Can mutations lead to new genetic information?
A necessary clarification
Updated: 19 August 2019
John G. wrote to us in response to our web article on a new sugar transport gene in yeast.
Wow I am confused. Did creation.com at one point long ago argue that no new information could be created in a genome? Because I really thought you guys did. Also what do you guys mean? A while back I heard that the gene duplication in the water strider was not evolution, what would be considered evolution then? If you slowly modify a part overtime then can it eventually make a new creature? You guys use to say that there is no mechanism for evolution period. Now you say “For large-scale macroevolution to happen, great quantities of new genetic information, contained within many new gene families, must be built up over billions of years.” So macro evolution is possible because genomes change? I am not fully for evolution, but I find some of the arguments you guys have tough to grasp. I do not know if you guys have looked up elephants, but the trunk in the past was said to be smaller and more like a nose. This is a slight modification that is easily possible even from a creationist standpoint. The creationist standpoint seems to be slowly accepting what evolution really is. Also the sawfish is like an intermediate between a shark and a ray. It has mouth and gills like a ray but a tail as a shark. It is rather new in terms of being, imagine all the time it had to change from a shark/ray like creature to what it is and all you have to do is slightly modify it like the water strider. The ground sloth and todays sloths are another good example, the skull is much different in anatomy, yet it was a slight modification which creationists believe are both related. Please enlighten me on how to understand CMI’s viewpoint and how you can work with all these major differences in creatures from the past and the ever changing genome.
Dr. Matthew Cserhati (CMI-US) responds:
Thanks for your questions and your concerns. I will answer to the best of my ability.
As far as we know, we did not make the statement that no new information could be created in the genome. The article Can mutations create new information? helps clarify the relationship between mutations and genetic information. This article also talks about genetic recombination, which is what happened in the case of the new yeast gene that is now capable of taking up maltotriose, as I discussed in the article you are asking about. Also, we have written many articles about how genetic information changes between species within a kind.
God did not create fixed species. Nor did He create static genomes. If a gene is duplicated, the information content has changed, but a new kind of information has not been created. One common hypothesis in evolutionary theory is that gene duplication followed by mutational divergence can create the diversity we see in living things. But this does not lead to new kinds of genes which code for proteins with entirely new functions. If evolution is true, the thousand or so genes in some ancient bacterium must have multiplied and diversified into hundreds of thousands of new genes, with all sorts of new abilities. New families of enzymes, structural proteins, regulators, etc. would have to be added to this expanding and diversifying genome. Yet we simply do not see this process occurring today. Rearranging segments of DNA, duplicating and deleting genes, etc., is not a recipe for the wholesale invention of brand-new biochemical pathways.
Think about Down Syndrome. This is caused by the duplication of a small piece of DNA. It is nearly fatal and has drastic consequences for those who carry it. You can’t just duplicate any gene you want, for gene copy number is one of the primary means of genetic regulation in the cell. Also, if a gene were duplicated, and if it did not confer any specific advantage or disadvantage to the individual carrying it, the duplication would be a prime candidate for deletion. We see deletion occurring in many different species in all sorts of environments. There are species of marine bacteria, for example, who have lost entire biochemical pathways. They survive because other species are present that produce the desired product and excrete it into the water. In environments where these other species are not present, the first species has retained the genes. The model of ‘duplication followed by divergence’ does not work in the real world.
You also asked about elephants. We would have to look at who said what about how long elephants’ nose were in the past. Just because evolutionists suggest that ancient elephants had shorter trunks, this doesn’t count as hard evidence. It is only an inference. To reconstruct the trunk of an elephant is rather difficult, because the trunk doesn’t contain any bones, and would have decomposed over millions of years, if evolution were true. If they did find soft tissue from elephant trunks, this would prove that the elephants aren’t millions of years old!
Some fossil elephants have been discovered with downward-pointing tusks. But what would this prove? Do you know what kind of mutation in which genes were responsible for turning the tusk upside down? This is the key point. Furthermore, there is no evolutionary explanation as to how the tusk came about in the first place. Or the elephant’s nose for that matter. You might have heard about gomphotheres, which are extinct elephants which had not two, but four tusks, one pair that points upwards, the other points downwards. This species is now extinct, so therefore it is quite possible that with the separate loss of the lower tusks we get modern elephants, whereas loss of the upper tusks gives us the elephants with downward-looking tusks. Loss of tusks could well be possible to loss of genes, which is loss of information! As in so many other examples, the living representatives of the elephant kind have less diversity than we see in the fossil record. This fits in nicely with the biblical model.
As to the water strider gene duplication event, I am not sure which study you are referring to. However, I did find a recent paper published in Science.1 This study does report the appearance of a fan-like structure on the middle two legs of the water strider Rhagovelia antilleana. It mentions five genes that are involved in the expression of this seemingly novel structure. Three of these genes are merely the “redeployment of conserved developmental programs”, meaning that these three self-same genes were simply expressed at different levels. Differential gene expression has been observed in nature many times, but this does not involve the evolution of new genes. The other two genes, c67063_g1 and c68581_g1 appear to be duplicated. The complex regulation of these five genes is responsible for the development of fans on the middle legs of this one water strider, making locomotion on the surface of fast-flowing water much easier. But even though two genes have been duplicated, this does not decisively prove evolution. Extra genetic information does not lead to a new kind of information, as I stated earlier. The blood protein hemoglobin has several variants, but hemoglobin has never been observed to mutate into an entirely new gene. Neither have the duplicate genes c67063_g1 and c68581_g1 been observed to mutate into entirely new genes. For that, these genes would need to undergo numerous base pair substitutions, something which was not demonstrated in the lab. Therefore, although it appears that gene duplication in water striders can lead to morphological change, it is still not the kind that is required by evolutionary theory. The self-same authors of this study also say, “ … clear examples of how taxon-restricted genes contribute to evolution of such traits remains scarce.” They also note that there is very little documentation about how morphological innovations lead to the potential to occupy new ecological niches. This is surprising, considering how long evolutionary theory has been around.
Finally, we get to your questions about sawfishes, which we have written about previously. These animals, as well as sharks and rays, belong to the class of fish called Chondrichtyes, that is, the cartilaginous fish. Currently, sawfish are classified together with the rays (superorder Batoidea) instead of the sharks. There is good reason for this. For example, like rays, the sawfish mouth and gill inlets are on the underside of its body. You asked if the sawfish is intermediate between sharks and rays? In other words, are sharks and rays separate created kinds, or did they evolve from an original shark-ray? What we know for sure is that sharks and rays have no ancestors in the geologic record. Worse, ancient rays and sharks look very much the same as their modern counterparts. Thus, there is no evidence for their evolution from earlier forms and no evidence for their evolution once they appear. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter which group the sawfish is more similar to, because we know that sawfish, sharks, and rays are not the product of evolution.
References and notes
- Santos, M.E., Le Bouquin, A., Crumière, A.J.J., and Khila, A., Taxon-restricted genes at the origin of a novel trait allowing access to a new environment. Science 358(6361):386–390, 2017. Return to text.