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Creation 45(1):44–45, January 2023

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HBP1 pseudogene function

‘Pseudogenes’: Evidence of Human Evolution?

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© Dmitry Kotin | Dreamstime.compseudogenes

‘Pseudogene’ means ‘false gene’. Scientists coined the term for the many things they were finding that looked like protein-coding genes but were not used to make proteins. In the evolutionary mind, a pseudogene is a broken gene which once coded for a protein. Supposedly, mutations, i.e. copying mistakes, crippled the gene at some time in the past. Thus, a pseudogene was considered to be a form of ‘junk’ DNA.

Humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas share some pseudogenes. Treating them as errors, evolutionists have argued that they must have come from a common ancestor. They say it is unreasonable to believe that the same mistake arose independently in each by chance, or that God intentionally created the same purposeless genes in humans and non-human primates.1,2

However, are pseudogenes actually useless, i.e. junk DNA? If they are not mistakes, but are functional, then the whole ‘shared mistakes’ argument collapses.

History of failure

The pseudogene argument is like the ‘vestigial organ’ argument repeatedly employed in the past. It was once claimed that the human body is filled with many functionless organs, which are useless leftovers from our evolutionary history.3 Today, you can’t find an informed evolutionist who would tell you that any human organ is definitely vestigial, in the sense of ‘no function’. However, some evolutionists have now redefined ‘vestigial’ to mean ‘reduced or modified function’.4 But this is unhelpful; such a claim could be made in arbitrary fashion for any body part in any species, despite it having an important function.

Like the vestigial organ argument, junk DNA is an argument from silence, a classic logical fallacy; because we don’t know what something does doesn’t mean it does nothing. If we find a function for these so-called useless stretches of DNA, just as happened with that old, outdated list of vestigial organs, then their evidence for evolution disappears.

We know now that this is overwhelmingly the case. Nearly all the genome has been demonstrated to be functional. For one thing, the ENCODE project found that at least 90% of human DNA is transcribed into RNA.5 Therefore, it is doing something. Such RNA can, for example, land on matching DNA strands and prevent a gene from being read. This is but one way the cell controls gene expression (i.e., how much of a particular protein is produced).

Indeed, the genome is even poly-functional. A given DNA letter can be part of multiple sets of instructions.

The approach evolutionists took with ‘junk DNA’ hindered scientific progress. If one assumes an organ or portion of the genome does nothing, one will scarcely work hard to find out what it does.

Creeping doubt about pseudogenes, then …

Significant discoveries have been made concerning the pseudogenes in humans and primates. One thing is that the same pseudogenes in different species are far more similar than would be expected if they were useless. For example, the β-globin pseudogenes in humans and chimpanzees are nearly identical. Mutations in a useless gene would not be subject to natural selection, because they would not affect survival and therefore reproduction. Thus, a functionless gene would be free to mutate. Why are so few mutations seen in these pseudogenes if they are useless?

In other words, the high degree of similarity of the pseudogenes suggests that they have a function, and that this has a strong effect on survival. If the pseudogenes had been free to mutate, they would have done so many times, especially on an evolutionary timescale.

The story really bites the dust

The evolutionary story about β-globin pseudogenes was therefore already in doubt.6,7 But work published in 2021 shows they indeed have a function. They play a vital role in the production of red blood cells (erythropoiesis).8

The authors demonstrated that the HBP1 pseudogene is essential for this, and that this is done “by binding the RNA-binding protein (RBP), HNRNPA1, to upregulate TAL1, a key regulator of erythropoiesis.”

Obviously, such pseudogenes are not useless evolutionary relics.

These are not the only pseudogenes known to be functional. But due to lack of study, the function of many others remains unknown. Evolutionary assumptions about pseudogenes are a major reason why it’s taken so long for scientists to discover what pseudogenes do. The authors of the 2021 study recognize the problem. They stated:

Possibly due to the traditional view that pseudogenes are functionless evolutionary relics, only dozens of human pseudogenes have been functionally characterized.

They further wrote:

In conclusion, pseudogenes represent a new layer in the flow of genetic information. The highly integrative framework implemented in this study provides a prototype for determining the function of pseudogenes under normal and pathological conditions. Exploration of species-specific regulatory functions of pseudogenes or even studies of population-specific pseudogenes are expected to blossom in future.

Common design

This destroys the pseudogene argument. Pseudogenes are not examples of junk DNA that humans, chimps, and gorillas share because of a common ancestor. Pseudogenes are an example of common design—God using the same design or blueprint in multiple organisms.

It is not surprising that many of God’s creations have similar structures in their bodies and similarities in their genetic blueprints. An engineer often uses the same parts in different designed objects (e.g., cars, motorcycles, bikes, and airplanes). If every organism were completely different, it could look like life was designed by many different designers, instead of one.

And, since chimpanzees and gorillas are the most human-like animals, it is not at all surprising that our DNA is more like theirs than that of other species. It is, though, far more different than evolutionists expected.9

Evolution: science stopper

As with the entire ‘junk DNA’ argument, this is just one more case of evolution hindering scientific progress. The assumption that pseudogenes were useless evolutionary leftovers hampered research into their functions.

Many evolutionists have tried to use shared pseudogenes as a ‘magic bullet’ argument against Intelligent Design. However, their case depended crucially on the belief that the genes did nothing. It is time to let this bad argument go.

Posted on homepage: 1 January 2024

References and notes

  1. Luskin, C., Blast from the Past: Eugenie Scott’s failed prediction on pseudogenes, evolutionnews.org, 20 Jan 2020. Return to text.
  2. Woodmorappe, J., Are pseudogenes ‘shared mistakes’ between primate genomes? Creation 14(3):55–71, 2000; creation.com/pseudogene. Return to text.
  3. Bergman, J., Do any vestigial organs exist in humans? J. Creation 14(2):95–98, 2000; creation.com/vestiges. Return to text.
  4. Doyle, S., Vestigial arguments: remnants of evolution, creation.com/vestigialarguments, 11 Jun 2008. Return to text.
  5. Batten, D., Dazzling DNA: Huge study highlights stupendous design in human DNA, Creation 35(1):38, 2012; creation.com/dazzling-dna. Return to text.
  6. Moleirinho, A. et al., Evolutionary constraints in the β-globin cluster: The signature of purifying selection at the δ-globin (HBD) locus and its role in developmental gene regulation, Genome Biology and Evolution, 5(3):559–571, 2013. Return to text.
  7. Anderson, B., Shared mutations in the human and chimpanzee β-globin pseudogenes is not evidence for a common ancestor, J. Creation 25(1):10–12, 2011; creation.com/beta-globin-pseudogenes. Return to text.
  8. Ma, Y., et al., Genome-wide analysis of pseudogenes reveals HBBP1’s human-specific essentiality in erythropoiesis and implication in β-thalassemia, Science Direct 56(4):478–493, 2021. Return to text.
  9. Batten, D., The myth of 1%: Human and chimp DNA are very different, Creation 36(1):35–37, 2013; creation.com/1-percent-myth-dna. Return to text.