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Creation  Volume 27Issue 4 Cover

Creation 27(4):30–32
October 2005

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The Riddle

What may increase when something is lost?

By Jean Lightner

The Polled Dorset breed of sheep did not evolve—its hornlessness is the result of a mutation.

To answer this question let’s take a look at some sheep. The Dorset breed of sheep was developed in southern England several hundred years ago. Dorsets had many likable traits and were imported to the United States in the late 1800s.1 They were a medium-sized white breed. The ewes were good mothers and could give birth more than once a year. And Dorsets always had horns. Well, until around 1948 anyway.2 At that time, in a purebred flock in the United States, a lamb was born that never grew horns. This condition is called polled (hornless).

Photo by Marlene Bell, <www.ewephoric.com>

sheep

Now horns can look very attractive on sheep. However, farmers often consider them a nuisance. Horns get caught on things, injure people or animals, and damage equipment. In fact, since horns in sheep usually curve back toward the head, sometimes they can actually grow into the animal’s head!3 Animals with horns require more space, especially at the feed or water trough. To avoid these problems, farmers can dehorn (remove the horn buds from) their lambs soon after they are born. That way the horns don’t grow and the problems associated with them don’t develop.

When the polled lamb was born, farmers were very interested. Imagine having all the good qualities of the Dorset breed without the annoying horns. Just think, hornless sheep without all the work associated with dehorning. So, when the lamb grew up, it was used for breeding; soon there were more Dorsets with the polled trait.

Since farmers liked the polled sheep, they started selecting for them. In other words, they would keep the polled sheep for breeding and get rid of the horned ones. Through this artificial selection, soon a new breed had developed, the Polled Dorset.4 This breed has become so popular that it is now the second most popular breed in the United States. Horned Dorsets are now rare.

Photo by Marlene Bell, <www.ewephoric.com>

“ The answer is in Genesis, the first book in the Bible. ”

So back to our riddle. What may increase when something is lost? First let’s ask what was lost in the polled lamb? Its horns. And what increased? Variety.5 Initially, Dorsets had always had horns; now some had horns and some did not. Variety can be gained when some animals lose a trait that previously all animals in the group had. Can variety also be lost? Certainly. This was done through selection. When the Dorsets were selected for the polled trait, the horned trait was then lost from the group. This decreased variety because none of this new breed, Polled Dorsets, had horns.

Why was the lamb polled? This was a result of a mutation that destroyed information in a gene necessary for horn growth. Mutations are really errors in the information stored in genes. They are commonly known by the disease they cause6 (e.g. sickle cell anemia in people,7 spider lamb syndrome in sheep8). Some mutations are not obviously harmful and may go unnoticed. It is very unusual for a mutation to be beneficial,9 although farmers may be convinced that this one in Dorsets was. What has virtually never been observed is a mutation that adds information, like one for growing horns on dogs or cats.

Photo by Jenny Simpson <www.dorsetsheep.freeserve.co.uk>

Wild radish

If mutations don’t add information, how did the information get there to begin with? The answer is in Genesis, the first book in the Bible. God put it there when he created life at the beginning. He said that he created animals (and plants) to reproduce after their own kind.10 Dogs give birth to nothing but dogs. Much of the variety5 we see in people, animals and plants was a part of the information God originally placed there.11 Since the Fall of man,12 mutations have increased variety somewhat, but they have never added information or created a new kind of animal.13

There are people today who are concerned about the loss of variety5 in animals caused by selection. Some breeds that are no longer popular are in danger of dying out. Yet these breeds often have important traits such as resistance to certain diseases or parasites, or the ability to do well in extreme climates (very wet or very hot and dry). In the United States, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy works to protect less popular breeds of animals. They recognize that if these breeds are lost, any unique traits they have will be lost forever. This type of loss can never be regained.

This all testifies to the creation of the genetic information in the beginning. Such information can be lost, sometimes even with good effects for farmers. However, gaining the information necessary to put horns on animals that lack the information for horns just does not happen by natural processes.

References and notes

  1. Dorsets were first imported to the West Coast of the USA (Oregon) in 1860. Later, in 1885 and afterward, they were imported from England to the East Coast. Dorset, www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/sheep/dorset, 20 August 2004.
  2. Some sources claim a slightly different year. Polled Dorsets became a recognized breed in 1956.
  3. Cobb, R., Horns on domestic farm animals, classes.aces.uiuc.edu/AnSci103/horns.html, 20 August 2004.
  4. There is also a Poll Dorset breed that was developed in Australia between 1937 and 1954. However, this was done by introducing the polled trait from several other polled breeds (Corriedale and Ryeland rams) and then breeding the polled offspring back to Dorsets, www.polldorset.org.au and www.nzsheep.co.nz/polldorset, 20 August 2004.
  5. The type of variety we are discussing here is known as genetic variation or genetic diversity.
  6. Most genetic diseases/defects are caused by mutations. Sometimes several different mutations can cause the same disease. There are over 4,500 genetic diseases known in man. Mutations: evolution or degeneration? www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/genetic-mutations.html, 20 August 2004. Inheritance of single-gene defects, www.merck.com/mrkshared/mmanual/section21/chapter286/286b.jsp, 20 August 2004. Similarly, there are many genetic defects in animals. Sweiter, K., Gacsala, E., Esquivel, H., Genetic defects in sheep, ag.ansc.purdue.edu/sheep/ansc442/Semprojs/defects/genetic_defects.htm, 20 August 2004. Chart of genetic defects, kinne.net/ob4.htm, 20 August 2004. Canine Inherited Disorders Database, http://www.upei.ca/cidd/intro.htm, 20 August 2004.
  7. This mutation causes an abnormal hemoglobin to be produced. When oxygen levels are low in the blood, the red blood cells take on an abnormal sickle shape and tend to plug up small capillaries. See www.creation.com/sickle.
  8. Also known as ovine hereditary chondrodysplasia. Although lambs appear normal at birth, within 4–6 weeks they have obvious skeletal deformities. Taraska, T., Spider Lamb Syndrome, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, http://www.dlab.colostate.edu/webdocs/ext_vet/cleon13.html, 20 August 2004.
  9. See also Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers, Creation19(3):30, 1997; www.creation.com/beetle; Lightner, J., Special tools of life, http://www.creation.com/article/3127.
  10. Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25.
  11. 11. People and animals were told to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:22, 28; 8:17; 9:1, 7). With this command, God gave them the ability to obey it. Everything we know from modern genetics confirms the fact that God gave these creatures the ability to adapt to a wide range of environments.
  12. Recorded in Genesis 3 (see http://www.creation.com/article/3004). This brought death, disease and suffering into the world. In spite of the curse that resulted from mankind’s rebellion, God still sustains and cares for his creation (Matthew 6:25–34; Col­os­sians 1:16, 17). If He didn’t, it wouldn’t exist.
  13. Although they may form a new species. For an explanation, see: Catchpoole, D. and Wieland, C., Speedy species surprise, Creation23(2):13–15, 2001; < http://www.creation.com/speedy, Bell, P., Genetic engineers unwind species barrier, Creation25(4):52–53, 2003; http://www.creation.com/article/189, Wieland, C., Brisk biters, Creation21(2):41, 1999; http://www.creation.com/brisk.

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