Feature Article - June 2014
by Do-While Jones

Jellyfish, Kiwis, and Moa

DNA analysis continues to be a problem for evolutionists.

DNA analysis, once expected to be the proof evolutionists needed to prove their theory, routinely presents difficult problems for evolutionists. Several recent articles about jellyfish in the journal Nature, and an article on southern hemisphere birds in Science, are two of the latest examples. The articles in Nature about the DNA analysis of a jellyfish contradict the traditional evolutionary belief about the evolution of the nervous system. The Science article attempts to reconcile DNA analysis with the evolutionary myth about continental breakup and the evolution of flightless birds. Let’s start with the jellyfish.

Jellyfish

The evolutionary trouble with jellyfish has been around for years. In 2011, the headline of an article in a refereed technical journal said,

Ancient sea jelly makes tree of life wobble

Fossil suggests evolutionary order requires revision. 1

The ancient sea jelly in question is called, Eoandromeda octobrachiata. That article said,

A 580-million-year-old fossil is casting doubt on the established tree of animal life. The invertebrate, named Eoandromeda octobrachiata because its body plan resembles the spiral galaxy Andromeda, suggests that the earliest branches in the tree need to be reordered, say the authors of study in Evolution and Development. 2

Those scientists said the problem was related to symmetry.

That evidence comes from the fossil's shape: it has octoradial symmetry, meaning its body can be sliced into eight identical pieces. This is in stark contrast to modern comb jellies, which, like humans, flies and sea anemones, have biradial or bilateral symmetry — their body plan can be sliced into only two identical pieces.

If Eoandromeda appeared after the cnidarians, the authors argue, bilateral symmetry would have to have evolved twice — once for the cnidarians and again for the bilateral organisms that came after Eoandromeda. Far simpler is the idea that Eoandromeda evolved first (see 'Simplest solution'). "This model of animal relationships calls for the least number of origins of bilateral symmetry," says Bengtson. 3

It is hard to believe that a miraculous evolutionary innovation happened by chance once—and it is even harder to believe the same innovation happened by chance twice. Bengtson argues it is improbable that bilateral symmetry (that is left and right sides that mirror each other) could have evolved twice.

This seems like a rather weak argument to us. If you believe in evolution, it might not be too difficult for you to believe that a simple mutation caused a mirror image to evolve. That seems to be a rather simple change for an evolutionist to believe.

On the other hand, it is much harder to believe that something as complex as a fully-functional nervous system evolved by chance once, and incredibly hard to believe that two radically different nervous systems evolved by chance. That brings us to the jellyfish articles in last month’s issue of Nature. The headline and subheading of one of the articles about jellyfish pretty much says it all.

Jelly genome mystery

Publication of the draft genetic sequence of a sea gooseberry [jellyfish] reveals a nervous system like no other. 4

According to the article,

The genome of the Pacific sea gooseberry (Pleurobrachia bachei), which Moroz and his team report online today in Nature, adds to the mystery of ctenophores (L. L. Moroz et al. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13400; 2014). The sequence omits whole classes of genes found in all other animals, including genes normally involved in immunity, develop­ment and neural function. For that reason, the researchers contend that ctenophores evolved a nervous system independently.

Ctenophores have long vexed taxonomists [scientists who classify things]. Their resemblance to jellyfish earned them a spot on the tree of life as a sister group to cnidarians (the phylum that includes jellyfish). On the basis of their nervous systems — which can detect light, sense prey and move musculature — many researchers had them branching off from the common ancestor of other animals after the sponges and flattened multi­cellular blobs known as placozoans, neither of which have a nervous system. Now armed with data showing that ctenophores lack many common genes, some scientists contend that these are the closest living relatives to the first animals. 5

In other words, ctenophores don’t have many genes commonly found in most “highly evolved” animals. Therefore, they say, these jellyfish must have evolved very early from one of the first living animals. (If they had evolved later, they would have inherited all those common genes.)

The nervous system of the Pacific sea gooseberry is so different from all other animal nervous systems that evolutionists are forced to admit that they could not have been inherited from a common ancestor.

The uniqueness of this ctenophore’s nervous system leads Moroz and his team to argue that it must have evolved independently, after the ctenophore lineage branched off from other animals some 500 million years ago. “Everyone thinks this kind of complexity cannot be done twice,” Moroz says. “But this organism suggests that it happens.” 6

Despite the obvious facts, evolutionists just throw logic and common sense to the wind and believe the impossible. The classic example of this is found in Chapter 5 of Richard Dawkin’s book, Climbing Mount Improbable. After quoting Darwin’s statement that the evolution of vision would seem to be “absurd in the highest possible degree,” Dawkins goes on to argue,

It has been authoritatively estimated that eyes have evolved no fewer than forty times, and probably more than sixty times, independently in various parts of the animal kingdom. In some cases these eyes use radically different principles. Nine distinct principles have been recognized among the forty to sixty independently evolved eyes. 7

Regarding the “problems” associated with visual perception, Dawkins says,

The different solutions to problems pop up here, there, and everywhere, suggesting, yet again, that they [eyes] evolve rapidly, and at the drop of a hat. 8

He believes that since eyes evolved accidentally 40 to 60 times, it MUST be much more likely to happen than one would naturally think.

