Histone proteins are quite fascinating because they facilitate "DNA compression" and also play a role in gene regulation. Also, it has been said that "the histone proteins are perfectly designed for their jobs, so much so that histones are nearly identical in all non-bacterial organisms. Even slight modifications can be lethal." (Reference)
"In one of biology's most impressive engineering feats, specialized proteins package some six-and-a-half feet of human DNA into a nucleus that averages just 5 microns (0.0001969 inches) in diameter. In the first of a series of supercondensing steps, DNA winds around proteins called histones, which together form a complex called the nucleosome. Histones package DNA into repetitive coils, which not only provide genomic structure but also help regulate gene expression."
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Histone proteins are quite fascinating because they facilitate "DNA compression" and also play a role in gene regulation. Also, it has been said that "the histone proteins are perfectly designed for their jobs, so much so that histones are nearly identical in all non-bacterial organisms. Even slight modifications can be lethal." (Reference)
Monday, August 29, 2005
There are some folks that say that science is only applicable to the present and cannot provide trustworthly insights into the past. The fact of the matter is that for the space sciences the past is readily available to us through distant star light and from the cosmic background radiation that resulted from the creation event. In this sense, the "time machine" reference in this article is dead on.
"It's not every day that you make a time machine."
"This one will transport scientists billions of years into the past, to nearly the beginning of everything. If the 18 hexagons do their job, the scientists will be able to use them to watch the first stars flare to life and the earliest galaxies begin to form..."
"We're looking back to the first objects that formed after the Big Bang," said John Mather, Webb's senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. "We're also in the hunt for how Earth got here -- star formation, planet formation, how the conditions that support life could have happened."
The clues lie more than 13.5 billion years in the past, when the universe was about 1 percent of its current age. The earliest stars were just beginning to light the void, blazing to life when gravity and quantum forces ignited gas clouds produced by the Big Bang.
For what it's worth...
"John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, says that small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias, and selective reporting and other problems combine to make most research findings false. But even large, well-designed studies are not always right, meaning that scientists and the public have to be wary of reported findings."
"We should accept that most research findings will be refuted. Some will be replicated and validated. The replication process is more important than the first discovery," Ioannidis says.
In "Creation" you'll find the latest attempt to reconcile a theory of creation with evolutionary theory. Dr. Umana draws an important and often unrecognized dichotomy in that he supports the notion of common descent however believes that significant evolutionary change occurs only by the hand of God.
While this is an interesting way to look at things, the weakness of this book lies in that he provides little scientific argumentation to back his position. It is a book that contains a lot of unsubstantiated assertions.
I also have to mention that in this book Dr. Umana ventures into the realm of UFO discussion. He strongly believes that UFOs are real and that crop circles are messages that they have left and continue to leave. Quite frankly, this part of the book troubled me the most. It is possible - however unlikely, that UFOs exist; but to assert their existence and to discuss them as a reality is hard to fathom.
"The australopithecine apemen were hairy creatures with far smaller cranial capacity than Homo sapiens. When God determined to create Man, He chose several healthy female hominids and endowed them with enhanced intelligence and understanding above that of ordinary hominids. These hominid mothers would be the first to give birth to human children. The Lord God set to work in forming the first human fetuses in several pre-human hominids of the species Homo heidelbergensis."
Saturday, August 27, 2005
On Earth we don't have to worry that much about the radiation related dangers of traveling in space. However NASA is working hard on figuring out how to protect astronauts en route to Mars. You'll see in this article that plastic ships are being considered, as aluminum and other metal ships are unsafe. [Side note: Weren't those UFOs in New Mexico a few years back supposedly made of aluminum? Is it possible that perhaps they really weren't UFOs? Think about it.]
"Protecting astronauts from deep-space radiation is a major unsolved problem. Consider a manned mission to Mars: The round-trip could last as long as 30 months, and would require leaving the protective bubble of Earth's magnetic field. Some scientists believe that materials such as aluminum, which provide adequate shielding in Earth orbit or for short trips to the Moon, would be inadequate for the trip to Mars..."
Some "galactic cosmic rays are so energetic that no reasonable amount of shielding can stop them," cautions Frank Cucinotta, NASA's Chief Radiation Health Officer. "All materials have this problem, including polyethylene."
In this article, there's recognition of the habitable "bubble" that we find ourselves in. In particular, scientists are studying the processes that contribute to the formation of solar flares which can be downright deadly (as described in the NASA article titled "Sickening Solar Flares").
"Active regions on the sun's surface have specific magnetic orientations. When an electrical current with an opposite orientation climbs to the surface from inside the sun, solar flares can be produced. The flares are often associated with coronal mass ejections, which are blasts of charged particles that can threaten power grids, aircraft, communication technologies and spacewalking astronauts...
"All clear" space weather forecasts are particularly important for astronauts planning space walks outside Earth's protective magnetosphere, as would be the case if humans travel to back to the moon or on to Mars.
"I think that the advantage of having an 'all clear' is that you have a factor which you can use in the scheduling of EVAs," said Richard Fisher, director of the NASA Sun-Solar System Connection Division. "This allows you to avoid times that are less fortunate. I believe this will be important as we return to the moon."
As the short description below alludes, cell membranes are much more complex than people think. Hopefully the biomimcry work by this team will provide greater insights into membrane design. [Side note: cell membrane formation is a key step in the origin of life problem.]
"Researchers from Stanford and five other institutions have been awarded a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to construct artificial cell membranes that mimic the activities of real ones. Each living cell is wrapped in a double-layered membrane made of oily lipid molecules. The membrane is studded with proteins and other molecules that control how food and wastes get in and out of a cell, how cells signal to and react to their environment, and how they divide and grow...""To solve the challenging problem of creating these artificial membranes, we have formed an interdisciplinary team that will draw on colloid science, interface chemistry, biophysics and molecular simulations," says project collaborator Curtis Frank, the W.M. Keck, Sr. Professor in Engineering and chair of Stanford's Department of Chemical Engineering."
