of the protozoan from the lake near Ås starts at the root of the eukaryote species.

“The micro-organism is among the oldest, currently living eukaryote organisms we know of. It evolved around one billion years ago, plus or minus a few hundred million years. It gives us a better understanding of what early life on Earth looked like.,” Kamran says to the research magazine Apollon.

Remembering that this organism is: (1) not a protozoa (despite the name it’s been given—again, why this name?), (2) has four flagella, and (3) has no known genetic sequences that match up with any already known organisms(!!), then we have an instance of existing flagellum that can in no way–at least right now—be explained on the usual bases of “exaptation” and “cooption.” So, is this really “Irreducible Complexity”?

I think it makes a strong argument in its favor.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

16 Responses to Is this Irreducible Complexity?

  1. “has been attacked by Nick Matzke and others on the grounds that the flagellar proteins have simply been “coopted” from already existing flagellar proteins.”

    I’d like to see a detailed, gap-free, account of how that alledgely happened.

  2. mike:

    We recently had a rehash discussion about that here at UD. The argument comes down to what constitutes an homologous protein.

    One protein–can’t remember it’s name–had only ONE amino acid in common with another protein, yet it was termed “homologous.”

    I’ve thought some more about this whole problem since. It seems to me that the argument that evolutionists employ is this: (1) we have these similar proteins, genes that are available for modification, and (2) the assembly of the flagellar structure happens on the basis of physico-chemical considerations. What strikes me is this: if (2) is correct, then how does a protein that is supposed to carry out a similar function as some other flagellar protein in some other bacteria know how to “self-assemble” when, as it turns out, 306 out of the 308 amino acids are different? Simply on physico-chemical grounds, this doesn’t seem possible.

    But, then, why do the call the great grand-daddy of all eukaryotes The Protozoa. This seems the height of equivocation, an effort that appears aimed at glossing over the problems this causes for the whole idea of “common descent.” But, of course, this is another discussion.

  3. So it is a proto-protozoan?

  4. 4

    Oh God. This post is wrong is so many ways. Sometimes I swear that half of creationist argumentation is just based on a game of telephone, like this:

    paper published –> press story misunderstands what the scientists are saying, adds hype –> creationists take press release literally, add their own misunderstandings

    I’m tired of doing your guys’ work for you. Here’s a challenge — can you guys identify all the things wrong in (a) the press story and (b) this post? They are very simple things.

  5. PaV:

    Before getting into detail with my thoughts on this thread, I thought I’d remind everyone that since this organism is a eukaryote, it’s flagella are not bacterial flagella, but rather they are cilia. Bacterial flagella and cilia are quite distinct motility organelles.

  6. Heh. I can’t even find the paper that this press release is supposed to be all about.

  7. Heh. I can’t even find the paper that this press release is supposed to be all about.

    If you find it (or better yet, if you can find a link to the actual sequence database that is implied), let me know. I’m dying to learn about a particularly interesting set of proteins.

  8. Okay. I can’t find the paper that this news article is talking about, but I’ll offer my own comments regarding the topic of this UD post. I’m actually quite critical of both this UD post and the news article, but I can’t be that critical of the latter because I haven’t got the paper that they’re talking about. But, in case any of you guys get me wrong, it is indeed my position that the bacterial flagellum is an engineered, rather than an evolved, entity. Still, I’d like to see more research going into these UD posts.

    Here is a claim that is made in this UD post that I’m critical of:

    “An analysis of its genome has found that it has almost, if not completely, nothing in common with any known organisms.”

    But what is the justification for the above claim? There really isn’t anything behind that. This species branches within Eukarya, and it is a basal lineage. But it is not at all unique in the sense that it “has no known genetic sequences that match up with any already known organisms(!!).” You just have to do some simple BLASTP searches to disprove that claim. Anyhew, I’d like to see some justification for that claim from other ID proponents, because I don’t see any.

  9. 9

    Here’s a critique of the press release that I read last week.

    Twisted tree of Life Award #13: Press release from U. Oslo on new protozoan

    http://phylogenomics.blogspot......press.html

    But really, anyone deigning to declare false the central organizing theory of mainstream biology ought to be able recognize bunkum like that press release, and offer the corrections — rather than adding even worse mistakes and misinterpretations like the OP did.

  10. Although I’m an ID supporter, I do need to point out that conflating the flagella of bacteria and those of Protozoa constitutes a rookie mistake.

  11. The argument against Behe’s characterization of the bacterial flagella as demonstrating “irreducible complexity” has been attacked by Nick Matzke and others on the grounds that the flagellar proteins have simply been “coopted” from already existing flagellar proteins.

