Meet Your Ancestor — The Roundworm

This is the sort of thing that drives creationists crazy. At EurekAlert, the online news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we found Shared genetics in humans and roundworms shed light on infertility, Rutgers study finds.

Even the title will infuriate the gentle creationist folk. Shared genetics? That’s horrible! They’ll be shouting: I ain’t no kin to no roundworm! But it appears that they are. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

In a study published in Current Biology, Andrew Singson, a professor in the Department of Genetics in the School of Arts and Sciences, and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health and the College of William and Mary in Virginia, identified a protein, SPE-45, on the sperm of C. elegan [sic] worms that help bind sperm to eggs during fertilization. It is the same as the Izumo protein considered essential for humans and other mammals to reproduce that was discovered a decade ago by Japanese scientists who named it after a marriage shrine in Japan.

Wikipedia has a write-up on that species: Caenorhabditis elegans. They say it’s “a free-living (not parasitic), transparent nematode (roundworm), about 1 mm in length, that lives in temperate soil environments.”

This is the paper EurekAlert is talking about: Forward Genetics Identifies a Requirement for the Izumo-like Immunoglobulin Superfamily spe-45 Gene in Caenorhabditis elegans Fertilization. You need a subscription to see more than the abstract, so we’ll stay with EurekAlert. They say:

“Humans and worms are connected by a common ancestor that lived more than 700 million years ago and this discovery will give us insight into their shared genetics and fertility pathways,” said Singson, a principal investigator at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology.

The creationists are squirming. Let’s read on:

The research suggests that a common ancestor to both worms and humans had a SPE-45/Izumo-like gene that was required for sperm to function properly at fertilization, said Singson, who has been researching the biological process of fertility for the past two decades.

“Twenty years ago when we started this research, we predicted that we would find the genes that are required for fertility from worms to humans,” said Singson. “Now we know that this kind of molecule functions the same way beyond the mammalian branch of the tree of life.”

Humbug!” say the creationists. “All this proves is that the designer likes to use his designs over and over.” Uh huh, and so does evolution. Skipping some discussion of infertility, we continue:

“The protein works like molecular Velcro and helps the sperm and egg bind and fuse,” said Singson. “This type of finding can play an indispensable role in understanding the biological process.”

Here’s one more excerpt:

Since studying human infertility directly is very challenging due to many ethical and experimental limitations, making a genetic connection between worms and humans will help in future treatments because scientists can do experiments in worms to learn more about the function of Izumo-like molecules that they cannot do in mammals, Singson said.

We’ll be looking to see if the usual creationist websites bother to even mention this research. In all likelihood, they’ll just ignore it. The thought that we may be related to roundworms is … well, it’s a bit more than they can handle.

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18 responses to “Meet Your Ancestor — The Roundworm

  1. Off topic, but the magazine “Skeptic” current issue has a multi-article spread on Alfred Wallace, very interesting.

  2. “The designer likes to use his designs over and over”–yes, I’ve heard that one from creationists to explain anatomical and physiological similarities between, say, humans and chimps that even they can’t ignore.

    Too bad for them that the same could be said of evolution. If there is essentially no difference between a claim made by real scientists and one made by creationists, look at the rest of the picture to tell which is the da Vinci and which is the cartoon.

  3. Charles Deetz ;)

    But what about cases with asexual reproduction, good thing that was designed in case the sticky stuff didn’t work. The designer covering his bases… except when reproduction goes bad and we get birth defects and mutations. Oh and cases where animals switch from asexual to sexual reproduction … got things covered there, the designer did. Oh, and where some animals fertilize thousands of eggs because of high mortality. Yep, he designed all these different reproduction systems, then spread them out amongst all his creation where it made the most sense.

  4. Sir, with the most grovelling and obsequious respect, may I advance the (probably pedantic) quibble that the roundworms referred to in this study are not our ancestors, and that no roundworm is or could be. The humble life-forms we see around us are our very distant cousins. I can only submit for your august attention the possibility that your headline might perhaps be amended.

  5. I think it is more interesting that we are related to echinoderms. It seems obvious to me that once we were worms.

  6. Dave has anticipated me. Not your ancestor, your cousin. Giving evidence to a Scottish Parliament committee meeting, I told a Member of the Scottish Parliament that he was second cousin to a monkey and fourth cousin to a mushroom. (I think the other Members present rather enjoyed the moment – he did not)

  7. May I assume, PaulB, that said not-amused Member was a professing christian? If yes he showed an almost blasphemous lack of christian humility …..

