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Toothed gears in jumping insects

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Published: 19 September 2013 (GMT+10)
Credit: Image courtesy of Malcolm Burrows Issus-coleoptratus

Living creatures have the most amazing machinery, which should be obvious evidence of a Designer (Romans 1:20). Darwin on the other hand believed that all the machines were built by a blind process of tiny changes and natural selection picking the advantageous ones, over eons of time. However, this would be problematic for machines that would not function unless many parts were organized. That’s because a partly-formed machine would not work, so natural selection would not pick such an irreducibly complex machine.

Indeed, decades ago, evolutionists claimed that magnets and wheels could not be found in nature, precisely because they would not work unless fully formed. Yet we have found many such machines in living creatures.1

Plant hopper gears

The plant hopper Issus coleoptratus is found in European gardens, and can hop from leaf to leaf. The distances involved are much longer than the insect’s body length. The baby insects, called nymphs, take off in only 2 milliseconds. Unless the jumping legs push off at almost exactly the same time, their jumps would be lopsided, and they would spin out of control. Indeed, the legs start within 30 microseconds of each other. Nerve impulses are too slow to achieve such synchrony.

The discoverers, Zoologists Malcolm Burrows and Gregory Sutton at the University of Cambridge, UK, say that this seems to be the first example in nature of rotary motion with toothed gears.—Nature

Instead, to solve the problem, the insects achieve synchrony with another example of irreducible complexity: intermeshing cog gears. These comprise tiny teeth about 30 micrometers high covering a curved strip about 400 micrometers long.2

However, these gears are lost in the adult. The likely reason is again a case of irreducible complexity: if a single tooth is broken, the whole mechanism is ruined. But with nymphs, this problem is not so serious, because it can molt, and the new exoskeleton will have the intact gears. Conversely, the adults are stuck with their exoskeleton. But they are large enough and rigid enough so that friction will achieve what the gears did.

One report states, “Gears are ubiquitous in the man-made world, found in items ranging from wristwatches to car engines, but it seems that nature invented them first.”3 ‘Nature’, or rather the One who created nature, has also invented a screw joint in weevil legs.4 And the journal Nature says:

“The discoverers, Zoologists Malcolm Burrows and Gregory Sutton at the University of Cambridge, UK, say that this seems to be the first example in nature of rotary motion with toothed gears.”

This seems to be right. All the same, a tiny germ has an amazing system with seven flagellum motors and 24 interlocking gears driving a single filament, so it can swim 10 times faster.5 These nanogears don’t seem to be toothed, though.

Designed or evolved?

One report pointed out some of the remarkable design features:

Incorrect or half-formed gears would not help the organism, and could potentially give it a disadvantage. Yet evolution has no reasoning or planning ability. It is a purposeless process, and would thus be unable to ‘design’ such a system.
“The gears in the Issus hind-leg bear remarkable engineering resemblance to those found on every bicycle and inside every car gear-box. Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to human-made gears such as bike gears—essentially a shock-absorbing mechanism6 to stop teeth from shearing off.”7

However, Dr Sutton made the usual fact-free homage to evolution, “These gears are not designed; they are evolved—representing high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronisation in the animal world.”

However the problem is how they evolved by a Darwinian step-by-step method, since no such mechanism is suggested. And gear parameters such as the gear ratio, the module and many others need to be carefully picked before the gears are installed in any application. Incorrect or half-formed gears would not help the organism, and could potentially give it a disadvantage. Yet evolution has no reasoning or planning ability. It is a purposeless process, and would thus be unable to ‘design’ such a system.

Indeed, Sutton previously said, “We usually think of gears as something that we see in human designed machinery, but we’ve found that that is only because we didn’t look hard enough.” This suggests that evolutionary dogma held up progress in discovering such machinery. Rather, progress might have been much faster if we had realized that there is a Master Engineer behind nature.

References and notes

  1. Sarfati, J., By Design: Evidence for Nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible, CBP, 2008; see also the many articles at creation.com/design. Return to text.
  2. Burrows, M. and Sutton, G. Interacting gears synchronize propulsive leg movements in a jumping insect, Science 341:1254–1256, 13 September 2013 | doi: 10.1126/science.1240284. Return to text.
  3. Lewis, T., Creature with Interlocking Gears on Legs Discovered, livescience.com, 12 September 2013. Return to text.
  4. Beetles beat us to the screw and nut, New Scientist 211(2820):17, 9 July 2011; Brilliant engineering: the weevil ‘hip’-and-leg joint, Creation 34(2):9, 2012, creation.com/focus-342#weevil. Return to text.
  5. Juanfang Ruan and 8 others, Architecture of a flagellar apparatus in the fast-swimming magnetotactic bacterium MO-1, PNAS 26 November 2012 | doi:10.1073/pnas.1215274109; Sarfati, J., Germ with seven motors in one! creation.com/7motors1, 15 January 2013. Return to text.
  6. Actually, the rounding reduces the stress concentration that makes a sharp corner vulnerable. Return to text.
  7. Functioning ‘Mechanical Gears’ seen in nature for first time, sciencedaily.com, 12 September 2013. Return to text.

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