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The Riddle

What may increase when something is lost?

By Jean Lightner

To answer this question let’s take a look at some sheep. The Dorset breed of sheep was developed in southern England several hundred years ago. Dorsets had many likable traits and were imported to the United States in the late 1800s.1 They were a medium-sized white breed. The ewes were good mothers and could give birth more than once a year. And Dorsets always had horns. Well, until around 1948 anyway.2 At that time, in a purebred flock in the United States, a lamb was born that never grew horns. This condition is called polled (hornless).

Photo by Marlene Bell, ewephoric.com dorsetlambs

Now horns can look very attractive on sheep. However, farmers often consider them a nuisance. Horns get caught on things, injure people or animals, and damage equipment. In fact, since horns in sheep usually curve back toward the head, sometimes they can actually grow into the animal’s head!3 Animals with horns require more space, especially at the feed or water trough. To avoid these problems, farmers can dehorn (remove the horn buds from) their lambs soon after they are born. That way the horns don’t grow and the problems associated with them don’t develop.

When the polled lamb was born, farmers were very interested. Imagine having all the good qualities of the Dorset breed without the annoying horns. Just think, hornless sheep without all the work associated with dehorning. So, when the lamb grew up, it was used for breeding; soon there were more Dorsets with the polled trait.

Since farmers liked the polled sheep, they started selecting for them. In other words, they would keep the polled sheep for breeding and get rid of the horned ones. Through this artificial selection, soon a new breed had developed, the Polled Dorset.4 This breed has become so popular that it is now the second most popular breed in the United States. Horned Dorsets are now rare.

So back to our riddle. What may increase when something is lost? First let’s ask what was lost in the polled lamb? Its horns. And what increased? Variety.5 Initially, Dorsets had always had horns; now some had horns and some did not. Variety can be gained when some animals lose a trait that previously all animals in the group had. Can variety also be lost? Certainly. This was done through selection. When the Dorsets were selected for the polled trait, the horned trait was then lost from the group. This decreased variety because none of this new breed, Polled Dorsets, had horns.

Photo by Marlene Bell, ewephoric.com hornedsheep
A horned Dorset sheep.

Why was the lamb polled? This was a result of a mutation that destroyed information in a gene necessary for horn growth. Mutations are really errors in the information stored in genes. They are commonly known by the disease they cause6 (e.g. sickle cell anemia in people,7 spider lamb syndrome in sheep8). Some mutations are not obviously harmful and may go unnoticed. It is very unusual for a mutation to be beneficial,9 although farmers may be convinced that this one in Dorsets was. What has virtually never been observed is a mutation that adds information, like one for growing horns on dogs or cats.

If mutations don’t add information, how did the information get there to begin with? The answer is in Genesis, the first book in the Bible. God put it there when he created life at the beginning. He said that he created animals (and plants) to reproduce after their own kind.10 Dogs give birth to nothing but dogs. Much of the variety5 we see in people, animals and plants was a part of the information God originally placed there.11 Since the Fall of man,12 mutations have increased variety somewhat, but they have never added information or created a new kind of animal.13

There are people today who are concerned about the loss of variety5 in animals caused by selection. Some breeds that are no longer popular are in danger of dying out. Yet these breeds often have important traits such as resistance to certain diseases or parasites, or the ability to do well in extreme climates (very wet or very hot and dry). In the United States, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy works to protect less popular breeds of animals. They recognize that if these breeds are lost, any unique traits they have will be lost forever. This type of loss can never be regained.

This all testifies to the creation of the genetic information in the beginning. Such information can be lost, sometimes even with good effects for farmers. However, gaining the information necessary to put horns on animals that lack the information for horns just does not happen by natural processes.