    And thus we see a misunderstanding of Behe’s argument. Co-option is not a rational response to irreducible complexity. Further, co-option is largely irrelevant as an explanation of alleged evolutionary processes.

  12. Eric,

    Could you give more detail on you post # 11 please. I thought that co-option was in fact an argument against IC. And why is co-option irrelevant as a means to explain evolutionary processes? Ta.

  13. Genomicus [8]:

    But what is the justification for the above claim?

    This is in the OP:

    When researchers from the University of Oslo, Norway compared its genes with all other known species in the world, they saw that the protozoan did not fit on any of the main branches of the tree of life. The protozoan is not a fungus, alga, parasite, plant or animal.

    You say:

    You just have to do some simple BLASTP searches to disprove that claim.

    But, presumably, they’ve already done that. What else does “Compared its genes with all other known species in the world” mean? I can’t imagine any other explanation.

    Now, as to why they know it is a eukaryote, I would again (presume—since it’s not stated) that it is because they see a nuclear membrane, which, by definition, gives you a eukaryote.

    So, why do they call it “The Protozoa”? Mystifying, really.

    Genomicus [5]:

    Before getting into detail with my thoughts on this thread, I thought I’d remind everyone that since this organism is a eukaryote, it’s flagella are not bacterial flagella, but rather they are cilia. Bacterial flagella and cilia are quite distinct motility organelles.

    Well, if all of what you say is true, then, again, why do they call it “The Protozoa”? Is it possible that this is a eukaryote that has flagella? I don’t know. But, in the article they don’t call it “cilia”; they call it “flagella”. So how do you know for sure that it is “cilia”?

    Now, as to other objections raised: if, indeed, as is suggested, there are no known homologues of this organism’s genes, then whether it is a “flaggellum”, or a “cilium” that this organism has, doesn’t really matter: either way it is “irreducible”. Why? Because there are no antecedents of the genes that account for either, and both are complex. (In fact, it appears that eukaryotes DO have flagella. See here)

    Now, all of this hinges on the putative “fact” that there are no homologues. This, obviously, needs confirmation. But this isn’t something I’m making up; it seems explicit (“When researchers . . . compared its genes with all other known species in the world, they saw that the protozoan did not fit on any of the main branches of the tree of life.) and implicit (“We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique!”).

    So, Genomicus, if you want to fault the article, that’s fine. But I don’t see any grounds for faulting what I posted. Remember that the title of the OP ends with a question mark. If what the authors suggest to be the case is, indeed, the case, then I think the implications I’ve alluded to have merit.

  14. From a link found in the link Nick Matzke shows above, the original article appears to be found. (Here)

    Here, we investigate the evolutionary origin of the poorly studied protist Collodictyon (subphylum Diphylatia), by sequencing a cDNA library as well as the 18S and 28S rDNA genes. Phylogenomic trees inferred from 124 genes placed Collodictyon close to the bifurcation of the ‘unikont’ and ‘bikont’ groups, either alone or as sister to the potentially contentious excavate Malawimonas. Phylogenies based on rDNA genes confirmed that Collodictyon is closely related to another genus, Diphylleia, and revealed a very low diversity in environmental DNA samples.

    Obviously, they have done genomic studies; and, obviously, there are homologues, but enough differences to want to place this in its own “branch of life.” This renders the argument I’m making moot, and, indeed, demonstrates how badly these articles can be presented in the popular press.

  15. Mr. Madzke

    I’m tired of doing your guys’ work for you. Here’s a challenge — can you guys identify all the things wrong in (a) the press story and (b) this post? They are very simple things.

    How about it’s a press release sent out by evolutionary biologists, from a mainstream university which, no doubt, subscribes to Darwinian evolution, and printed in a magazine which promotes Darwinism. Is there any doubt that it would be flawed? You claim a love for all things scientific but you have sworn fealty to a worldview which is antithetical to real science.
    One of the many things which confirms the wisdom of rejecting atheism is the dogmatic anti-intellectualism and irrationality which is creeping into science. That’s what happens when science ceases to be an end in itself and becomes a means for fame, fortune, or political influence.

  16. How about it’s a press release sent out by evolutionary biologists, from a mainstream university which, no doubt, subscribes to Darwinian evolution, and printed in a magazine which promotes Darwinism. Is there any doubt that it would be flawed? You claim a love for all things scientific but you have sworn fealty to a worldview which is antithetical to real science.

    No, it’s a press release from ScienceDaily which often hypes stuff up. Press releases are often flawed because journalists aren’t always biologists. There’s no reason why we should trust press releases.

Leave a Reply