|Feature Article - January 2017|
|by Do-While Jones|
We review the evolution stories that Discover magazine and Science News thought were the most important in 2016.
January is the traditional time for magazines to review the previous year. This year, Discover published a list of 100 top science stories, and Science News picked 10. Most of them don’t deal with evolution, so we will ignore those. Here are their choices for the most important evolution stories in 2016.
This story deals with the speculative ancestry of fossils found at Sima de los Huesos in Spain. We first wrote about these fossils in January, 2014. 1 It was big news then because a leg bone had some mitochondrial DNA which was thought to be closer to the mythical Denisovans than Neanderthals. This was surprising (and unsettling) to some evolutionists because it didn’t fit their prejudice.
In 2016, all was right with the evolutionary world again! They found an excuse to change their story.
After developing new technology, a team from Germany’s Max Planck Institute salvaged 0.1 percent of the Sima genome from one femur bone and a tooth.
It was enough DNA to be definitive: Sima hominins were Neanderthal ancestors, according to a Nature study published in March. Knowing where the 430,000-year-old Sima hominins belong in our family tree establishes a “firm point in the timeline of human evolution,” says lead author Matthias Meyer. 2
That is important because
… geneticists can estimate when species diverged based on the number of genetic differences between them. Sima’s “firm point” allows researchers to revise the date Neanderthals and modern humans split to more than 550,000 years ago — double some previous estimates. 1
Doesn’t that make you feel better?
Both magazines gave a high rating to creation of a synthetic organism. We didn’t cover it in our previous newsletters because we considered it an example of intelligent design—not evolution—and therefore not relevant. Upon further reflection, we have changed our mind.
One of biology’s biggest achievements of 2016 was intentionally as small as possible: building a bacterium with only 473 genes. That pint-size genetic blueprint, the smallest for any known free-living cell, is a milestone in a decades-long effort to create an organism containing just the bare essentials necessary to exist and reproduce. 3
If it takes purposeful, intelligent designers decades to create a “simple” organism with only 473 genes (by starting with a more complex organism and deleting as many genes as possible without killing it), how can we believe any simple organism could have happened by chance? If chance had brought together only 472 of the needed genes, the organism would not have lived, and therefore could not have produced a mutant offspring with all 473 necessary genes.
In March, the J. Craig Venter Institute in California unveiled Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn3.0, the first artificial species ever created. It has 473 genes — a staggering 149 of which are of unknown function. The “large number of unknown genes argues that our standard tools of biological study are very limiting,” Venter asserts.
Syn3.0’s creation was in part trial and error, in which scientists added and removed genes until it sustained life and allowed for reproduction. 4
Discover also published this table comparing numbers of genes as background information:
Determining what genes do is real science. Making up stories about how genes formed accidentally is not science.
We support Venter because his work has practical medical application. He has discovered many genes are necessary for life even though we don’t know what they actually do.
His work also shows how foolish evolutionary fables about accidental functionality are. Just think about it. A tomato had to acquire nearly 32,000 genes by accidental trial and error through natural selection. How could anyone who claims to be a scientist believe that?
These three stories deal with the fundamental assumption of evolutionists that some ape-like creatures evolved into Negroes and moved out of Africa where they evolved into more advanced humans. If that sounds racist, it is because it is. Evolutionists seem to think that if they can prove we are all Africans, it is somehow less racist. Here’s what Science News said.
“I’m beginning to suspect that the ancient out-of-Africa process was complex, involving several migrations and subsequent extinctions,” says evolutionary geneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona. …
Three new studies expanded the list of present-day populations whose DNA has been analyzed. The results suggest that most non-Africans have inherited genes from people who left Africa in a single pulse between about 75,000 and 50,000 years ago (SN: 10/15/16, p. 6). …
The timing of those migrations may be off, however. A fourth study, based on climate and sea level data, identified the period from 72,000 to 60,000 years ago as a time when deserts largely blocked travel out of Africa. Computer models suggested several favorable periods for intercontinental travel, including one starting around 59,000 years ago. But archaeological finds suggest that humans had already spread across Asia by that time. 6
Genetic similarities between peoples of Eurasia, Oceania and the Americas indicate that all non-Africans descend from a small population that left Africa roughly 60,000 years ago.
