Discoveroids: Artificial Enzyme = Intelligent Design

A few days ago, one of our clandestine operatives (code name “Big Red”) told us about this news release from the University of Minnesota: University of Minnesota researchers unveil first artificial enzyme created by evolution in a test tube.

It appears to us that the researchers created a new enzyme in a test tube using what is called a genetic algorithm — a research technique that mimics the process of natural evolution. Unfortunately, the news release doesn’t make use of that term. It says, with our bold font:

[D]irected evolution involves producing a large quantity of candidate proteins and screening several generations to produce one with the desired function. With this approach, the outcome isn’t limited by current knowledge of enzyme structure.

“Just as in nature, only the fittest survive after each successive generation,” Seelig explains. [That’s Burckhard Seelig, the lead researcher.] The process continues until it produces an enzyme that efficiently catalyzes a desired biochemical reaction. In this case, the new enzyme joins two pieces of RNA together.”

[...]

For decades, naturally occurring enzymes have been tweaked by industry to make industrial processes and products more effective. The ability to create enzymes from scratch using a natural process opens the door to a vast array of new products that provide business opportunities and improve quality of life without harmful environmental effects.

Here’s a link to the paper in Nature Chemical Biology, but you’ll need a subscription to read it: Structure and dynamics of a primordial catalytic fold generated by in vitro evolution.

Our operative noticed that the technique used by the researchers was termed “directed evolution” — a poor choice of words — and he predicted that creationists would be jumping all over it. Your Curmudgeon decided to wait until some creationist group fulfilled our agent’s expectations. And now that has happened.

At the blog of the Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — we found this predictable item: Need We Say It? “Directed Evolution” Is a Contradiction in Terms.

Their article is one big sloppy exercise in quote-mining — in this case involving the phrase “directed evolution” — and then twisting and churning things to make it seem as if this is some kind of evidence for their magical designer. (After all, if humans design things, that means the celestial designer exists and he designs things too, right?) We’ll give you a few excerpts from their shabby article, with bold font added by us:

Behold this curious headline: “First Artificial Enzyme Created by Evolution in a Test Tube.” If it was “created” by evolution, the term “evolution” has surely lost all meaning.

That’s how they start. The mindless word games get steadily worse:

The candidate proteins were “screened” to “produce” one with the “desired function.” If screening something for a desired function is not rational design, what is it? It is certainly not neo-Darwinism, which of course has neither plan, desire, nor function.

That’s cute — in a grade-school playground way — but it totally misses the point that the enzyme literally produced itself. The researchers merely watched for the appearance of what they were looking for. The Discoveroids relentlessly go on:

This is not “natural selection and evolution.” It is artificial selection — a form of intelligent design. Artificial selection implies intelligent minds selecting roses, cattle, dogs or any other living organisms for a “desired function.” It doesn’t matter if the intelligent agent works by creating a random pool to select from, or outlines a carefully planned sequence of rational steps: selection by a mind for a purpose is intelligent design.

From the Discoveroid babbling, we are supposed to conclude that their mythical intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is up there in the sky (or maybe on the Moon) and he’s doing for our DNA what the lab researchers did with their enzyme. It’s just so obvious! Or is it? The Discoveroids continue:

This has nothing to do with neo-Darwinism, which has no desires. A breeder can make anything “survive” if he selects it and only allows his selection to reproduce. Seelig is employing intelligent design from start to finish. If he kept his interfering hands to himself and let nature take its course, would his enzymes compete in the soil or the ocean? If he were truly “following the principles of natural selection and evolution,” he would have to cast the ingredients out into the world and walk away.

Okay, that’s enough from the Discoveroids. After all the spinning, what remains is the naked fact that this research shows how the process of mutation and selection can produce new and novel biological forms — no miracles required. If it can happen in a lab in a relatively short time, surely nature can achieve the same thing — after all, nature has the whole planet and millions of years to play with. No magical designer needs to descend from the heavens.