The nervous system (of which the eye is just one part) is more complicated than an eye. The central nervous system controls the heart, and other organs. To think that a nervous system could evolve by chance just once is ridiculous. To say that it could happen twice is twice as ridiculous.

The genetic evidence is irrefutable. The two nervous systems are so different they could not possibly have evolved from a common ancestor. Furthermore, since the nervous systems could not possibly have been consciously conceived by one or more supernatural designers, the two nervous systems had to evolve, by chance, independently. There is no other possible conclusion.

Since the nervous systems could not have been inherited from a common ancestor, that fact affects the shape of the evolutionary tree of life. So, here is the new “truth” about evolution:

Only two groups of animals do without a nervous system: sponges, which are simple animals attached to the sea bottom that do not show complex behaviours, and the placozoans, animals comprised of two flat sheets of cells that creep along the ocean floor absorbing nutrients. The simplicity of sponges and placozoans has led generations of zoologists to conclude that they are ancient animal groups, and may look very like the first multicellular animals that emerged on the planet more than 500 million years ago.

Over the past decade, however, extensive comparisons of protein and DNA sequences have led to surprising rearrangements at the base of the animal tree of life. In fact, it seems that previous assumptions about the origin of multicellular animals may be wrong, and that a group of gelatinous creatures, the ctenophores, collectively referred to as comb jellies, could be the first group to have branched off from the animal tree of life. 9

As a result, evolutionists have to call upon the service of spin doctors to explain away the obvious conclusion (that the theory of evolution is false).

The phylogenetic position of comb jellies at the base of the animal tree of life and the findings of Moroz and co-workers suggest a fascinating scenario — that comb jellies evolved a nervous system that is unrelated to that of other animals. Heretical hypotheses such as this strike a blow against the anthropocentric view that complex animals emerged gradually along one lineage only, culminating in humans, and that complex organ systems did not evolve twice. But such views do not reflect how evolution really works. Evolution does not follow a chain of events in which one lineage progresses continuously towards complexity while other branches stagnate. Instead, it is an ongoing process in all lineages. When the animal tree branched more than 500 million years ago, one lineage gave rise to ctenophores and the other to all remaining animals alive today, and it seems that the two lineages independently evolved a rapid internal communication system. 10

Here’s the way a different spin doctor tried to make it all better:

Animals evolved gradually, from the lowly sponge to the menagerie of tentacled, winged and brainy creatures that inhabit Earth today. This idea makes such intuitive sense that biologists are now stunned by genome-sequencing data suggesting that the sponges were preceded by complex marine predators called comb jellies. … If comb jellies evolved before sponges, the sponges probably lost some of their ancestors' complexity. 11

It certainly is true that DEVOLUTION can happen. Genetic information certainly can be lost, resulting in reduced functionality. For example, genetic mutation can take away a bird’s ability to fly. But to argue that sponges lost a complex nervous system misses two points. First, how did they get that complex system in the first place? And second, what was the survival advantage in losing that complexity?

A third spin doctor uses an argument we have often made.

“In the analyses I’ve done, ctenophores are the most problematic taxon. They jump around depending on which genes you use and which animals you include,” says Gert Wörheide, a molecular palaeobiologist at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. 12

Genetic similarity depends upon which things you choose to compare, and which things you choose to ignore. You can reach whatever conclusion you want.

So, what is their conclusion?

Regardless of where ctenophores finally end up on the tree, the development and evolution of the complex nervous system of these creatures will be an enigma for some time. If it turns out that comb jellies are not at the base of the tree and that animal neurons indeed originated only once, someone must figure out why the molecular biology underlying the comb-jelly nervous system is so different from that of other animals. 13

There is more opportunity for research funding, which is really all that matters!

Moa DNA Problems

Now let’s move from the jellyfish to the birds. An article in last month’s journal Science reported on a study about ratites which revealed a serious discrepancy between DNA analysis and traditional evolutionary history. A ratite is a bird that belongs to a family of big, flightless, southern birds like the elephant bird, ostrich, emu, rhea, and moa. (That’s the last moa pun in this essay. I promise!)