I've updated my main page (under the Theistic Evolution section) with a link to Dr. John Polkinghorne's site. Today I was listening to a talk by Ravi Zacharias and he quoted Polkinghorne, who is a physicist, state the following with respect to the early Universe,
"If you look at the early picoseconds of this universe and analyze just one contingent, the expansion and relation to the contraction, do you know how precise that had to be? It would be like taking aim at a one-square-inch object at the other end of the universe twenty billion light years away and hitting it bull’s eye. Gentlemen, there’s no free lunch. Somebody has to pay.”Folks, in some sense the attention paid to this entire evolution debate with respect to the existence of God is somewhat misplaced. While I have my doubts about it, evolution is a process that is bound by the fine-tuned physics of the universe which had a finite beginning in time 13.7 billion years ago. Therefore, to state that evolution invalidates the need for God is just being blind. The atheist that tries to use evolution as an intellectual excuse for not believing in God is like the ostrich that sticks his head in the ground.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
The rapid but sophisticated emotional development of babies is no less than remarkable.
"Science has got used to thinking of the emotional life of a baby as a 'great, blooming, buzzing confusion'. But now a series of ground-breaking studies carried out by American psychologists has overturned conventional notions of what a baby understands and feels. According to the findings, babies as young as four months are highly sophisticated, both intellectually and emotionally."
The complex processing associated with mRNA production is of very high fidelity.
"During processing, introns are snipped out and exons pasted together to form a template for proteins called messenger RNA (mRNA). Mistakes in RNA processing can reduce the expression of a functional protein or, worse, produce an abnormal protein that interferes with normal cell behavior. But just how a cell's molecular machinery eliminates long introns without making errors has puzzled scientists for years." Now, investigators at Carnegie Mellon University have discovered that a novel mechanism, called recursive splicing, removes long introns by steadily paring them down in a predictable fashion and joining the remaining exons.
This reminds me of Genesis 1:14-16 which states that the Moon should be used as a time marker. Of course, it plays a huge role in the habitability of our planet too, but that's besides the point. :)
"Texas astronomers have pinned down the exact date and time that a famous Ansel Adams photograph was taken."
"The Moon with its rapidly changing phases and position is really a big cosmic clock," says Dennis di Cicco, an editor at Sky & Telescope magazine. "When you've got a picture with a Moon in it, you can do these calculations."
The repeated convergence towards sentience argues towards a pattern in the "fabric of the biosphere." So much so that evolutionary paleontologist Simon Conway Morris states "[r]erun the tape of life as often as you like, and the end result will be much the same." (Life's Solution)
"The capacity to innovate and then transmit the innovative technique - in a word, culture - was once supposed to be one of the things that separated humans from other mammals. The others were language and tool use."
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Typically I avoid posting articles not directly related to scientific discoveries, but this is worth reading. It tells the story of the shameless backlash that occurred when one biologist published a scientific journal article in support of intelligent design. But do be encouraged, it was Thomas Kuhn of Berkeley who said, "Normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none." Is traditional Darwinism frozen in time? Can Darwinism explain the complexity we find in living organisms? Will ID be the next paradigm shift? Only time will tell.
"Evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg made a fateful decision a year ago."
"As editor of the obscure Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Sternberg decided to publish a paper making the case for intelligent design, a controversial theory that holds that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand — subtle or not — of an intelligent creator."
"Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, which has helped fund and run the journal, lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist."
Here's another interesting application of biomimicry.
"Impressed by seagulls’ ability to hover, dive and climb rapidly, Abdulrahim photographed the gulls close-up during flight. The images showed the gulls’ wings flexing at both their shoulder and elbow joints as they altered flight patterns.
"Abdulrahim added this ability in the new prototype, with promising results. With the wings mimicking the gulls’ elbow in the down position, the plane loses stability but becomes highly maneuverable. With the wings in the elbow straight position, it glides well. And with the wings in the elbow up position, it’s highly controllable and easy to land."
Monday, August 22, 2005
Anyone who has worked on AI (artificial intelligence) that controls the movement of robots knows that implementing goal directed behavior is complex. Why should we expect any different from biological implementations?
"Like humans, other animals are faced with everyday obstacles in their physical environments and must engage appropriate decision-making and motor skills to deal with them. Navigating these obstacles can involve highly complex events in mammals and other vertebrates, but in new work, researchers have employed an ingenious obstacle-based system for studying the control and structure of goal-oriented motor programs in the fruit fly Drosophila...
Using noninvasive neurogenetic techniques for the analysis of the underlying motor-control system, Pick and Strauss showed that in order to reach a goal, flies compose complex motor patterns from different behavioral subunits."
Homo erectus is found in the fossil record between about 30k and 2.0 million years ago and ironically, the study of this fossil has been a bit unkind to both young earth creationists and evolutionists. It has shown to be different from modern humans which undermines the notion that they are the same species but also lacks key factors that would distinguish it as an immediate ancestor to modern humans. Consider this quote from Kenneth Mowbray, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, "There's no way modern humans could be direct descendants of Homo erectus. The dating is tricky, but the Java material suggests that H. sapiens and H. erectus overlapped in time. H. erectus can't stay the same and be an ancestor at the same time," he said. "It's possible that there's a side branch in H. erectus, but there's no fossil evidence that can lead us in that direction." [Reference]. Also consider the results from a dental growth rate study, "These findings do not support Homo erectus developmentally as an intermediate between chimplike ancestors and modern humans. Our data also call into question the assumption that a larger body size and a big brain require a longer time to grow." [Reference]
"Archaeologists in the former Soviet republic of Georgia have unearthed a skull they say is 1.8 million years old and part of a find that holds that oldest traces of humankind's closest ancestors ever found in Europe."
