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Germ with seven motors in one!


Published: 15 January 2013 (GMT+10)
www.pnas.org Flagella

Over the last two decades, scientists have uncovered some of the amazing machinery in microscopic living cells. These include germs with a miniature motor that generates waves in a tiny tail that allows germs to swim—the bacterial flagellum.1 This even turns out to have a clutch to disconnect the motor from the tail.2 Even more miniaturized is the tiniest motor in the universe, ATP synthase, which makes the vital energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate).3 Remarkably, a virus has a tiny motor used to wind up DNA into tight packages.4

Some germs have more than one flagellum. Sometimes they work individually but still the germ manages to coordinate the motors. Other germs have the tails loosely bundled. But the marine bacterium MO-1 is different again. Here, seven flagella are tightly bundled in a sheath.

The mystery was how they could all rotate in the same direction without interfering with each other. Now a research team from French and Japanese universities5 has worked out how. They produced a series of 2-dimensional images of cross sections to build up a 3-dimensional picture (electron cryotomography—like a CAT scan, but with an electron microscope and very cold temperatures).

The seven flagella are actually surrounded by 24 fibrils (tiny fibres), in a hexagonal array. And these fibrils rotate in the opposite direction to the flagella, allowing them to rotate freely. The researchers’ diagram shows the flagella as large gear wheels with the fibrils as smaller gear wheels. These gears or bearings enable the flagella to spin very fast—so the germ can swim about 300 μm/s, or 10 times faster than E. coli and Salmonella.

www.pnas.org Architecture of a flagellar apparatus in the fast-swimming magnetotactic bacterium MO-1
Schematic model of 7 flagella and 24 fibrils rotating in a tight bundle smoothly within the sheath by the counter rotation of neighboring flagella and fibrils.
Click here to view an animation.

The researchers evidently had no use for evolution in their research. Instead, they referred to “complex and exquisite architecture”, and said:

“This design must be playing an essential role in the fast, smooth rotation of the flagellar apparatus that allows the rapid swimming of MO-1.”

But in the last paragraph, the researchers paid the obligatory fact-free homage to goo-to-you evolution:

“Taken together, these features of the MO-1 flagellar apparatus represent an advanced level of evolution of a motility apparatus. It is also intriguing that the same pattern of an intertwined hexagonal array in two evolutionary distant systems: the basal bodies of flagella and fibrils of the MO-1 flagellar apparatus, and the thick and thin filaments in vertebrate skeletal muscle. Similar architectures of filamentous structures presumably evolved independently in prokaryotes and eukaryotes to fulfill the requirements for two very distinct mechanisms to generate motion: counter rotation and axial sliding.”

This is yet another example of appealing to ‘convergence’: the same design feature allegedly evolved not just once but twice. But more to the point: in the late 1940s, the famous evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane predicted that we would find no wheels or magnets in living creatures.6 This is because these would not work unless fully formed. Thus natural selection could not have produced them step by small step, each an improvement over the previous one. Such motors thus falsify evolution by Haldane’s own words. MO-1 also senses magnetism,7 following Earth’s magnetic north pole in a helical path. So MO-1 provides two strikes against evolution.


  1. DeVowe, S., The amazing motorized germ, Creation 27(1):24–25, 2004; creation.com/flagellum. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., Germ’s miniature motor has a clutch, J. Creation 22(3):9–11; December 2008; creation.com/clutch. Return to text.
  3. Thomas, B., ATP synthase: majestic molecular machine made by a mastermind, Creation 31(4):21–23, 2009; creation.com/atp-synthase. Return to text.
  4. Sarfati, J., Virus has powerful mini-motor to pack up its DNA, J. Creation 22(1):15–16, 2008; creation.com/virusmotor. Return to text.
  5. Juanfang Ruan and 8 others, Architecture of a flagellar apparatus in the fast-swimming magnetotactic bacterium MO-1, PNAS 26 November 2012 | doi:10.1073/pnas.1215274109. See an animation here. Return to text.
  6. Dewar, D., Davies, L.M. and Haldane, J.B.S., Is Evolution a Myth? A Debate between D. Dewar and L.M. Davies vs. J.B.S. Haldane, Watts & Co. Ltd / Paternoster Press, London, 1949, p. 90. Return to text.
  7. Compare: Helder, M., The world’s smallest compasses: An amazing discovery of how humble bacteria can sense direction, Creation 20(2):52–53, 1998; creation.com/compass. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

