Martin Cohn: Outstanding Developmental Biologist

IF you want a real-world example of what separates the scientists from the creationists, this is probably as good as it gets. We found a press release from the University of Florida: UF scientist tapped by Howard Hughes Medical Institute to pursue ‘best ideas’. For some reason there’s a copyright notice at the bottom. Anyway, here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

A University of Florida scientist whose interest in embryonic development and evolution led him to discover the molecular building blocks that shape appendages ranging from feet to flippers was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist today (Thursday, March 26), a distinction given to only 50 researchers in the United States.

Who is he? What has he done? Let’s read on:

Martin Cohn, a developmental biologist and a member of the UF Genetics Institute, became the only Florida scientist to be selected for the competitive HHMI program, placing UF in the company of research institutions such as Stanford University, Harvard University and The Johns Hopkins University.


His findings have led to new levels of understanding of evolutionary processes and shed light on human problems such as birth defects.

“I realized that if I wanted to understand how animal form changes during evolution, such as how the skeleton evolved or how snakes lost their legs, I had to understand development, because that’s when the genetic blueprint for the body is being executed,” Cohn said.

No “irreducible complexity”? No “purposeful arrangement of parts”? No supernatural interventions? It’s obvious that Dr. Cohn will never be honored by a certain “think tank” in Seattle.

We continue:

He began by studying chick embryos, a classic scientific model of limb development. At University College London, he discovered that the embryonic master switch for limb formation was a multifunctional protein called fibroblast growth factor. The finding, published in the journal Cell, was later proven true for other animals, including people.

After finding the trigger, Cohn set out to find what determines the precise positioning of limbs, such as hands on the ends of arms at the shoulders, and feet on the ends of legs protruding from the trunk.

His research led him to the Hox family of genes, which direct the formation of body structures in organisms ranging from worms to people. His work showing that Hox9 genes determine where limbs develop along the trunk was published in the journal Nature in 1997. He went on to discover the molecular basis for loss of limbs during snake evolution and the role of Hox genes in the origin of jaws — findings that were published in Nature in 1999 and 2002.

Click over to the University of Florida site and read the whole press release. Then compare the work of this one man to the entire output of creationism for the past 5,000 years. Now you understand why creationists will forever be outside of science, complaining that they’re being “expelled” from teaching positions, babbling their nonsense, and demanding that we “Teach the controversy!”

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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4 responses to “Martin Cohn: Outstanding Developmental Biologist

  1. The Gadfly

    If I were just starting out in biology, Developmental Biology is where I’d be. I predict 20% of the Nobels will be in that area over the next 50 years (not that I’ll get to gee if I’m right).

  2. The Gadfly says: “If I were just starting out in biology, Developmental Biology is where I’d be.”

    If Cohn’s career is any indication, it certainly seems to be where a lot of the action is.

  3. This and chemist John D. Sutherland’s theory of how nucleotides may have first assembled in the wild to form the basic, molecular encoding for biological information — i.e, the origin of life without a supernatural explanation — it’s an awsome week for the science guys and their fans.
    Nan Erwin — just an old English major.

  4. You know, reading that I was struck by how old those discoveries were. Then I read the part about them being dated just over a decade ago. The knowledge certainly spread fast, the book “Your Inner Fish” discussed the role of Sonic Hedgehog in limb development quite a lot when discussing the fish-amphibian-reptile-mammal transition.

    How time flies. Meanwhile, the discoveroids still haven’t finished On the Origin of the Species as they routinely make arguments that Darwin dealt with in the 19th century. Maybe they’ll figure it out before the 22nd century if they’re still around then.