Mike Behe makes a useful distinction
|August 20, 2007||Posted by O'Leary under Intelligent Design|
Recently, an item in Nature News promised big things for the evolution of bacteria:
Beneficial mutations in the bacterium Escherichia coli occur 1,000 times more frequently than previously predicted, according to research from a group in Portugal.
In a study of E. coli populations of various different sizes, Isabel Gordo and her collaborators at the Gulbenkian Science Institute in Oeiras, Portugal, found that thousands of mutations that could lead to modest increases in fitness were going unseen because good mutations were outperformed by better ones
The authors say that the work could explain why bacteria are so quick to develop resistance to antibiotics.
“It’s changed the way I think about things,” says Frederick Cohan, a biology professor at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He adds that although the principles involved were understood, no one expected to find such a high rate of adaptive mutation.
So have the found the answer to evolution? Well, no.
Mike Behe, author of Edge of Evolution comments,
It’s critical to distinguish between “beneficial” mutations and “constructive” mutations. It can be “beneficial” to an organism in some circumstances to render a gene nonfunctional by degrading it. If that is the case, then any of a very large number of change to its amino acid sequence will do the job, and so the rate of “beneficial” mutations will be very high. I discuss this in The Edge of Evolution. For example, it is beneficial in malaria-ridden territory for humans to degrade the functioning of an enzyme abbreviated G6PD. A very large number of separate mutations to that gene have been isolated, all of which are “helpful” because they all mess up the protein’s activity. In his long term evolution experiment with E. coli Richard Lenski has identified about a half dozen “beneficial” mutations — they *all* appear to be degradative mutations. It seems very likely that the report below is just identifying beneficial-but-degradative mutations. That’s interesting, but degradative mutations tell us nothing about how molecular systems can be constructed.
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