Older Homo sapiens made it out of Africa, but these populations must have mostly died out. Only one of the three studies detected a trace of their existence: About 2 percent of the genomes of Papuans are probably from these earlier migrants. 7
So, the studies still don’t agree. That’s not news. (And it isn’t science.)
A few pages later, Discover had another article on the same subject.
They identified DNA in the Siberian Neanderthal that was inherited from a group of modern humans, now extinct, who apparently left Africa more than 100,000 years ago. Such a group previously had only been hypothesized based on ambiguous fossils and artifacts, mostly from the Middle East. Coincidentally, that’s the farthest south that Neanderthals appear to have traveled; researchers believe they evolved in Europe and never reached Africa.
The genius of these new computational methods is their ability to detect unknown episodes of mating and infer a complete demographic history. Says Gronau: “Evolutionary history is riddled with curious things that people are not even thinking of yet.” 8
If a person comes up with a fantastic story, it can be easily dismissed. So, the new approach is to program a computer to come up with a fantastic story, which makes it more credible (to people who haven’t programmed computers for a living).
Lucy is the nickname for a famous, very complete skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis, which (depending upon which evolutionist you ask) may or may not have been a human ancestor and may or may not have been a tree dweller.
Published in Nature in August, the study fanned the flames of the old ground- versus tree-dwelling debate. Critics also complained the team did not provide enough evidence to support their conclusions.
Donald Johanson, the paleoanthropologist who found Lucy more than 40 years ago, noted that other fossils discovered nearby also appear damaged, possibly from a stampede, or from the weight of sediment and other material collecting over millennia.
“The suggestion that she fell out of a tree is . . . neither verifiable or falsifiable, and therefore unprovable,” he says. “Australopithecus afarensis was essentially a terrestrial animal.” 9
So, it is just another non-story.
Speaking of human ancestors based on dubious evidence, we reported about the imaginary ancestors of the Hobbits last July. 10 We won’t repeat what we said last summer, but here’s part of what Discover said.
The jawbone is at least 20 percent smaller than those from Liang Bua, suggesting H. floresiensis may have evolved from an even smaller hominin.
“My co-authors and I are convinced the fossils represent the direct ancestor of H. floresiensis,” says van den Bergh, now with Australia’s University of Wollongong. 11
Oh, how easily some people are convinced! Based on a jaw smaller than previously discovered jaws, they conclude it must have come from an evolutionary ancestor.
Discover magazine really went off the deep end with this story.
We’ve known that T. rex and other giant tyrannosaurids, such as Tarbosaurus, evolved about 80 million years ago from much earlier, much smaller dinosaurs.
The big mystery was the crucial transition between a primitive little fella trying to survive and a highly evolved apex predator. Thanks to an analysis of fossils from the deserts of Uzbekistan, published in March by Brusatte and colleagues, we now know that missing link is the horse-sized Timurlengia euotica. It’s the only known tyrannosaur from the Middle Cretaceous.
“It had a big brain, and an ear well-tuned to picking up low frequencies. We thought that weapon was exclusive to the big T. rex arsenal,” says Brusatte. “We know the ear could pick up low frequencies because the cochlea was really long. That’s something we typically see in predators hunting things that are bigger than they are over a wide area. It’s a kind of super sense.”
According to Brusatte, Timurlengia proves these dinos evolved smarts first and size second: “Timurlengia pre-adapted their super powers, waiting for an opportunity to rise up the food chain. We know Timurlengia relied on speed and agility, and we can guess that it had a great sense of smell, like the larger, later tyrannosaurs. We’re also sure it was a nasty creature you didn’t want to run into.” 12
Discover was nice enough to show us the fossils, and where they fit in this missing-link dinosaur.
Everything that isn’t red in the diagram above has been supplied by the scientists’ imaginations. Only the 15 bone fragments are real. But there can be no doubt they all came from an evolutionary ancestor which was smart, agile, with a great sense of smell, and excellent low frequency hearing.
We didn’t address the Tully Monster specifically, but it was on the periphery of some of our recent articles about classification and cladistics. Scientists had trouble classifying a fossil known as the Tully Monster. It was called a monster because it had a mixture of features (like the duck-billed platypus has).