Cornell-developed micro-switch uses water droplets for bonding, mimicking palm-beetle's leaf-clinging technique
More biomimicry at work..
"Steen dreamed up the idea of the switch after listening to Cornell entomologist Tom Eisner lecture on palm beetles, which are native to the southeastern United States..."
"When attacked, the palm beetle attaches itself to a leaf until the attacker leaves. It adheres with 120,000 droplets of secreted oil, each making a bridgelike contact between the beetle's feet and the leaf. Each droplet is just a few microns wide. Whereas the beetle controls the oil contacts mechanically, Steen's switch uses water and electricity."
There is really no shortage of amazing features from the field of biology.
"Magnetic orientation is critical to the migratory success of many bird species. By studying the influence of light on the ability of migratory birds to orient to magnetic signals, researchers have found clues to suggest that birds' orientation abilities may be more complex than previously thought and that birds may be able to interpret magnetic signals by more than one mechanism."
The fact that we can routinely derive design inspiration from nature speaks for itself.
''There has been tremendous hope in using nature as an inspiration," said Paul Pospisil, a partner with Atlas Venture, a technology and life sciences venture capital firm in Waltham. ''The question is figuring out how real the application is. The concept is a very good one."
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Detailed study of the cell has revealed a complexity that is inspiring.
"The study, published August 11 in the journal Cell, represents an important step toward understanding the complex network of signals that controls the "cell cycle"--the orderly sequence of events that all cells pass through as they grow to a certain size, copy their chromosomes, and divide into two new cells..."
"Each cell type seems to know when to stop growing and when to divide. "Understanding the mechanisms that determine cell size and shape is one of the long-term goals of this research. I think those mechanisms are going to be very complicated but also very beautiful," Kellogg said."
As we try to mimic the human brain we learn more about its remarkable complexity. It's really hard to fathom why someone would believe that it has originated in an undirected process (i.e. undirected evolution). I mean, what evidence do we have that such a level of complexity can arise without direction? It's certainly not from anything experimental in nature, and it's not from the field of artificial intelligence or mathematics (including information theory).
"Yes, we have 8,000 processors here, which communicate very rapidly with each other like the brain, but it's only 8,000. "The brain has millions and millions and millions, so we need to get to that same size. "But that's only raw power. We then need the knowledge of how to tie these millions of computers together to get to something that works and thinks like a brain does."
While brachiopods have remained largely unchanged over millions of years, there has been some minor evolution with respect to how they attach themselves to the sea floor.
"The find has challenged the assumption that ancient brachiopods were put together in the same way as their modern descendents. The ancient model is unusual because its rootlets are physically tied onto a stick-like object on the sea-floor, most likely to be debris from a dead sea-lily. Some modern brachiopods have rootlets, but they spread out into soft sediment, just as plant roots do."
While creationists and evolutionists battle over the *mechanism* of biological design, often we simply overlook the wonderful finished products that we find in nature. Consider the otter's hair.
"The fins of one hair loosely insert into the grooves between fins of an adjacent hair, thus permitting the hairs to form a web-like pattern that keeps water from the otter’s skin and decreases heat loss. Also, the grooves between fins trap air bubbles, which help increase the thermal insulation of the otter’s coat. Indeed, biologists have observed otters actively blowing air bubbles into their fur while grooming, and their energetic rolling catches air in their fur. “The air insulates like a down jacket,” explains Weisel."
While I am not a proponent of Panspermia Theory, read this commentary from the Cosmic Ancestry site on the PNAS paper titled "Parallel evolution of chimeric fusion gene". We can add this to the evidence that evolution is not a wayward process.
"In each case, the original Adh gene fused with the 5' end of another gene and underwent an "early burst of adaptive amino acid evolution." In this process, "many of the same amino acids changed in all three" proteins. "This striking similarity of substitution cannot be atributed to chance", the biologists believe."
The Roman stadium is mentioned in the writings of Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus is popular because he records one of the earliest non-biblical historical references (AD 93) to Jesus, "About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared." An excellent site on Josephus can be found here.
"Excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have been taking place in Tiberias at three different locations on the Sea of Galilee. Archaeologists discovered a Roman stadium dating back to the first century, which is also mentioned in the writings of Flavius Josephus."
Friday, August 19, 2005
Here we have yet another case of unexpected biological complexity and also a possible case of convergent evolution.
"Insects may possess a hitherto unsuspected molecular complexity in their immune system, comparable to the antibody system of mammals, scientists report online this week in Science. "The number of immune receptors might go from a couple of dozen up to thousands in insects. The complexity there might have really been underestimated," senior author Dietmar Schmucker, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, told The Scientist...
"If this is adaptive immunity in insects, it's probably a case of convergent evolution with mammals," Graveley said. "Both are composed of Ig domains but are very different structurally and involve very different mechanisms of alternative splicing and gene rearrangement. And there is a Dscam homolog in mammals that is not alternatively spliced to an appreciable extent."
Stasis is an undeniable feature of the fossil record. In this piece the alsophila tree is highlighted as a living fossil, not having changed for millions of years.
"The alsophila tree, one of earth's earliest known plants, has a reputation as a "living fossil." The tree is very valuable in the study of the formation and geographical distribution of plant species...
Chinese botanists have discovered large areas of alsophila spinulosa, a rare tree species that has survived since the era when dinosaurs ruled the earth, in Xixia in recent years."
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
The Cambrian Explosion just got a bit more explosive with this find. The rapid appearance of distinct features and body plans is unmatched in the fossil record.
"A strange 525 million-year-old fossil creature is baffling scientists because it does not fit neatly into any existing animal groups."
I'm a huge fan of science that involves empirical study. This has been somewhat lacking from biology, but perhaps if we can model creatures on computers, as is discussed in this article, we can perform experiments with virtual replications. Specificially we should be able to learn definitively whether or not Darwinism is capable of creating specified complexity. Ironically though, before we can virtualize these organisms, we have to deal with understanding their complex nature.
