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Genetic engineers unwind species barrier

But have they ‘reversed evolution’?

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Imagine hearing that scientists had managed to genetically engineer one species of living creature so that it could now successfully breed with a totally distinct species; i.e. whereas the offspring of this union are usually sterile, they are now fertile. Well that is exactly what a team of scientists from several British academic institutions have done (reported in the journal Nature)1—albeit with the humble baker’s yeast.2

This yeast is one of a group of six related species (all Saccharomyces) that are able to cross-breed, but form sterile hybrids. By ingeniously tinkering with the genome of this single-celled fungus, the scientists managed to ‘create’ a new strain that was able to form fertile crosses with a distinct, but similar species.3 This is the first time that this has been observed in these yeasts.4

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In this cousin of the baker’s yeast, portions of its sixth and seventh chromosomes have apparently swapped places at some point in the past.5 This change did not involve the input of any new information—just a reshuffling of what already existed. Nevertheless, the researchers concluded that it contributed to the inability of the different species to interbreed, once the species formed.6 Believing this rearrangement of genetic information was ‘wrought by evolution’, one science writer claimed that the genetic engineers had actually succeeded in undoing what evolution had achieved!7 She even quoted a Ph.D. scientist from the brewing industry, claiming that fermentation failures were similarly due to ‘evolution in the vat’!

Apparently, when yeasts with new chromosome arrangements arise during the brewing of beer,8 they drop uselessly to the base of the vat. Now, this is hardly evidence for evolution. Who benefits? It’s certainly not the yeasts, which are now less fit to survive. As far as the brewers are concerned, these mutant yeasts are useless and the brewers have to start over with new yeast cultures.

Evolutionists often delight in pointing to such speciation as an example of evolution in action, thinking that this contradicts the creation account recorded in Genesis. Actually, far from supporting evolution, this example of speciation in yeasts confirms the accuracy of the Bible. Nowhere does Scripture teach the fixity of species,9 an erroneous belief that was held by several early biologists10 but which we know to be false today.11

Believing the Genesis account of Creation, the Flood and the Babel dispersion to be historically trustworthy, we would expect variation in living creatures, including man. In fact, a biblical model of the history of life would seem to require that speciation not only happens, but does so rapidly. The wolf kind coming off the Ark, for example, would need to have been able to rapidly diversify into the different ‘species’ seen today—the various types of wolves, jackals, coyotes and dogs, which are adapted to a wide range of different climates, from Arctic to tropical. These can hybridize, indicating that they came from the same original created kind12 (see pp. 19–22).

So known examples of rapid speciation in modern times are in perfect accord with the Bible—just variation within the created kinds—but a surprise to the evolutionists, who are wedded to their millions-of-years dogma.13 In addition, evolution from molecules to man would have had to involve massive additions of new information. However, all known examples of modern-day speciation (and the assumed speciation that occurred in the past in the case of these yeasts) involve a loss or reshuffling of existing information.

So if speciation is not evidence for evolution, reversing it obviously has nothing to do with undoing evolution. If all it takes to cause two species to become one is a reshuffling of genes, then a gene reshuffle presumably caused the original Saccharomyces species to split into isolated species. Since this involves no new information, it cannot legitimately be used as evidence that yeasts can become yaks, given enough time.

Examples like this one show that evolutionists are really clutching at straws. Past events are unobservable and unrepeatable, so trying to reconstruct vanished history is (for the evolutionist, at least), rather like investigating a crime for which there are no witnesses. Ironically, in a commentary on the yeast speciation paper (same issue of Nature), the author said, ‘Research into evolution is a bit like forensic detective work. Because it’s impossible to carry out million-year experiments, we instead look at what evolution has produced and try to figure out what happened and why.’14

This reveals the faith of the evolutionist, which can be summarized as follows: ‘We cannot go back in time to observe evolution happening, but although we weren’t there, we’re sure evolution happened. We just don’t know how or why!’

In stark contrast, the person who accepts that the Bible is the Word of God can say: ‘I wasn’t there but I know Someone who was and He has given me His eyewitness account of what He did and when He did it. Furthermore, He has revealed why He created, particularly His purpose in creating mankind.’