Scientists finally moved past “problematica” — creatures defying boundaries — in March. Yale graduate student Victoria McCoy and her team cataloged the monster’s features and compared them with modern and ancient animals, finding Tully was a vertebrate and likely lamprey relative. Understanding the relationship between the animals shows the jawless lamprey are themselves “just remnants of a very diverse, ancient clade,” McCoy says. 13
Since we addressed the topic last August and September, let’s just remind you that classification is subjective, and the shape of the Tree of Life often changes.
Discover summarizes the issue this way.
Biologists have long debated whether reptile scales, bird feathers and mammal hair evolved from the same body part on the animals’ distant shared ancestor. But it seemed unlikely, because the body coverings were thought to grow differently: Feathers and hair develop from specialized plates of thickened ectoderm — an embryonic cell layer — called anatomical placodes, structures not seen in reptiles. Scales were thought to develop from raised skin areas without placodes.
As Milinkovitch scrutinized differences between embryos of his naked dragons and normal lizards, he realized normal lizards do have placodes, but they exist for a few hours and appear in different places depending on the species and the developmental stage. 14
Although it was based on fraudulent diagrams, Ernst Haeckel’s false Biogenetic Law (“Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”) is still believed by some evolutionists who are looking for proof that the development of an embryo follows its evolutionary history. That’s why they are excited about this.
The peppered moth argument just won’t die. Creationists have addressed this countless times.
When the Industrial Revolution caked British cities with soot, peppered moths’ light, speckled wings made them easy targets for predators. As a result, a dark-winged variant emerged that could hide in a carbon landscape. Within a century, all-black moths replaced the speckled variety.
To uncover the underlying genetics of this quintessential example of natural selection, University of Liverpool scientists crossbred lines of black and speckled moths. Their genetic mapping technique identified DNA segments unique to black moths. And eventually, they converged on their target: a transposon, or so-called “jumping gene,” which can move from one place on the genome to another, causing mutations. The team’s models revealed that the “jump” likely occurred around 1819 — the midst of coal-fired industrial might.
How this mutation alters wing colors is still a mystery, but the discovery helps decipher the nuts and bolts of evolutionary adaptation. 15
As has been noted countless times, light- and dark-peppered moths existed before, during, and after the Industrial Revolution. Natural selection changed the ratio of the two variations, but did not cause one to mutate into another. Evolutionists think they have isolated the genetic difference between the two variations, but don’t really know when or how it happened. In any case, the moths are still moths. They didn’t evolve into dragonflies, or anything else.
We told you 16 years ago about Eosimias, “the first primate,” whose existence is known only from two small bones the size and shape of kernels of rice. 16 17 Last year they found comparable evidence for an even more primitive primate.
Researchers have unearthed the most primitive primate yet discovered, a tree-dwelling creature that could nestle in the palm of your hand, according to an October paper in the Journal of Human Evolution. They found 25 bones from the creatures among 54.5 million-year-old fossils discovered in Gujarat, India.
Although other primate fossils are technically older, some by at least 500,000 years, the latest examples are the most primitive in terms of evolutionary development, and likely approximate our oldest primate ancestors. The discovery sheds light on the dawn of primates, which eventually led to monkeys, apes and humans.
“These fossils give us the best picture of what that very first primate looked like,” Dunn says. 18
What do these 25 bones look like? We are glad you asked. Discover showed the two most important, next to a quarter for scale.
You just can’t argue with evidence like that!
Here’s another great fossil discovery!
Seven fossilized monkey teeth discovered in the recent Panama Canal expansion pushed back the North American arrival date of the animals by nearly 18 million years.
… the fossilized teeth, which belong to the newly described monkey species Panamacebus transitus, predate the Panamanian land bridge by millions of years, according to the team that published the find online in Nature in April.
Sadly, the continent-hopping exploits of P. transitus were probably short-lived: They appear unrelated to any monkeys currently living in the region, indicating the pioneer population died out. 19
Let’s look at the actual fossil teeth. They are the three black things stuck in the wax jaw below the plastic skull.
Believe it or not, the existence of the new species of monkey, Panamacebus transitus, is based on seven teeth and nothing else.
Furthermore, “They appear unrelated to any monkeys currently living in the region.” In other words, they don’t look like any known monkey teeth. But the scientists believe they are monkey teeth. If they don’t look like monkey teeth, why would anyone think they came from a monkey?
Someone found a spider encased in a mineral and examined its shape.