References and notes

  1. Dorsets were first imported to the West Coast of the USA (Oregon) in 1860. Later, in 1885 and afterward, they were imported from England to the East Coast. Dorset, ansi.okstate.edu, accessed August 2004. Return to text.
  2. Some sources claim a slightly different year. Polled Dorsets became a recognized breed in 1956. Return to text.
  3. Cobb, R., Horns on domestic farm animals, classes.aces.uiuc.edu, accessed August 2004. Return to text.
  4. There is also a Poll Dorset breed that was developed in Australia between 1937 and 1954. However, this was done by introducing the polled trait from several other polled breeds (Corriedale and Ryeland rams) and then breeding the polled offspring back to Dorsets, polldorset.org.au and nzsheep.co.nz, accessed 20 August 2004. Return to text.
  5. The type of variety we are discussing here is known as genetic variation or genetic diversity. Return to text.
  6. Most genetic diseases/defects are caused by mutations. Sometimes several different mutations can cause the same disease. There are over 4,500 genetic diseases known in man. Mutations: evolution or degeneration?, christiananswers.net, accessed August 2004. Inheritance of single-gene defects, merck.com, accessed August 2004. Similarly, there are many genetic defects in animals. Sweiter, K., Gacsala, E., Esquivel, H., Genetic defects in sheep, ag.ansc.purdue.edu, accessed August 2004. Chart of genetic defects, kinne.net/ob4.htm accessed August 2004. Canine Inherited Disorders Database, upei.ca, accessed August 2004 Return to text.
  7. This mutation causes an abnormal hemoglobin to be produced. When oxygen levels are low in the blood, the red blood cells take on an abnormal sickle shape and tend to plug up small capillaries. See Sickle-cell anemia does not prove evolution! Return to text.
  8. Also known as ovine hereditary chondrodysplasia. Although lambs appear normal at birth, within 4–6 weeks they have obvious skeletal deformities. Taraska, T., Spider Lamb Syndrome, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, dlab.colostate.edu, accessed August 2004. Return to text.
  9. See also Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers, Creation 19(3):30, 1997; creation.com/beetle. Lightner, J., Special tools of life, May 2004. Return to text.
  10. Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25. Return to text.
  11. People and animals were told to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:22, 28; 8:17; 9:1, 7). With this command, God gave them the ability to obey it. Everything we know from modern genetics confirms the fact that God gave these creatures the ability to adapt to a wide range of environments. Return to text.
  12. Recorded in Genesis 3 (see Sarfati, J., The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe, J. Creation 19(3):60–64), December 2005. This brought death, disease and suffering into the world. In spite of the curse that resulted from mankind’s rebellion, God still sustains and cares for his creation (Matthew 6:25–34; Col­os­sians 1:16, 17). If He didn’t, it wouldn’t exist. Return to text.
  13. Although they may form a new species. For an explanation, see: Catchpoole, D. and Wieland, C., Speedy species surprise, Creation 23(2):13–15, 2001; Bell, P., Genetic engineers unwind species barrier, Creation 25(4):52–53, 2003; and Wieland, C., Brisk biters, Creation 21(2):41, 1999. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Jeff H.
I think B L.'s question about adaptation is an interesting one. If epigenetics is showing that some adaptations are driven by the environment, in essence selecting from available design options, and the environment the sheep are in is one of less threat (so less need for horns), the polled adaptation might have spread without the artificial selection attempts.

But it also makes me wonder about whether the traits, either horned or polled would actually be lost even if the trait were bred out of the population. If environmental threats arose, might the horns not come back, and be selected for epigenetically?
Nathan G.
This example of Dorset mutation raises two immediate questions for non-geneticists like myself, since new varieties of domestic animals are by definition less "fit" a la the church of Darwin as compared to the parent group or their wild relatives.

1) Instead of trying to maintain many small, "unpopular" domestic populations, wouldn't it be more prudent to cross-breed all the "unpopular" and popular types back into a gene pool of "mutts" to protect the overall DNA? The popular breeds can still continue on. New breeds would still require artificial selection again in the future for wool, milk, meat, size, etc. But the added genetic stability and easier care would halt the fear of losing a unique trait forever. And the mutts could be used to periodically reinfuse genetic stability into a popular breed, if it is ever threatened by a serious new mutation. Call it life insurance for the animal rich and famous. (Maybe there's even a TV series better than National Evolutionographic's pitiful offerings in all of this.)