"Many mysteries remain to be solved, and at the moment even a single E.coli may be too complex to re-create in a computer."
Often we think of mankind that lived thousands of years ago as "primitive". While it is true that there are great technological differences between us and them, archaeology has revealed that they demonstrated a level of creative resourcefulness that is on par with us. In this particular case, there is evidence for footwear going back atleast 26,000 years.
"Lacking such physical evidence, Trinkaus analyzed the foot bones of western Eurasian Middle Paleolithic and middle Upper Paleolithic humans. In doing so, he found the anatomy of their feet began to change starting around 26,000 years ago. "I discovered that the bones of the little toes of humans from that time frame were much less strongly built than those of their ancestors while their leg bones remained large and strong," Trinkaus said. "The most logical cause would be the introduction of supportive footwear."
In this article you will see yet another example of stasis - or limited evolutionary change over a long period of time (in this case 50 million years).
"Last year, three vials arrived from far northern Canada for Connecticut College Professor Peter Siver, an expert on lakes and algae. In the vials, suspended in ancient mud, was evidence that the algae that exists today in the ponds of Connecticut and throughout New England are a living fossil...
The fossils, Siver believes, seem to show that while these algae have not undergone fundamental change over the years, they have not been totally static. “The bristles are very, very different from the modern ones,” he said. “We think the bristles evolved from the scales.”
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
The use of biological organisms and biomolecular motors for human applications implicitly speaks to their good design.
"There is considerable interest in harnessing biological motors to perform micro-scale mechanical work."
It was Einstein who said that "The most inconceivable thing about the universe is, that it is conceivable." I also find it peculiar that from our place in this gigantic universe that we actually have theories of the universe's origin. This largely results from the fact that Earth is an ideal viewing platform for studying the universe. And while there are some challenges for studying the universe from our position, as pointed out in this article, there are so many more things that are "just right." Consider this quote from Hans Blumenberg (via the "Privileged Planet") "The combined circumstance that we live on Earth and are able to see stars - that the conditions necessary for life do not exclude those necessary for vision, and vice versa - is a remarkably improbable one. This is because the medium in which we live is, on the one hand, just thick enough to enable us to breathe and to prevent us from being burned up by cosmic rays, while, on the other hand, it is not so opaque as to absorb entirely the light of the stars and block any view of the universe. What a fragile balance between the indispensable and the sublime." Now I'll leave the reader to ponder why this might be this way - but just perhaps the Designer wishes to be known.
"Using the orbiting infrared telescope, the group of astronomers surveyed some 30 million stars in the plane of the galaxy in an effort to build a detailed portrait of the inner regions of the Milky Way. The task, according to Churchwell, is like trying to describe the boundaries of a forest from a vantage point deep within the woods: "This is hard to do from within the galaxy."
Spitzer's capabilities, however, helped the astronomers cut through obscuring clouds of interstellar dust to gather infrared starlight from tens of millions of stars at the center of the galaxy. The new survey gives the most detailed picture to date of the inner regions of the Milky Way."
Here we get a taste of the multi-staged processing of the body's handling of glucose and insulin. This is just one of a countless number of examples of highly integrated systems found in our bodies. And quite frankly, it is hard to imagine how many of these could have evolved a step at a time through random mutations and natural selection. Even if they are not irreducibly complex, they have to be considered very unlikely given a materialistic viewpoint on things.
"Pancreatic b cells have a highly coordinated mechanism that senses rises in blood glucose and converts that information into signals that increase the secretion of insulin, Imai explained. Insulin produced by the pancreas allows cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream and burn it for energy. A failure to make or respond to insulin in people with diabetes causes blood sugar levels to rise."
Surely you've heard the doomsday scenario where the oceans rise to a point where they cover the entire Earth. Well not so fast - as some of the ice melt in the Arctic may be offset by increases in ice in the Antarctic. Proponents of Gaia Hypothesis would not be so surprised at this - neither should ID proponents as our Earth has been able to remain highly habitable for a very long time.
"Most people have heard of climate change and how rising air temperatures are melting glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic," said Dylan C. Powell, co-author of the paper and a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. "However, findings from our simulations suggest a counterintuitive phenomenon. Some of the melt in the Arctic may be offset by increases in sea ice volume in the Antarctic."
Monday, August 15, 2005
Consciousness provides a great challenge to materialistic naturalism. Why should this dynamic that allows us to reflect and see purpose in things just emerge? Why should we *feel* as if we can make decisions? Why do we have a sense of mental self? Questions like these reveal inadequacy in the materialistic paradigm.
As for this article - it contains some interesting thoughts on consciousness, including the views of philosopher David Chalmers:
"According to Chalmers, the subjective nature of consciousness prevents it from being explained in terms of simpler components, a method used to great success in other areas of science. He believes that unlike most of the physical world, which can be broken down into individual atoms, or organisms, which can be understood in terms of cells, consciousness is an irreducible aspect of the universe, like space and time and mass. "Those things in a way didn't need to evolve," said Chalmers. "They were part of the fundamental furniture of the world all along."
The design that is found in nature has inspired one human design after another. In this case, scientists point to the adhesive system of the gecko foot for guidance.
“It is well known that insects such as beetles and reptiles such as geckos have evolved and developed this most effective adhesive system in order to survive,” Dhinojwala says. “The biological system in these creatures has perfected not only the mechanism to attach to steep vertical surfaces but also to detach at will."
One side effect of having a suitable amount of water vapor in the air on Earth is limited scope static discharges. However on Mars and on the Moon things are different. Those planetary bodies are terribly dry because they have not been able to sustain long lived water cycles.