This itsy-bitsy fossil, Idmonarachne brasieri — less than half an inch long — is the closest relative to the first true spiders ever found. … “It tells us the order in which things evolved in spiders,” says Garwood. “The front half evolved first; the limbs and mouthparts are very close to true spiders. But the back half is still rather primitive.” 20
It looks like a spider with a fat butt. If that is the criterion for being primitive, there are a lot of primitive people at the gym.
The 86th most important story of 2016 (according to Discover) is the sound dinosaurs made.
A June study in Evolution looked at the anatomy and sound repertoire of birds and crocodilians, the nearest living relatives of extinct dinosaurs. Verdict: Dinosaurs probably made mostly closed-mouth vocalizations, like crocodilians today. 21
There is no experimental science here. They think they know what dinosaurs sounded like by studying birds and crocodiles.
This is another story about the problem of classification. This is a problem for evolutionists because they are trying to classify organisms based on the incorrect notion that they descended from a common ancestor.
Mapping the genetic relationship between species, the tree shows that scientists have been oblivious to nearly a third of life — mostly bacterial — on Earth. That’s because approximately half the world’s bacteria cannot be cultivated in a lab. Banfield and her colleagues overcame the problem by analyzing environments metagenomically: sequencing each community’s DNA and then puzzling together individual genomes. 22
They sequenced the DNA of lots of different bacteria living together, and then tried to sort out which DNA went with which bacterium. What could possibly go wrong with that?
2016 produced no real scientific evidence for evolution. There were a lot of speculative studies, some of which were based on unverifiable computer models, but no scientific proof. The DNA studies used computers to calculate what the intermediate DNA of missing links would look like if those missing links existed. But, since those missing links never existed, the models are as irrelevant as a computer model of what the DNA of a flying pig would be, if pigs could fly.
The reports of newly discovered species are based on a few fossil fragments and an abundance of imagination.
The creation of a synthetic bacterium provides compelling evidence that even the simplest living thing is complex, and requires about 500 genes. It isn’t reasonable to believe they all formed at the same time by chance.
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of the Month
Disclosure, January 2014, “DNA Stunner”
2 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Oldest Human DNA Revises Our Family Tree”, page 14, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/4-oldest-human-dna-revises-our-family-tree
3 Science News, Dec. 24, 2016/Jan. 7, 2017, “Synthetic cell may reveal what is necessary for life”, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/minimal-genome-top-science-stories-2016?mode=pick&context=175
4 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Biologists Create Organism With Smallest Genome”, page 15, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/5-biologists-create-organism-with-smallest-genome
6 Science News, Dec. 24, 2016/Jan. 7, 2017, “Genetics alone won’t explain how humans left Africa”, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/ancient-human-migration-top-science-stories-2016?mode=pick& context=175
7 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “We Are All Africans”, page 26, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/16-we-are-all-africans
8 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Our First Date Out of Africa?”, page 68, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/68-our-first-date-out-of-africa
9 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Did Lucy fall and Not Get Up?”, page 21, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/10-did-lucy-fall-and-not-get-up
10 Disclosure, July 2016. “Likely Hobbit Ancestors”
11 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “More Hobbitses, Precious!”, page 25, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/15-more-hobbitses-precious
12 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “T. rex Evolution: Smarts First, Size Second”, page 42, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/36-t-rex-evolution-smarts-first-size-second
13 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “The Tully Monster Mystery”, page 56, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/51-the-tully-monster-mystery
14 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Skin-Deep Evolutionary Link”, page 58, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/54-skin-deep-evolutionary-link
15 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Dark Wings Decoded”, page 65, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/62-dark-wings-decoded
16 Disclosure, September 2000, “Eosimias”
17 Disclosure, September 2001, “Parent of the Apes – Part 1”
18 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Dawning of the Planet of the Apes”, page 67, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/65-dawning-of-the-planet-of-the-apes
19 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Ancient Monkey Teeth Change Evolutionary Timeline”, page 76, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/77-ancient-monkey-teeth-change-evolutionary-timeline
20 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “A Leg Up on Arachnid Evolution”, page 80, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/81-a-leg-up-on-arachnid-evolution
21 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Call of the Dino”, page 82, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/86-call-of-the-dino
22 Discover, Jan/Feb 2017, “Bacteria Beef Up New Tree of Life”, page 90, http://discovermagazine.com/2017/janfeb/97-bacteria-beef-up-new-tree-of-life