2) Pursuing question 1 even further, has anyone in animal husbandry or baraminology ever successfully reverse-extroplated an entire kind? In other words has anyone ever physically and systematically bred every single suspected species of a "kind" together to try to get back to the approximate critter that exited the Ark (minus any extinctions since then, of course)? For example, cross-breeding all members suspected of being wolf-kind, cow-kind, camel-kind, whale-kind, pig-kind, cat-kind, raptor-kind, etc. This would at least give us an approximate idea how much rapid speciation has changed the original animals since the Flood, since most domestic creatures are typically scattered across every continent except Antarctica.
Don Batten
There is concern over loss of 'wild' types of plants and animals worldwide, because of the loss of potentially valuable genes for future breeding needs. See this, mainly on plants: What! No potatoes? Thankfully, there are private enthusiasts who are preserving old breeds of domestic animals in many countries. And there are large seed banks established to preserve plant species.
With dog breeds, one need look no further than the various species of wolves to see the original, from which dogs have been bred in the last few thousand years. 'Mongrel' dogs (cross-breeds) tend to revert towards the wolf form, as you suggest.
Regarding your 2: I am not aware of any concerted effort to do this. I believe that horse-zebra hybrids ('Zorse') do give us some idea of what the original created kind was like, for example.
Jason T.
Thank you for taking the time to correct me Robert.

Phrasing the 'information' argument the way you explained removed the interpretation and ambiguity that could be read into it.

I appreciate your guidance.

Thanks again
Jason
Jason T.
Dear CMI

I would respectfully argue these two points - 'mutations have increased variety somewhat, but they have never added information' and 'virtually never been observed is a mutation that adds information'

Mutations can add information. The foundational point is they can't add or create 'NEW' information.

I was 'back footed' in a debate where I said the mutations can't add information, only to be shown they can.

The difference is in wording is subtle but important!

God bless

Jason

Robert Carter
Jason,

Please consider this article: Can Mutations Create New Information. In it, I argue that the "no new information" argument is flawed and difficult to use effectively, as you found out. When using the "information" argument, wording is critical. Instead of saying no "new" information is created through mutation (because this depends on the definition of "information"), we should say, "The types of changes we see are not the types of changes required to explain the common ancestry of all things."
anthony B.
It is possible to edit genes to eliminate horns in animals using the CRISPR technique.
Don Batten
That may well be possible.
Charles H.
This article puts a sliver of discontinuity in the ideas behind evolution and species conservation.
Norman P.
A riddle indeed. "And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen." (Gen 22:13-14)
So, an instrument of creature-aggression from the Fall ensnared a lamb, providing a way of escape for Isaac, and by inference all mankind - through Christ, the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world! 'Let angel minds inquire no more!'
B L.
Jean, where is the scientific research which proves that the polled lamb had a DNA mutation which caused it to grow no horns?

You've stated that horns aren't always beneficial to sheep (they can grow into their skulls, etc), so how do we know that this polled trait is not an adaptation and not a mutation?
Don Batten
There is little doubt that the USA Polled Dorset breed arose from a mutation in the 1950s. Four female lambs were born with no horns and then one of twin rams were born with no horns. This can hardly be some non-genetic adaptation. Then the researchers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh bred the polled ones together and eventually got a 'true to type' Polled Dorset breed, once again underlining the genetic basis of the polled condition. Is this genetic change due to a designed capacity to adapt (to the domestic situation, for example)? Dr Lightner comments: I do not think we have an answer to this question at present.
The Polled Dorset in Australia arose by a different route, earlier, by a breeding strategy: from the introduction of Corriedale and Ryeland blood into the Dorset Horn, then repeatedly back-crossing to the Dorset Horn, with selection for hornlessness, to get the Polled Dorset breed. The Ryeland is one of the oldest British breeds, tracing back to the 11th century, and has apparently been hornless all along.
However, we have to ask 'what was the original created kind of sheep? Was it horned or polled?' It is almost certain that it was horned. It is easy to lose something such as horns by a post-creation natural process such as mutation, but it is impossible to gain something as complex as horns.

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