"Static discharge is merely annoying to anyone on Earth living where winters have exceptionally low humidity. But to astronauts on the Moon or on Mars, static discharge could be real trouble.
"On Mars, we think the soil is so dry and insulating that if an astronaut were out walking, once he or she returned to the habitat and reached out to open the airlock, a little lightning bolt might zap critical electronics," explains Geoffrey A. Landis, a physicist with the Photovoltaics and Space Environmental Effects Branch at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio."
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Here's an update on the archaeological dig at Tel Kabri (also known as the city of Rehov mentioned in Joshua 19:28).
"Tel Kabri is one of the largest Bronze Age cities in Israel, and was identified by Kempinski as the city of Rehov mentioned in the Execretion Texts and in Joshua 19:28. Finds to date include: buildings of the Early Bronze Age I; private homes, a family tomb, and the palace built in typical Canaanite style and decorated with a plaster floor and wall paintings in Minoan style; remains of the Phoenician city founded in the 10th century BCE, a casemate wall attributed to the 9th-8th centuries BCE and pottery Neolithic occupation levels that contain decorated sherds as well as imported obsidian from the 5th millennium BCE."
Archaeologists have uncovered a seige trench around Gat - consistent with the war tactics of the Arameans. [Note that it is not my intention to turn this blog into one focused on biblical archaeology - it's just that the news have been endless over the last few weeks and many of you guys appreciate these postings.]
"New evidence regarding the bitter end of Gat, the largest and most important Philistine city, was recently unearthed at a dig at Tel Zafit near the Masmia intersection in the Lachish region. According to Kings II (12:18), Gat was conquered by King Hazael of Aram. He intended to capture Jerusalem as well, but King Jehoash of Judah saved the capital while losing treasure taken from the Temple (Kings II 14:14). Findings at the dig support the biblical version of Gat's demise as described in Kings II."
"An enormous trench surrounded by towers was found at the dig, which was apparently built during the siege of the city. The archaeologists say that findings at the site reveal the unique method employed by the Arameans to seize the city and the destruction that Aramean soldiers left in their wake."
In this article you will see how DuPont is leveraging the base design of E.coli for the creation of plastics and next generation fibers. And while these particular scientists attribute the chemistry of these creatures to evolution, you'll see a healthy respect for their complexity and efficiency.
[Side note: Evolutionary algorithms have indeed been shown to create specified complexity, but only when they have been armed with highly fine tuned (or designed) fitness functions. For more on this, you may want to read my article titled "Learning About Design From Evolutionists".]
"Bacteria and other single-celled microbes already produce a variety of chemicals with less waste and environmental damage than any chemical factory. Now, scientists are learning to modify these organisms to produce useful chemicals for the global market..."
"There's a saying I've seen somewhere," Anton said. "It goes, 'The synthetic chemist wishes he could be as creative as a bacterium.' Coming from a lifetime employee of the world's second-largest chemical company, the proverb carries a whiff of sacrilege... "
"Nature is a better chemist than man," said Barry Marrs, a biochemist who joined DuPont in 1985. Nature has had billions of years to develop wondrous materials such as cartilage, muscle and skin. These tissues are polymers -- long chains of identical molecules -- just like today's plastics. But they are much more complex. In Marrs' view, DuPont's science is a pale imitation of nature."
Saturday, August 13, 2005
This article is about how bioMEMs are moving in the direction of nano. And guess what? They are planning on using biomolecular motors in their designs. Consider this text from the Nano Tsunami page about how UMich researchers are looking into this as well; "Rather than re-invent the nano-motor, scientists and engineers at the University of Michigan are looking at these self-assembled, ultra-efficient, incredibly small, natural motors that exist all around us and within us. Biology uses them widely: in bacteria that swim by spinning their hairlike propeller; in the little levers that pull our muscle fibers tight; and in even smaller motors on the surface of mammalian cells that turn in response to a single proton of electrical current. “These things are machines!” said Michael Mayer, an assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering. “It would be amazing to figure out how to make them.”
"The future of bioMEMS is bright with numerous new avenues being explored. Researchers at the Univ. of Washington, Seattle, for example are looking at biomolecular motors, such as the motor protein kinesin, to act as a force-generating module in hybrid nanodevices. These systems can potentially be used to transport target reagents and create a distributed system of sensing biological agents."
Friday, August 12, 2005
Here's a good article about the polar caps on Mars. In it there are some comparisons between the orbit and tilt of Earth and Mars, both of which affect planet habitability. Consider this text from "Rare Earth" by Ward and Brownlee, "Although our viewpoint is certainly biased, our planet's tilt axis seem to be "just right." Constancy of the tilt angle is a factor that provide long-term stability of Earth's surface temperature. If the polar tilt axis had undergone wide deviations from its present value, Earth's climate would have been much less hospitable for the evolution of higher life forms."
"Earth’s axial tilt, or obliquity, is stabilised by the pull of the Moon on the equatorial bulge and varies by only about 2 degrees from it’s present 23.5 degrees. Mars lacks a satellite of significant mass (it’s two moons are small bodies) and is free to vary it’s obliquity from 15 to 30 degrees. Currently it is 25.1 degrees, which, by a passing coincidence is close to Earth’s.
Mars’ orbital eccentricity also varies. At present it is 0.093, compared to Earth’s 0.016, For Mars the closest point on it’s orbit to the Sun, called perihelion is 209mil km and the furthest point, called aphelion, is 225mil km approximately. These differences naturally affect the amount of heat the polar regions absorb-from the Sun and result in a rhythmically varying climate."
From a scientific perspective, I find it to be most peculiar that humanity has a sense of remorse. I've yet to watch a dog hang his head after stealing a steak from his pal.
"It's human nature to sometimes regret a decision. Now scientists have identified the brain region that mediates that feeling of remorse: the medial orbitofrontal cortex."