In particular, the article addressed the problem of how moas got to New Zealand. They can’t fly, can’t swim, and certainly didn’t walk there. Evolutionists have traditionally believed that they evolved in New Zealand from a closely related bird that was already there. This recent DNA study blew that theory out of the water.

Despite extensive studies, the evolutionary history of the giant flightless ratite birds of the Southern Hemisphere landmasses and the related flighted tinamous of South America has remained a major unresolved question. 14

What, you might ask, is the unresolved question? Even if you might not ask, here is the answer:

New Zealand is the only landmass to have supported two major ratite lineages: the giant herbivorous moa and the chicken-sized, nocturnal, omnivorous kiwi. Morphological phylogenetic analyses initially suggested that these two groups were each other’s closest relatives, presumably diverging after the isolation of an ancestral form following the separation of New Zealand and Australia in the late Cretaceous ~80 to 60 million years ago (Ma). However, subsequent studies suggest that kiwi are more closely related to the Australasian emu and cassowaries, whereas the closest living relatives of the giant moa are the flighted South American tinamous. The latter relationship was completely unexpected on morphological grounds [comparison of shapes] and suggests a more complex evolutionary history than predicted by a model of strict vicariant speciation. 15

In plain English, a genetic analysis of the giant moa (native to New Zealand) shows that it is more closely related to a South American bird (a tinamou, which looks like a chicken, and can fly) than an emu (a similar-looking flightless bird which is native to Australia). The DNA analysis contradicted the traditional “morphological phylogenetic analyses,” which are studies that constructed an evolutionary tree based on shape (or other physical characteristics).

How did they come to this conclusion, and why is it surprising?

We used hybridization enrichment with in-solution RNA arrays of palaeognath [tinamou] mitochondrial genome sequences and high-throughput sequencing to sequence near-complete mitochondrial genomes from both elephant bird genera: Aepyornis and Mullerornis. Phylogenetic analyses placed the two taxa, Aepyornis hildebrandti (15,547 base pairs) and Mullerornis agilis (15,731 base pairs), unequivocally as the sister taxa to the kiwi (Fig. 1 and fig. S1). This result was consistently retrieved, regardless of phylogenetic method or taxon sampling, and was strongly supported by topological tests. To our knowledge, no previous study has suggested this relationship, probably because of the disparate morphology, ecology, and distribution of the two groups. Elephant birds were herbivorous, almost certainly diurnal, and among the largest birds known, whereas kiwi are highly derived omnivores, nocturnal, and about two orders of magnitude smaller. 16

They are very confident in their results; but they are surprised because their results say that some very large birds, which are active during the day, and eat only seeds and plants, are closely related to little birds which are active at night and eat seeds and bugs.

The relationships they discovered using genetic analysis don’t make sense geographically, either.

Madagascar and New Zealand have never been directly connected, and molecular dates calculated from the genetic data suggest that kiwi and elephant birds diverged after the breakup of Gondwana (Fig. 1 and fig. S4). However, mean node age estimates among palaeognath lineages are sensitive to taxon sampling (Fig. 2), so molecular dating provides limited power for testing hypotheses about ratite biogeography. 17

Evolutionists believe that a supercontinent called Gondwana broke up millions of years ago, and before it broke up, animals could easily travel from one part of the Earth to another. They also believe that they can tell how long ago two species diverged from their common ancestor by measuring genetic differences and assuming a mutation rate. But, when they compare the time they think the kiwi lineage broke from the elephant bird lineage, that time does not agree with the time when they think Gondwana broke up. So, Kieren argues that the age estimates aren’t accurate because they depend upon which birds from each lineage you sample.

The elephant birds, which lived on Madagascar until recently, pose a similar problem.

Perhaps the most enigmatic [puzzling] of the modern palaeognaths are the recently extinct giant Madagascan elephant birds. Africa and Madagascar were the first continental fragments to rift from the supercontinent Gondwana, separating from the other continents (and each other) completely during the Early Cretaceous (~130 to 100 Ma). Consequently, the continental vicariance model predicts that elephant birds and ostriches should be the basal palaeognath lineages. Most molecular analyses recover the ostrich in a basal position, consistent with a vicariant model. However, the phylogenetic position of the elephant birds remains unresolved, as cladistic studies of ratite morphology are sensitive to character choice and may be confounded by convergence, whereas DNA studies have been hampered by the generally poor molecular preservation of elephant bird remains. 18

In plain English, elephant birds should be “basal” (near the base of the mythical tree of life) because they should have evolved more than 100 million years ago, before Madagascar became isolated from other land masses. DNA analysis doesn’t agree with conventional evolutionary prejudice, so the “phylogenetic placement” (that is, position on the tree of life) of elephant birds “remains unresolved.”

