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Mutant plastic-munching enzyme does not support evolution

by (Luominen.fi)

The Guardian recently published a news item titled “Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles”.1 What is this? Have the researchers demonstrated microbes-to-microbiologist evolution in the laboratory? No, that is not the case. The news is based on a PNAS article titled “Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase” (emphasis added).2

On closer inspection, this research, while interesting in itself, does not really offer new material for the creation-evolution debate, but merely confirms what is already known. The artificial improvement of this particular enzyme, ‘PETase’, produced by the recently-discovered Ideonella sakaiensis bacterium, tells of the intelligent design by the scientists, not of evolution.

Science vs. ‘science’

Firstly we must remember that true science is based on repeatable experiments performed in the present. In addition to repeatability, it is important for a scientist to be able to observe their experiment and, if necessary, to adjust the parameters of the experiment. For this reason, true science based on such experiments is often called experimental science. We have experimental science to thank for (amongst other things) the rising standard of living, advanced technology and development of disease treatments.

However, not all science is experimental. There are one-off past events that are impossible to repeat. The science of past events, origins science, has no way to observe in the present those things that have already happened in the past. Origins science investigating one-off events of the past is as far from experimental science as the east is from the west.

Since direct observation and repetition are lacking, the worldview of a scientist strongly colours origins science results.

For this reason, the world (and the Internet!) is full of endless fruitless squabbling over origins. Scientists staring at the same dinosaur bone will arrive at completely different ‘results’. For example, blood vessels found in a dinosaur bone3,4 were interpreted in a completely different way depending on the scientist’s worldview. Evolutionists are trying to find out how the blood vessels survived millions of years (in violation of all known biochemistry laws). Meanwhile, researchers who interpret the discovery in light of Bible history find that this discovery probably resulted from a watery catastrophe 4,500 years ago.

The same bone, the same blood vessels: two completely different interpretations.

Plastic news—nothing new under the sun

In addition to the fact that this plastic-munching enzyme news is primarily about intelligent design, it does not really involve anything unprecedented. There are other organisms known to be able to do the same.5 Enzymes can be found in the wild that can break down man-made compounds, though generally only very slowly due to their non-specificity. In this case the organism Ideonella sakaiensis, growing in the lab on a film of PET [i.e. polyethylene terephthalate—a common plastic, Ed.] for several weeks, caused significant degradation of the PET.

Image from the original research paper on the discovery of the bacterium concerned.6

The research article2 on which this news is based explains the structure of the enzyme and the mutation that made it more effective in breaking down plastic. This is similar to the iconic case of the nylon-degrading enzyme nylonase, which Ann Gauger wrote about in depth, showing that it did not involve real evolution.7,8,9 This new plastic-munching enzyme is likewise based on the minor modification of an existing enzyme.10 Again, the evolution claims are more hype than substance, although the finding is interesting.

So this fresh news merely involves tweaking of an existing function via a couple of amino acid changes—no brand new structure has been created, rather an existing structure has been fine-tuned.

This situation is analogous to the way existing production processes, or even computer software, are fine-tuned by engineers to work better. Nobody in these cases argues that the original output would be self-generated by ‘chance natural processes’.

Propaganda in news coverage

This news has nothing to do with (imaginary) microbes-to-man evolution. That would require a huge amount of new, specific (specified) genetic information. The fine-tuning of an existing structure can easily be accounted for as the advanced planning of a Wise Creator—the organism had the necessary information to enable it to cope with changing conditions.

Evolutionists are forced to believe that some mindless random events with an unknown mechanism have generated enormous amounts of information. The question is: how? The ‘letters’ of the DNA code do not explain the origin of the information content of DNA any more than the properties of ink and paper explain the contents of a book, so there is no mechanism for real evolution.

Undoubtedly, the media will present this plastic-devouring enzyme research in terms of mud-to-man evolution, but that is done without regard to the facts. The facts speak in favour of Creation.


Thanks to Professor Emeritus Matti Leisola and Dr Lasse Uotila (Doctor of Medicine and Surgery) for their scholarly advice in the writing of this article.

Published: 3 May 2018

References and notes

  1. Carrington, D., Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles, The Guardian, theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/16/scientists-accidentally-create-mutant-enzyme-that-eats-plastic-bottles, 17 April 2018. Return to text.
  2. Austin H.P. et al., Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase, PNAS, 17 April 2018. 201718804; published ahead of print 17 April 2018, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1718804115. Return to text.
  3. Cleland T. et al., Mass spectrometry and antibody-based characterization of blood vessels from Brachylophosaurus Canadensis, Journal of Proteome Research 14(12):5252–5262, 2015, doi:10.1021/acs.jproteome.5b00675. Anon., Researchers confirm original blood vessels in 80 million-year-old fossil, NC State News, news.ncsu.edu/2015/12/schweitzer-vessels, 1 December 2015, accessed 23 April 2018. Return to text.
  4. See summary of findings in: Catchpoole D., Double-decade dinosaur disquiet, Creation 36(1):12–14, 2014; creation.com/dino-disquiet. Return to text.
  5. Yoshida et al., ref. 6, “There are currently few known examples of esterases, lipases, or cutinases that are capable of hydrolyzing PET.” Return to text.
  6. Yoshida S, et al., A bacterium that degrades and assimilates poly(ethylene terephthalate), Science 351:1196–1199, 2016. Return to text.
  7. Gauger A., The nylonase story: when imagination and facts collide, evolutionnews.org/2017/05/the-nylonase-story-when-imagination-and-facts-collide, 4 May 2017, accessed 19 April 2018. Return to text.
  8. Gauger A., The nylonase story: How unusual is that? evolutionnews.org/2017/05/the-nylonase-story-how-unusual-is-that, 5 May 2017, accessed 19 April 2018. Return to text.
  9. Gauger A., The nylonase story: The information enigma, evolutionnews.org/2017/05/the-nylonase-story-the-information-enigma, 8 May 2017, accessed 19 April 2018. Return to text.
  10. Gauger A., Adaptation in action yields a repurposed enzyme, evolutionnews.org/2018/04/adaptation-in-action-yields-a-repurposed-enzyme, 20 April 2018, accessed 23 April 2018. Return to text.