While I don't pay too much attention to these studies, they occasionally point out some good points. In this case, this study debunks the notion that only the scientifically ignorant (or "ignint" if you prefer slang) believe in God.
"About two-thirds of scientists believe in God, according to a new survey that uncovered stark differences based on the type of research they do.
The study, along with another one released in June, would appear to debunk the oft-held notion that science is incompatible with religion.
Those in the social sciences are more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than researchers in the natural sciences, the study found."
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Here's a report on some new findings related to vortices in our magnetosphere. Within you will get a feel for the degree of protection it provides for us.
"Large amounts of plasma (a gas of charged particles) and energy are transported through these and other ‘accessible’ regions, to penetrate the magnetosphere - Earth’s natural protective shield. Only less than one percent of all the energy carried by the solar wind and hitting the Earth’s magnetosphere actually manages to sneak through, but it still can have a significant impact on earthly systems, like telecommunication networks and power lines."
Nature is so amazing - even creatures of the plague are wonders. [Of course, farmers that read this blog might beg to differ. :)]
"Until now, it was thought that the directions of these swarms were predominantly directed by prevailing winds. Now, Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientists have shown that a physiological trait of these grasshoppers – namely their polarization vision -- provides them with a built-in source of "surface analysis" – a discovery that could pave the way for efforts to effectively combat this periodic scourge by controlling their natural inclination to fly over land rather than water."
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
The specified complexity involved in biological development is downright staggering. And just to think, this is just the complexity observed in the *simple* C.elegans.
"These results point to a high level of coordination among a relatively small number of molecular machines required for proper early embryonic development in C. elegans," said Fabio Piano, an assistant professor in NYU's Department of Biology, who headed the research team. "This may also be the case for human embryogenesis. The diagrams linking all these genes reveal discrete patterns of interconnections, allowing us to begin to visualize the molecular network underlying a complex process like early embryogenesis as a whole."
While we are largely shielded from cosmic rays on Earth, as we leave the ground it may be that some atmospheric shielding wears off. This should remind us of the protected environment that we find ourselves in. It's no surprise that NASA Astronomer John O'Keefe once said, "[T]o the astronomer, the Earth is a very sheltered and protected place. There is a marvelous picture from Apollo 8 of the blue and cloud-wrapped Earth, seen just at the horizon of the black cratered, torn and smashed lunar landscape. The contrast would not be lost on any creature; the thought 'God loves those people' cannot be resisted."
"The Icelandic researchers found commercial pilots were three times more likely than normal to develop cataracts - clouding of the lens of the eye. Cosmic rays - very energetic particles and radiation which bombard the Earth from outer space - have already been linked to cataracts among astronauts."
The field of biblical archaeology is alive and well. There have been several discoveries over the last month. Here's another one..
“This is one of the most exciting sites I have excavated during my entire archaeological career,” said Gibson this week. “Not only do we have a cave that appears to have been used by a party of baptizers in the 1st century CE, but it would appear that it was chosen for three reasons: for its seclusion, size and antiquity. What baptizers wanted was a place, distant from nearby villages, large enough to contain groups of people coming to be immersed, and ancient enough so that the cultic side of the rituals was put into a context linking them to the time of the Israelite prophets."
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
The prevalence of convergent evolution undermines the notion that evolution is a boundless process. In fact, some of the examples of convergent evolution are so incredible that one cannot help but see teleology in the mechanism. Consider what Simon Conway Morris writes in Life's Solution, "During my time in the libraries I have been particularly struck by the adjectives that accompany descriptions of evolutionary convergence. Words like 'remarkable', 'striking', 'extraordinary', or even 'astonishing' and 'uncanny' are commonplace. It is well appreciated that seldom are the similarities precise, and this in itself is as concrete a piece of evidence for the reality of evolution as can be provided. Even so, the frequency of adjectival surprise associated with descriptions of convergence suggests to me that there is almost a feeling of unease in these similarities. Indeed, I strongly suspect that some of these biologists sense the ghost of teleology looking over their shoulders. The eerinees of convergence is central to how evolution navigates across the combinatorial immensities of biological 'hyperspace'."
In this article, you will see yet another "remarkable" case of convergent evolution.
[As a side note: I have my doubts as to the efficacy of the Darwinian mechanism to bring about convergent evolution. But that doesn't undermine the fact that the view of teleology is gaining prominence.]
"Now, Valerie Clark of Cornell University and her colleagues have detailed two instances of convergent evolution—the process in which organisms not closely related independently acquire similar characteristics while evolving in separate ecosystems—between frogs and ants on two continents. First, species of ants high in alkaloids had to evolve on two separate continents.
"The ants had to be there with alkaloids for the frogs to evolve to get alkaloids in their skin," Clark told LiveScience. Then the frogs had to develop a resistance to the alkaloids—instead of spitting out the ants or passing the alkaloids through their systems, the frogs became able to keep their ant dinners down. Then they evolved to make use of the alkaloids themselves.
Also, both the frogs in South America and Madagascar evolved to have "don’t-eat-me" skin colorings, the final step in a remarkable tale of multi-step convergent evolution."
Here's another case of convergent evolution.
"The difficulty with understanding the true origin of the American "cheetah" is that it had evolved to look similar to the true Old World cheetah because of what is known as convergent evolution - unrelated animals coming to look the same because they occupy the same ecological niche.
"In this case both species of cat had exceptionally long legs, wide nostrils to supercharge their lungs with oxygen and other adaptations for a high-speed chase."
"But both sets of traits had evolved independently on separate continents."
The design of the brain is most fascinating. And just think for a moment, it is this amazing hardware that you've been entrusted with.
"The report, based on recordings of nerve cells in the visual cortex of macaque monkeys, suggests that this automatic processing of images is repeated each time an individual looks at something new, usually three to four times per second. What's more, the brain provides what von der Heydt calls "a sophisticated program" to select and process the information that is relevant at any given moment.