Of course, this will not prevent claims that a greater understanding of speciation mechanisms will show how evolution happens—in spite of the scientific and logical objections to the contrary. Ultimately, if a person chooses a worldview that redefines science to say that only natural processes have ever occurred, that person will be forced to the irrational conclusion that any change in the genome (even if it is downhill) is evidence of big-picture (uphill) evolution—the sort that supposedly changed single cells into scientists.

References and notes

  1. Delneri, D., Colson, I., Grammenoudi, S., Roberts, I.N., Louis, E.J. and Oliver, S.G., Engineering evolution to study speciation in yeasts, Nature 422(6927):68–72, 2003. Return to text.
  2. Otherwise known by its scientific name, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Yeasts are single-celled organisms with a cell nucleus containing the chromosomes, unlike bacteria. Most reproduce asexually, by budding, where a bump protrudes from the parent cell, enlarges and then detaches. Some can also mate with other yeasts. Yeasts ferment sugars into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, producing wine, for example. The carbon dioxide produced by yeast causes bread to rise, the alcohol being driven off with cooking. Return to text.
  3. Saccharomyces cerevisiae and S. mikatae have similar, collinear DNA sequences (meaning the same basic order of genes), but some of the genes have been reshuffled. Return to text.
  4. Ref. 1. Return to text.
  5. Chromosomes are rod-shaped structures in the cell nucleus that contain the packets of hereditary information we call genes. This type of chromosomal rearrangement—termed a translocation—commonly occurs during the type of cell division known as meiosis, when cells divide to form the sex cells (gametes) in sexual reproduction. Gametes contain only one copy of each chromosome (the haploid condition)—compared to the paired (diploid) condition in all other cells. In yeasts, the gametes are called spores. Return to text.
  6. The actual speciation mechanism is unknown to the authors. See ref. 1. Return to text.
  7. Kaesuk Yoon, C., To test evolution, press the ‘undo’ button, New York Times Online, <www.nytimes.com/2003/03/18/science/social/18YEAS.html>, 18 March 2003. Return to text.
  8. The yeast cells are constantly dividing (reproducing) as part of the fermentation process. Over the numerous yeast generations, such genetic mistakes—here, a rearrangement of pieces of chromosome—are bound to happen occasionally. The resulting yeasts are evidently unable to ferment the beer, which is disastrous from the brewers’ point of view. Return to text.
  9. The belief that species were fixed at creation has not been held by informed creationists for a very long time but they are frequently misrepresented by evolutionists as believing it. This ‘straw man’ (i.e. an argument that misrepresents a person’s beliefs) is easily demolished by the evolutionist, thereby discrediting Bible-believing scientists. For a discussion of this and other examples of the misrepresentation of creationists, see Bell, P.B., The portrayal of creationists by their evolutionist detractors, TJ 16(2):46–53, 2002. Return to text.
  10. Including such great scientists as John Ray and Carl Linnaeus. Ray was a committed Christian and brilliant biologist of the seventeenth century—credited with defining the term ‘species’ as a group of organisms that can interbreed to form fertile offspring. Linnaeus (Latin form of his Swedish name, von Linné) was responsible for founding taxonomy in the 18th century, the classification of all living things into a hierarchy, with genus and species names at the bottom. Initially, they both erred in their belief that species were fixed, that none had been lost since creation and that new species could not arise. Later in their lives, both Ray and Linnaeus made observations that caused them to modify their position to one that allowed speciation by a combination of degenerative changes and/or cross-breeding. For a useful discussion of this, see Swift, D.W., Evolution under the microscope: A scientific critique of the theory of evolution, Leighton Academic Press, chapter 4, 2002 (a book by a non-creationist scientist who is sceptical of evolutionary dogma). Return to text.
  11. For a recent example, see Bell, P.B., A new weed species—does it prove Creation wrong? Creation 25(3):27, 2003. Return to text.
  12. For more examples of hybrids, see Batten, D., Ligers and wholphins? What next? Creation 22(3):28–33, 2000. Return to text.
  13. Catchpoole, D. and Wieland, C., Speedy species surprise, Creation 23(2):13–15, 2001. Return to text.
  14. Wolfe, K., Evolutionary biology: Speciation reversal, Nature 422(6927):25–26, 2003. Return to text.

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