The superbaby mutation
Evolution of a new master race?
News reports are talking about a German baby ‘superman’.1 He is only 4, but his thigh already has twice the muscle mass of most kids his age, and half the fat. He is strong enough to hold 3 kg (7 lb) weights outstretched, hard for many adults. His strength is the result of a genetic mutation (an inherited copying mistake in the DNA ‘instructions’) that gives him the extra amount of muscle.
The child’s mother was a muscular 24-year-old former sprinter who had one copy of this mutation, but paired with the normal gene. Her brother and three other close male relatives also seem to have this mutation, because they are very strong. One of them was a construction worker who can unload heavy curbstones by hand.The boy has two copies of the mutated gene, the other one almost certainly from his father.
Is this not an example of ‘evolution in action’, a way in which organisms can become ‘bigger and better’? Not at all. It pays to look closely at the nature of the mutation in this case. Normally, muscle growth is well controlled, and one controller is a protein called myostatin or growth/differentiation factor 8 (GDF-8). This new mutation actually damages the gene that produces myostatin.2 As a result, the myostatin protein is not properly formed and the muscles grow in an uncontrolled fashion.
Evolution from goo to you via the zoo requires a huge number of mutations to increase information content. This is to build new structures and enzymes that didn’t previously exist. If this were occurring, we would expect to find lots of information-increasing mutations. But instead we have yet to find even one heritable random mutation of this type.3 Rather, observed mutations are either neutral or information-losing.
Notice that we don’t deny there are beneficial mutations, i.e. mutations that benefit their possessors. But even these are going in the wrong direction to help turn bacteria into babies. The ‘superbaby’ mutation is just one in a long line of information-losing mutations that might count as beneficial. It obviously can’t explain how muscles and myostatin evolved in the first place.
Indeed, readers of Creation magazine and our website might remember that we have written on exactly the same thing in animals.4 The Piedmontese and Belgian Blue cattle are extremely muscular precisely because a mutation results in the production of a defective myostatin protein.5 A similar mutation has produced muscular mice.
It is debatable whether the mutation is really beneficial in the long run. The Belgian Blue mutation has side effects, for example, reduced fertility. And doctors worry that this superboy might later suffer from health problems including heart trouble. It should not be surprising that a protein like myostatin is there for a reason, so destroying its effectiveness would cause problems.
But the main point is still that the mutation is losing information, not gaining it. So it is just like the wingless beetles on windswept islands. They can’t fly up so the wind doesn’t sweep them into the sea, which is a good thing for their survival. But they have still lost the power of flight. This doesn’t explain how wings or flight could have evolved in the first place.6
References and notes
- Linda Johnson, Doctors discover genetic mutation that makes toddler super strong, Anchorage Daily News, 23 June 2004, www.adn.com/24hour/healthscience/v-printer/story/1454021p-8836512c.html. Return to text.
- Markus Schuelke, Kathryn R. Wagner, Leslie E. Stolz, Christoph Hübner, Thomas Riebel, Wolfgang Kömen, Thomas Braun, James F. Tobin, Ph.D., and Se-Jin Lee, Myostatin mutation associated with gross muscle hypertrophy in a child, New England Journal of Medicine 350(26):2682–2688, 24 June 2004, content.nejm.org/cgi/content/extract/350/26/2682. Return to text.
- For some caveats about this general claim, see Batten, D., The adaptation of bacteria to feeding on nylon waste, Journal of Creation 17(3):3–5, 2003; R. Truman, The unsuitability of B-cell maturation as an analogy for neo-Darwinian Theory, trueorigin.org/b_cell_maturation.asp, March 2002. Return to text.
- Muscular cattle: a beneficial mutation? Creation 20(4):9, 1997. Return to text.
- J. Travis, Muscle-bound cattle reveal meaty mutation, Science News 152(21):325, 22 November 1997. Return to text.
- Carl Wieland, Beetle Bloopers, Creation 19(3):30, 1997. Return to text.