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.
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