"The result of this organization is an internal data structure, quite similar to a database, that allows the attention mechanism to work efficiently," von der Heydt said. "An image can be compared with a bag of thousands of little Lego blocks in chaotic order. To pay attention to an object in space, the visual system first has to arrange this bag of blocks into useful 'chunks' and provide threads by which one or the other chunk can be pulled out for further processing."
Detailed study of the microbiological world contains to reveal the majesty of nature. In this case, we see that Geobacter transfers electrons from its environment with the use of nanowires.
Lovley discovered the bacteria in the mid-1980s, and the organisms have been thoroughly studied, so finding the thin conducting nanowires emanating from their outer coat was unexpected. But it explains Geobacter's ability to remove metals from soil and water. A key step in its metabolism is the transfer of electrons from its interior to metals in its surroundings. Until now, it was unknown how Geobacter accomplished the task.
The Department of Energy has been the main supporter of Lovley's work over the past two decades. "The microbial world never stops surprising us," said Aristides Patrinos, associate director of the DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. "This discovery illustrates the continuing relevance of the physical sciences to today's biological investigations."
Another confirmation of the historicity of scriptures..
"Scholars have said that there wasn't a Pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious conceit'' to illustrate a point, said New Testament scholar James H. Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary. ``Now we have found the Pool of Siloam . . . exactly where John said it was.''
A Gospel that was thought to be ``pure theology is now shown to be grounded in history,'' he said.
Monday, August 08, 2005
Micro RNAs were once considered "junk DNA". Over the years, we have learned that they play important biological roles. In this article, we see that they play a role in oogenesis. [For a good explanation of how micro RNAs "Got Lost in the Shuffle", see this page.]
"We found the first evidence that miRNAs are involved in oogenesis, and this adds an extra layer of complexity that needs to be explored if we are to understand how development is regulated," said Jonathan Minden, associate professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon and one of the paper's authors.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
In Life's Solution, Morris makes the case that the evolutionary process is really a process, one that drives and has driven towards the end goal of the creation of intelligent beings with an unmistakeable spiritual nature. With this book, he forcibly challenges the materialistic notion that the evolutionary mechanism is wayward. He believes that if one re-ran the tape of life history over again that you would see very similar forms emerge. Morris bases his argumentation on the great frequency of observed convergent evolution which implies that evolution is highly constrained. [Convergent evolution is the independent evolution of a similar behavior, feature, or biological structure in two or more unrelated species.] He points to numerous examples where convergence is so remarkable that "biologists sense the ghost of teleology looking over their shoulders."
While this book may be too technical for the average layperson, I would highly recommend this book for the person of scientific ilk that has an interest in origins. It is terrific.
Here's an outstanding article in The American Spectator on the Intelligent Design movement. This should be considered mandatory reading for all you reporters and writers covering this issue. It precisely describes who the players are, what Intelligent Design is, and provides some technical details supporting the notion. [And by the way, if you haven't guessed already the title is about the flagella.]
"How could this vast amount of complex specified information come about without intelligence? The problem for Darwinian theory is particularly acute with respect to the origins of life. But even after life gets underway, random variation and natural selection can't conceivably generate the magnitude of information necessary, the ID theorists argue."
When I first opened this link, I was very surprised to see that the Creation Scientist mentioned within was Dr. Rana from Reasons To Believe, a ministry I've been in support of for some time. He makes the statement that Intelligent Design is not falsifiable. Perhaps this is true when ID is considered as a theoretical framework, however there are testable claims made by ID theorists. For example, William Dembski puts forth a Design Filter (you can read about it on my Discerning Design Page) that is falsifiable. If an object that has not been designed through intelligent agency passes the filter, the filter concept fails. Also in the book, The Privileged Planet, there are testable claims made regarding the Privileged Planet Hypothesis. The authors write "the most decisive way to falsify our argument as a whole would be to find a distant and very different environment that, while quite hostile to life, nevertheless offers a superior platform for making as many diverse scientific discoveries as does our local environment."
But this is all good - we're allowed to disagree.
"Dr. Fazale Rana, vice president for science apologetics of the organization Reasons to Believe, said in his statement, “As currently formulated, Intelligent Design is not science. It is not falsifiable and makes no predictions about future scientific discoveries.”
There has been a lot of news regarding biblical archaeology lately - but this bit of news is more speculative than the other findings.
"An Israeli archeologist says she has uncovered in east Jerusalem what she believes may be the fabled palace of the biblical King David. Her work has been sponsored by the Shalem Center, a neoconservative think tank in Jerusalem, and funded by a American Jewish investment banker who would like to help provide scientific support for the Bible as a reflection of Jewish history."
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Everything about the cell is complicated - even the activity in and around the cell membrane, which is made of "wonderfully architected" proteins. It's no surprise that the great thinker John von Neumann once said, "I shudder at the thought that highly purposive organizational elements, like the protein, should originate in a random process." (Reference: Artificial Life)
"The cell membrane is the crossroads of busy, two-way "traffic" through which materials and impulses travel into and out of the cell. The fatty cell membrane is impenetrable to most of these materials and signals; and it is therefore the proteins within the membranes that are responsible for the communication between the cell and its environment..."
"In this way we were able to reveal the wonderful architecture of the membrane protein, which was unknown before," said Prof. Padan. "In the center of the protein we found a wide funnel which extends into the cell. The funnel narrows and ends at the point at which it binds with the sodium or the hydrogen deep within the cell membrane. Near that point two chains of the protein unite into a unique structure..."
"The researchers believe that this unique structure is the basis for the activity of the protein. The protein operates as a kind of pump, utilizing energy which it receives from processes taking place within the cell. The protein structure thus acts as a kind of molecular motor. This "motor" is connected to the area found at the mouth of the funnel that apparently conveys signals to "modulate" the motor according to the acidity within the cell. The result is that the protein's activity is controlled in accordance with the needs of the cell in relation to its acidic and basic levels."