And when life is created in a lab — as it almost surely will — the Discoveroids will go into denial mode by saying the same thing: According to them, everything done in the lab (or that appears in nature) is evidence of intelligent design.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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14 responses to “Discoveroids: Artificial Enzyme = Intelligent Design

  1. This is simply another example of the DI’s hysteria over Dawkins’ “Weasel” program. In that case Dawkins wrote a little program that randomly mutated a string of characters and passed on to successive generations those letters that corresponded to the target phrase, “methinks it is a weasel.” Although the computer code is clear, the DI always maintained that “somehow” the program latched the conforming characters, which the program didn’t do. Then the DI said, well, the program “virtually” latched the characters, which the program didn’t do. The DI just couldn’t accept that the little BASIC demo program actually demonstrated in a simple way how natural selection worked. They STILL grumble about it!

    So, any time a laboratory does an experiment the DI shouts INTELLIGENT DESIGN! It’s totally stupid, of course, but that’s the DI’s MO – totally stupid.

    You will note that the DI only gripes about science. Always a gripe.

    Hey, you scientists, get off my lawn! That’s the Tooters! Oh, and Hitler.

  2. This kind of thing makes me glad the Flat Earthers don’t have financial backing.

  3. doodlebuggersouthof the borderthisweek

    Awesome post and hilarious…..At what point in the discover asteroid´s lives did someone drop them down a flight of stairs and then remove the last shred of integrity they might have.
    I have a mind,,, to wonder how anyone can look at actual reserach and then try to twist it into something its not and then look at themselves in the mirror without retching??? Cat 4.
    Speaking of twisting, Cargill at SBOE says she has an M.S. but apparently TWU doesn´t have one of those in science ed. Its an ed degree´.
    Which probably explains why she, like the discover asteroid who wrote the article SC references, thinks they have the intellectual capacity to simply redefine the scientific method.
    Bizarre stuff…………

  4. Remember how the Discovernaughts like to say Hitler must be a Darwinist because he practiced eugenics?

    This is not “natural selection and evolution.” It is artificial selection — a form of intelligent design. Artificial selection implies intelligent minds selecting roses, cattle, dogs or any other living organisms for a “desired function.” It doesn’t matter if the intelligent agent works by creating a random pool to select from, or outlines a carefully planned sequence of rational steps: selection by a mind for a purpose is intelligent design.

    Right. OK, Nazi eugenics was “intelligent design” and Hitler was a proponent of intelligent design.

    This has nothing to do with neo-Darwinism, which has no desires.

    Again, you win. Nazism and eugenics had nothing to do with evolution, and everything to do with Intelligent Design, which explains why major Nazis never mentioned Darwinism (except to denounce it) and why conservative Christians supported Nazism.

  5. Standard Creationist Argument: If laboratory results don’t show the appearance of new complexity, that disproves evolution, because real science must be reproducable in the lab. If laboratory results do show the appearance of new complexity, that disproves evolution, because all lab experiments are intelligently designed.

  6. Artificial Selection/breeding is a process where humans select members of a species with desirable traits to reproduce and generate offspring with the same desirable traits. In this study, however, a parent protein with no enzymatic activity was left to mutate on its own in random fashion. A series of such mutations eventually generated a novel RNA ligase enzyme. Dishonesty institute foolishly ignores this fundamental difference.

    What’s more, this novel enzyme has a new crude structure that’s unlike modern-day proteins, demonstrating that crudely-folded proteins can still be functional. So the earliest proteins on earth may have adopted such primitive fold structures, in the absence of chaperones and other elaborate protein-folding machinery. The dishonesty institute is asking to throw the samples into nature. Such unprotected biomolecules will be instantly devoured by life on today’s earth. But that wouldn’t have been the case when the first proteins evolved on the primordial earth.

    Now, don’t expect the Dishonesty institute to accept facts. After all, they are paid to fight tooth & nail against real science in order to satisfy their funding bodies’ vested interests.

  7. Diogenes says: “Nazism and eugenics had nothing to do with evolution, and everything to do with Intelligent Design”

    When confronted with something like that, creationists always have a way out. They look at you as if you were the idiot in the debate and they declare: “That’s different!”