If DNA analysis had confirmed evolutionary prejudice, it would have been hailed as proof that they were right without question. The conclusions of “cladistic studies of ratite morphology” (that is, comparison of the shapes of the ratite family of birds) depend upon “character choice” (that is, which physical characteristics one chooses to deem as more important or less important) didn’t agree with the DNA analysis. Therefore, the DNA analysis could be wrong because the biological samples of elephant birds, taken before they went extinct, might have been poorly preserved. “Convergence” is the other common evolutionary excuse for unexpected results. Convergence is the belief that evolution caused two unrelated species to accidentally and independently converge on the same survival solution, resulting in similar physical features or similar DNA.

You might have heard an evolutionist say that, if a scientist ever discovers anything that disproves the theory of evolution, that science would reject the theory. But, as you can see, that simply isn’t the case. Whenever DNA evidence is inconsistent with evolutionary theory (as it frequently is), it doesn’t disprove the theory. Instead, all sorts of excuses are made to try to reconcile the theory with the DNA facts by making up some fantastic explanation. For example,

The evolution of the ratite birds has been widely attributed to vicariant speciation, driven by the Cretaceous breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana. The early isolation of Africa and Madagascar implies that the ostrich and extinct Madagascan elephant birds (Aepyornithidae) should be the oldest ratite lineages. We sequenced the mitochondrial genomes of two elephant birds and performed phylogenetic analyses, which revealed that these birds are the closest relatives of the New Zealand kiwi and are distant from the basal ratite lineage of ostriches. This unexpected result strongly contradicts continental vicariance and instead supports flighted dispersal in all major ratite lineages. We suggest that convergence toward gigantism and flightlessness was facilitated by early Tertiary expansion into the diurnal herbivory niche after the extinction of the dinosaurs. 19

In other words, because the dinosaurs went extinct, the ratite birds didn’t have to hide during the day. They didn’t have to be so small that they wouldn’t be worth a dinosaur’s time to hunt and eat them. After the dinosaurs were gone, they got big by eating plants, and didn’t need to be able to fly away to escape the dinosaurs. It’s a wonderful story, isn’t it?

The phylogenetic placement of the elephant bird as sister to the kiwi creates a marked discordance between the order of continental breakup (Fig. 3, A and B) and the sequence of palaeognath divergences (Fig. 3C). Instead, it appears that the common ancestor of elephant birds and kiwis was probably flighted and capable of long-distance dispersal, which is supported by a small, possibly flighted kiwi relative from the Early Miocene of New Zealand. Together, the phylogenetic position of the flighted tinamous and apparent [unknown] flighted ancestor of the kiwi and elephant bird imply that every major ratite lineage independently lost flight (Fig. 1). 20

In other words their new “phylogenetic placement” (that is, their new mythical evolutionary tree) of the birds they studied is inconsistent with the Gondwana legend about the separation of the continents 100 million years ago. Therefore, some unknown bird must have flown from South America to New Zealand relatively recently (in mythical geological time), and all of its descendants living today have separately lost the ability to fly.

Living in a Dream

This reminds me of a song that says, “Only a fool believes” because “a wise man has the power to reason away what seems to be.” The evidence against evolution is plain to see—but they are “smart” enough to come up with reasons why the plain truth isn’t true. They call themselves scientists, but they are really dream weavers.

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Footnotes:

1 Amy Maxmen, Nature, 7 September 2011, “Ancient sea jelly makes tree of life wobble”,
2 ibid.
3 ibid.
4 Ewen Callaway, Nature, 22 May 2014, page 411, “Jelly genome mystery”, http://www.nature.com/news/jelly-genome-mystery-1.15264
5 ibid.
6 ibid.
7 Dawkins, 1996, Climbing Mount Improbable, Chapter 5, “The Forty-fold Path to Enlightenment,” page 139
8 ibid. page 188
9 Andreas Hejnol, Nature, 21 May 2014, “Evolutionary biology: Excitation over jelly nerves”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13340.html
10 ibid.
11 Amy Maxmen, Nature, 8 January 2013, “Genome reveals comb jellies' ancient origin”, http://www.nature.com/news/genome-reveals-comb-jellies-ancient-origin-1.12176
12 ibid.
13 Andreas Hejnol, Nature, 21 May 2014, “Evolutionary biology: Excitation over jelly nerves”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13340.html
14 Kieren J. Mitchell, et al., Science, 23 May 2014, pp. 898-900, “Ancient DNA reveals elephant birds and kiwi are sister taxa and clarifies ratite bird evolution”, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6186/898.full?sid=d47efb83-5849-4f1f-8587-5a5dcf4fea00
15 ibid.
16 ibid.
17 ibid.
18 ibid.
19 ibid.
20 ibid.