David B.
What fascinates me is not so much that living things are so wonderfully complex, as that it is more of a kind of complexity only found in the class of phenomena that we know were highly designed. I call it organized dynamic complexity, or variations with the three main concepts arranged differently. It’s not just ordered, as in a static pattern of the same material such as snowflakes, and it’s not just dynamic but essentially chaotic like fire, whirlpools and hurricanes. It’s not even found in many designed objects, but that's irrelevant, because it is found in all living things to a high degree, and not at all in non-biological things. In non-living things, you’d be hard-pressed to find something like a pair of pliers or scissors, but even the simplest living things have systems made of distinct, diverse parts that convert energy in a dynamic, regulated way. Each new part or system with this quality is something that never “just happens,” but requires intelligence to create, and more intelligence to create a system of coding and construction to replicate.
Jonathan Sarfati
Doc F.
Once again, the closer we look, the more astonishing and incredible, the design. Virtually every machine ‘invented’ by man has been based on the Creator’s prototype and was not man’s original idea. I find that the overwhelming number of folks who accept evolution as ‘scientific’ fact, do so out of a tremendous lack of true knowledge, and because that's what has been effectively uncritically crammed down their throats. “Doth not nature itself tell you that there is a God?”
Bruce H.
WOW!! This just screams “intelligent design”!!
Those who belive otherwise are doing it against overwhelming evidence.
Romans 1:19–25, culminating in the worship of the created rather than the Creator.
Geoff C. W.
Perhaps we can all just agree that creationists were created and evolutionists evolved. As for survival of the fittest, we'll see who's survived a billion years from now (excuse my error of ascribing time to an infinite existence).
Tim L.
Thanks Jono;
The obligatory last paragraph certainly lacks scientific clout. It fails to explain the connection between the linear motion of different-sized muscle fibres and rotation of MO-1. The role of the latter is to prevent “clashing of gears”, where the 7 flagella would completely lock up without the smaller fibrils acting like ball bearings. There is no linear muscle-based equivalent where fibrils must be smaller than the main fibres to prevent the whole system locking up. (Not to mention the comparison is worlds apart in terms of scale.)
Couldn’t Juanfang Ruan and the 8 others come up with something better? Apparently not.
Maybe they know not to waste too much energy on their obligatory evolutionism statement, since no-one reads it with their lights on anyway. A bit like an online ad where you automatically skip to the next paragraph.
Great science with a half-hearted evolution-worship paragraph tacked on the end, to ensure publication.
And all the science part points to God—the designer.
Rev Ian C.
My question to the evolutionist would be, “Which bit evolved first with the ‘brain’ to ‘somehow’ develop the other parts?”
Jeff W.
Thank you for posting—enjoyed the article.
Alan H.
Just watched a trailer on the Discovery Channel. The amazing complexity we see in a Human couldn’t have happened by chance. It seems ‘Ancient Aliens’ did it. A bacterium with 7 motors and gearbox? Easy, Ancient Aliens did it. Life on other planets is part of UK science education. Seems a path is being laid to kick the evolutionary can down the road or should we say: to another planet.
Robert S.
It looks like the prophesy in Isaiah 45:23 is well on its way to happening.

I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow…
Jeannette P.
Bacteria with a “7 cylinder radial engine”?!!!

And we’re expected to believe that came about by chance!
Mark E.
Similar architectures of filamentous structures presumably evolved independently in prokaryotes and eukaryotes to fulfill the requirements for two very distinct mechanisms to generate motion: counter rotation and axial sliding.

Wait a minute! If evolution is the process of blind, pitiless, random chance mutations that head in an undirected path towards complexity, how is it that the flagellum manages to satisfy two requirements for motion?

Evolutionists—they’re funny creatures aren’t they? One day they will see the foolishness of their efforts to discredit the role of the supreme designer.

Bless you CMI.
Peter N.
The same principle was used in late World War 1 aero engines. The central ‘motor’ (larger orange gear) position was occupied by the passive propeller output shaft, which was driven via gears on the two crankshafts mounted side-by-side below the propeller shaft, with the motor cylinders either side of the propeller shaft. This corresponds to the central motor and the lowest two (orange) motors in the diagram above. However, I suspect that only a total of two (smaller green) gears were used to couple the two crankshafts to the propeller shaft.

This innovating arrangement was patented in about 1917. Mark Birkigt of Hispano Suiza was successful, being about 6 months ahead of Ettore Bugatti’s application. But yet again out creator had priority of about six thousand years—and with a far superior design.

The patented innovation gave significant improvements on earlier designs, with higher power to weight ratios and a lower frontal area. It also allowed mounting a machine gun within a hollow propeller shaft. Both Hispano Suiza and Bugatti–King aero engines were built with this principle.

In 1928, Bugatti used a similar design in his 16 cylinder Type 45 and 47 racing cars which had two straight-eight engines side by side geared to a single output shaft. These did not go into production—probably due to problems in the gearing between crankshaft and output shaft. But the Bugatti design used only one (smaller green gear) per motor, whereas our Creator’s design uses 24 gears for 7 motors which puts very much less stress on each gear.

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