This is evidence for a metaphysical nature to humanity. What you believe and the people that you hang around with really matters. Oh, and having a God that provides healing and comfort helps too. :)
"A medical researcher is changing the heart of the medical community with a simple, yet profound message that faith is good for your health. Harold Koenig has found a clear relationship between faith and health, one that he has dubbed "the healing connection."
"Bottom line, Koenig said, is "as long as you are here on this earth, God has a purpose for your life. That purpose is not sitting around just existing. That purpose involves ministry to others. It's when people do that, that people get healthier."
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Any system that is highly integrated is difficult to understand by isolating the behavior of individual parts. So while a reductionist view has value, a systems view probably is necessary to gain a complete understanding of such systems.
"In their efforts to understand the complex biology of life, scientists often seek to isolate individual elements of the puzzle for study, to break the problem down to a more manageable size. Single genes and molecules are closely analyzed to better understand their specific interactions with other single entities within larger systems. Sometimes, however, this approach misses important aspects of biology that depend on higher levels of organization..."
"Aiming for insights into the intricate biochemistry governing gene regulation, the scientists investigated the activity of a recently discovered enzyme pivotally involved in this process..."
"What the scientists found was that while the enzyme was able to demethylate its target histone when the pair was in isolation, it was unable to do so when the histone was placed in the more complex and realistic setting of a nucleosome. They then coupled the enzyme with other molecules with which it is known to complex to discover that one of them enabled the enzyme to act upon the histone and is, in fact, required for the enzyme’s effectiveness in vivo."
Although I'm not a believer in the Shroud, I feel compelled to let readers know that this is going on. Well see what comes out of this conference.
"The Dallas International Shroud of Turin Conference, a scientific gathering for presenting research papers on what is thought to be the 2,000-year old burial cloth of the historic Jesus, will meet Sept. 8 to 11 in Dallas.
The gathering of scientists and scholars is expected to shed new light on the age-old question of whether the image on the Shroud is a visible projection of Christ’s resurrection, as some believers claim, or a clever medieval fake."
This article is about the work that is going on to map protein to protein interactions. As you can see, there's an appreciation for the grand complexity associated with these networks and a recognition of biological design patterns. [Folks, the evidence for biological design is really overwhelming. In my view, the truely relevant question is what is this mechanism of design and what purpose can we infer from the study of design.]
"Optimists argue that a complete map of protein-protein interactions gives scientists a picture of what's actually happening in a cell, exposes patterns they otherwise wouldn't see, and generates hypotheses that can be tested in more focused experiments. Pessimists counter that, due to the mind-bogglingly complex nature of the human cell, any interactome will be riddled with errors, and practically pointless, since most scientists don't have the tools to make use of the entire network anyway..."
"Scientists are just beginning to look at model organism interactomes from this perspective, he says, studying how connections between existing network components are rewired and how new components are recruited to the network. "We're starting to learn the design patterns of biological networks, how complex systems are built from simpler, modular components," Bader says."
There are many factors that throw cold water on the notion that our planet has been seeded with life by alien life. The danger of cosmic rays in space travel is just one of them.
Little known fact: Did you know that our planet's atmosphere provides us a level of shielding from cosmic rays that is equivalent to what would be provided by a 13 foot layer of concrete? (Reference)
"The radiation encountered on a journey to Mars and back could well kill space travellers, experts have warned. Astronauts would be bombarded by so much cosmic radiation that one in 10 of them could die from cancer."
Here's a fascinating piece about the navigational system of monarch butterflies.
While "navigation" systems in automobiles are a fairly new (and still costly) innovation, monarch butterflies have managed for millennia to navigate their way for a distance of some 3000 miles (4800 kilometers) each fall from Canada to Mexico (and vice-versa in the spring) without losing their way.
The following text is from a Reasons to Believe mailing. Much to the chagrin of Big Bang doubters, this describes a resolution to the CBR anomaly.
A team of American and Canadian astronomers has demonstrated greater consistency for the biblically predicted big bang creation model and stronger evidence for the exquisite fine-tuning of the universe for the support of life, and humanity in particular. The best cosmic background radiation (the radiation left over from the creation event) maps reveal an anomaly in that power levels for very high "multipole" values are slightly higher than what standard big bang creation models would predict. The team showed that these higher values are well explained in the context of inflationary hot big bang creation models by the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect (the scattering of cosmic background radiation photons by hot electrons within the seeds of future clusters of galaxies). This resolution of the only important anomaly in the cosmic background radiation maps significantly strengthens the case for the biblically predicted big bang creation model and enhances astronomersí confidence that the cosmic density parameters indeed manifest evidence for extraordinary fine-tuning design.
- J. R. Bond et al., "The Sunyaev-Zeldovich Effect in CMB-Calibrated Theories Applied to the Cosmic Background Imager Anistropy Power at l>2000," Astrophysical Journal 626 (2005): 12-30.
If I had a dime for every time that a biological system was found to be more "complicated than previously thought" I'd be rich. The relevant question in origins however is whether or not we can expect this sort of complexity to arise without intelligent influence. Of course, I'm convinced that intelligence is required. What is less clear to me however is whether the intelligent influence has been infused into a highly specified fitness function (such as what would be necessary for directed or constrained evolution) or exhibited through supernatural means.
"The brain may interpret the information it receives from sensory neurons using a code more complicated than scientists previously thought, according to new research from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory."
Recently there have been several finds that support the notion of the Biblical scriptures as historically reliability. Here's another...[BTW: Here's a link to an article on the same find, but one that doesn't require a registration, "Royal Seal Unearthed in City of David".]
"A royal seal dating to biblical times has been unearthed in the City of David by Israeli archaeologists, and the artifact's inscription supports Old Testament depictions of ancient Jerusalem."