  8. Yes he was, but so were other members of the committee who were sympathetic to our (partly successful) efforts to keep creationism out of Scottish schools. He was a pompous ass, trying to insinuate that the science of evolution was contentious, and I think more concerned with pleasing fundamentalist constituents than with personal conviction.

  9. Dave Luckett says: “may I advance the (probably pedantic) quibble that the roundworms referred to in this study are not our ancestors …”

    You’re right, of course. I was trying for a headline with shock value for the creationists. “Cousin” would be better. Or I could have said “relative.”

  10. We have common DNA with worms is true even for xtians! Because how did we get here?? Well this incompetent designer, made us in its image by using worm schite (dirt) and molding it into Adam. And as any biologist will tell you, when you crap, lots of your DNA goes with it!!!!

  11. I find it very interesting that these worms were reproducing sexually more than 700 million years ago. I’m very curious — what is the earliest evidence of sexual reproduction? I was assuming it was sometime during the Cambrian, but I don’t know what I was basing that assumption on.

  12. Completely off-topic:
    Michael Egnor and VJ Torley have a discussion about perception and the faithfull at Uncommon Descent are at each other’s throats.
    Egnor reacted, so did Torley

    [Try this for Torley’s reaction: Professor Michael Egnor’s incredible claim about perception]

    To be quite honest, I don’t even understand what Michael Egnor is claiming. But the comments section at both UD blogposts is quite revealing.

    I hope I didn’t mess up the html codes, he said hopefully…

  13. Well, I should have researched before asking the question. This is from Wikipedia –(

    “In the eukaryotic fossil record, sexual reproduction first appeared by 1.2 billion years ago in the Proterozoic Eon.[59] All sexually reproducing eukaryotic organisms derive from a single-celled common ancestor.”[1][51][60][61]

    1) Letunic, I; Bork, P (2006). “Interactive Tree of Life”. Retrieved 23 July 2011.

    51) Bernstein H, Bernstein C, Michod RE (2011). “Meiosis as an evolutionary adaptation for DNA repair.” In “DNA Repair”, Intech Publ (Inna Kruman, editor), Chapter 19: 357-382 DOI: 10.5772/1751 ISBN 978-953-307-697-3 Available online from:

    59) Nicholas J. Butterfield, “Bangiomorpha pubescens n. gen., n. sp.: implications for the evolution of sex, multicellularity, and the Mesoproterozoic/Neoproterozoic radiation of eukaryotes”

    60) Bernstein H, Bernstein C; Bernstein (2010). “Evolutionary origin of recombination during meiosis”. BioScience 60 (7): 498–505. doi:10.1525/bio.2010.60.7.5

    61) LODÉ T (2011). “Sex is not a solution for reproduction: the libertine bubble theory”. BioEssays 33 (6): 419–422. doi:10.1002/bies.201000125

  14. @PaulB: “but so were other members”
    Of course. The fact that Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins are professing christians never escapes me.

    “He was a pompous ass”
    Ie displaying an almost blasphemous lack of christian humility.

    @Janssen: Egnor and Torley are doing cutting edge creascience. They approach a problem that has been solved by methological naturalism long ago with metaphysical methods that were put into use in the pre-scientific era. Or as less sympatethic critics like to say: they are trying to determine how many angels can dance on the tip of a needle.
    Key: according to them “perception” belongs to the supernatural reality. We materialist Darwinist Hitlerist Stalinist evilutionists of course are far beneath the required level to grasp the subtleties of such a breathtaking discourse. Better to remain silent.

  15. I think that is very unfair to people interested in the number of angels who could dance on the head of a needle. Ratios of infinitesimals?

  16. The bigger puzzle is, how many pins can be stuck in the end of an angel?

  17. @Megalonyx: I was going to answer your tongue-in-cheek question with the straightforward answer “None”, since angels are nonexistent in reality; occurring only in our imagination.

    But then I thought, “What if angels really do exist? Could they be all around us, undetectable but having mass? Could they be what makes up Dark Matter? And the ‘wind’ from the angels’ wings would be Dark Energy?”

    Then I thought, “Nah.”

  18. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    @Eddie Janssen

    Unfortunately your link to Torley’s first response is wanked. There’s an extra character at the end of the url which for some reason or another kicks you to a UD article written on October 21, 2013. Kinda funny actually. Perhaps Curm will grace your post with a demonstration of his omnipresence.

    Here’s a good link assuming my luck holds better than yours.
    (Yo WordPress, how ’bout some preview/edit functionality?)

    Professor Michael Egnor’s incredible claim about perception