CMI scientific blunder?
Methane, ethane, and pseudogene functions
Published: 9 October 2010 (GMT+10)
This week’s feedback features two correspondents. R.P. from the United States accuses CMI of a scientific blunder in Dr Don Batten’s article ‘Age of the earth’ by saying that methane (CH4) cannot degrade into ethane (C2H6). Dr Jonathan Sarfati, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, shows how methane can be chemically broken down to ethane. Dr Robert Carter receives some positive feedback about his article ‘Splicing and dicing the genome’, and comments on new research suggesting a new function for pseudogenes have a function that further renders the ‘junk DNA’ explanation invalid.
R.P. from the United States writes:
Blatant error in your article: Age of the earth
Besides not providing references for your claims the largest error occurs inpoint #74 which states:
“Methane on Titan (Saturn’s largest moon)—methane would all be gone because of UV-induced breakdown to ethane in just 10,000 years. And large quantities of ethane are not there either.”
Anyone with a chemistry background knows that methane cannot be broken down to ethane because methane only has one carbon while ethane has two. One ethane could be split into two methane molecules, but not the other way around.
CMI’s Dr Jonathan Sarfati writes:
I have an earned doctorate in chemistry from an accredited secular university, which most people would regard as a “background in chemistry”.
The article is correct. What happens is that the high-energy UV photon causes a free radical break in methane, CH4, to CH3• and H•. The dots symbolize the unpaired electrons, which makes these radicals very reactive, as people with chemical backgrounds realize. One possible reaction is 2CH3• → C2H6, which as people with a chemistry background know, is ethane. It’s well known simple radical chemistry, really. One website explains:
“The ultraviolet light is expected to split the methane gas (CH4), in the atmosphere, into various fragments, called radicals (CH2, CH, H, CH3). These radicals recombine into various organic molecules, the most abundant of which are acetylene (C2H2) and ethane (C2H6).They can react with other hydrocarbon radicals and nitrogen radicals from the break up of nitrogen molecules to form more complex materials, including tholins and hydrogencyanide (HCN).”
The article linked as a source for this one said:
“For example, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, has long been known to have an atmosphere, but its composition puzzles long-age cosmologists. The sun’s UV radiation breaks down methane (CH4), and the hydrogen would escape Titan’s weak gravity. In fact, methane should last only for about 10,000 years. And a major by-product should be an ocean of liquid ethane hundreds of metres thick. Yet Titan still has methane clouds, while large areas of liquid ethane are nowhere to be found.” [citing The Missing Methane, Astrobiology Magazine,, 17 March 2005. New Scientist, 21 August 2004, p. 5; 20 November 2004, p. 9.]
Ethane could not be split into two methane molecules, because it hasn’t enough hydrogen. But that might take a chemistry background to know.
I should add that the article is fully referenced, both in primary sources and hyperlinked articles. I concede that we lapsed in omitting that free radical explanation; I guess we assumed too great a background in chemistry from our readers, sorry.
(Dr) Jonathan Sarfati
Robert F. from the United States writes:
Dear Robert Carter,
I read with interest the recent article on “Splicing and Dicing the Genome”. I am always amazed that secular molecular biologists believe that all of this “information” controlling things arose completely by chance, and I think you did a wonderful job pointing out some of the complexity in our genomes.
Regarding your comments on pseudogenes, a recent publication in Nature1 posits that pseudogene mRNA may be used as a decoy to control the level of gene expression of the real gene.
I have not read the entire paper yet, but it is an intriguing hypothesis, and points to yet another level of complexity in our genome.
CMI’s Dr Robert Carter responds:
Thank you for your comments and thank you for supporting our ministry. It takes a lot of work to write those articles and comments like yours help motivate us to keep plugging away.
Regarding the paper you mentioned,1 I have it and have spent some time discussing it with several other creationist geneticists. Here is one comment made by one of my colleagues: “Hi Rob—Thanks! The new paper on pseudogenes is very important because we have been relying too heavily on a single older paper, which has been called into question. If this paper actually ‘doubles the functional genome’ (gene count goes from 20,000 to 50,000) why isn’t this on the front page of every newspaper? Why is it not clearly stated that this overthrows a key evolutionary doctrine, and further debunks ‘junk DNA’?”
The junk DNA argument is like a zombie. It is dead and buried, but keeps coming back. If the past is any indication of the future, it will finally die when the evolutionists can replace it with something else. Since nothing else is waiting in the wings, they desperately cling to a decaying corpse of a theory. But, while they are waiting, their appreciation of genomic complexity is skyrocketing. They are in a very uncomfortable position!
- Poliseno, L., Salmena, L., Zhang, J., Carver, B., Haveman, W.J. and Pandolfi, P.P., A coding-independent function of gene and pseudogene mRNAs regulates tumour biology, Nature 465:1033–1038, 24 June 2010; doi:10.1038/nature09144. Return to text.