  8. Are the IDiots now changing their story? It used to be that ID was all about things that looked irreducibly complex, by which they mean no step-by-step evolutionary sequence has proven and thus it must have been directly designed by a supernatural entity. Now, they are saying that selection from a population of naturally varying molecules is ID. If that is the case, then ID explains the diversity of life by the designer stepping in and screening life forms on a regular basis to select for desired outcomes – and maybe tossing an asteroid at the whole system now and then. Or a flood.

  9. @Ed: Good catch. It’s always so much fun to watch them moving the goalposts.

    @Docbill: It’s a little more than just hysteria over the Weasel algorithm, because now there is a demonstration it actually works on a chemical/biological basis, and not just in a computer program.

    There a fun little game based on the Weasel algorithm. It’s a simple way to understand how the process works.

  10. I’ll copy my comment from Sandwalk, in opposition to creationist Andre Gross, who right now is citing this very paper on in vitro evolution as an example of “Intelligent Design.”

    ID creationists are amazingly audacious in trying to cite lab experiments of de novo enzyme evolution via Darwinian methods, as an example of “Intelligent Design”!

    Creationists have been pooping their pants for decades each time a study like that comes out, where new complexity and new function and new sequences and new INFORMATION are CREATED by Darwinian algorithms.

    Response: they just totally redefine the scientific method. Like many losers, they just change the rules.

    Here’s creationist logic.

    Creationist: “Evolution is disproven, because new complexity and new function NEVER appear by random mutation and selection in lab experiments!”

    Scientist: “Here are a dozen experiments where new complexity and new function appeared by random mutation and selection in lab experiments.”

    Creationist: “Evolution is disproven, because because new complexity and new function OFTEN appear by random mutation and selection in lab experiments! After all, all lab experiments are intelligently designed.

    Hmm. That’s not what creationists said before the 1960′s, before the time when scientists had many examples, in vitro, in silico, and in nature, of evolution of new complexity.

    The creationists have totally redefined every part of the scientific method.

    In the 1950′s, before we had so many examples of new complexity and new function evolving in lab experiments, creationists cited that to DISPROVE evolution.

    The creationist argument, up to about, say, late 1960′s, was:

    “If something happens reproducibly in the lab, that proves it is a NATURAL process. Evolution of new complexity CANNOT be seen in lab experiments, therefore evolution is disproven.”

    But starting from the 1970′s onward, creationists started pooping their pants as scientists produced example after example of evolution of new complexity. The creationist argument then became:

    “If something happens reproducibly in the lab, that proves it is an INTELLIGENTLY DESIGNED process. Evolution of new complexity CAN be seen in lab experiments, therefore evolution is disproven.”

    Now the first step in this sort of experiment, typically, is to add a mutagen to increase the rate of totally random mutations. Explain to me, creationists, how increasing the rate of random mutations is “intelligent design”?

  11. Borny wrote

    What’s more, this novel enzyme has a new crude structure that’s unlike modern-day proteins, demonstrating that crudely-folded proteins can still be functional.

    Put that together with the recent demonstration by Richard Lenski’s group that a
    new metabolic function not only evolved
    in their long-term experiment, but that over succeeding generations that new function was honed by evolution to become more efficient. So the ‘crudely-folded’ proteins can be honed over generations to become more effective.

  12. Here’s the relevant quotation from the paper linked above:

    The origin of the Cit+ function also had profound consequences for the ecology and subsequent evolution of that population. This new capacity was refined over the next 2,000 generations, leading to a massive population expansion as the Cit+ cells evolved to exploit more efficiently the abundant citrate in their environment.

    Of equal interest is the fact that the new critters didn’t completely displace the ancestral critter–there was frequency-dependent selection that maintained some of the ancestors in the population. That is, biodiversity increased in the lab,

  13. RBH says: “Of equal interest is the fact that the new critters didn’t completely displace the ancestral critter”

    Yeah, but that was by design. It still doesn’t explain why are there still monkeys.