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Blind Science
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Saturday, February 11, 2012
Wendy Wippel

Did you catch the recent news story about the Chinese boy that apparently has cat's eyes?  Eyes that reflect light and can see in the dark?  The story appeared on several legit news sites, and though it seems preposterous, there is a rational explanation.  That is, if we ignore current evolutionary theory.

Anomalies like this, actually, appear in the natural world on a fairly regular basis.  Chickens have been born with hair instead of feathers.  A lobster was recovered in the deep Pacific that had fur.  The robber crab, a land, tree-climbing crab, has smelling organs mounted on antennae that are dramatically different from other crab "noses" but nearly identical to those in insects.  Horses are sometimes born with separate digits instead of a single hoof.  Human babies are born with tails.

Funny.  When a human baby is born with a tail it is always somehow considered proof of evolution.  But what about a lobster with fur (a supposedly advanced genetic characteristic)?  What about a horse with fingers and toes? 

The answer may have something to do with one of the great enigmas of biology: the seemingly random allotment of DNA from species to species.  The onion in your refrigerator, in fact, has more than twelve times the DNA than Richard Dawkins.  The mold growing on the onion in your refrigerator?  Thirteen times more DNA than Stephen Hawking.  And the amoeba that could be swimming inside the onion in  your refrigerator?  Significantly more DNA than Obama, the entire Senate, all 27of the current cabinet members, Obama's current czars (32 in number), and spiritual advisor Jim Wallis combined.

Heck, throw in Michelle.  The amoeba still has a distinct evolutionary edge.

Harvard's Dmitri Petrov (in an increasingly rare moment of scientific transparency) admitted that "This paradox has vexed scientists since the discovery of DNA."

Ya think?  It does kind of put a big kink in constructing all those phylogenetic trees.  And how are you ever going to figure out which branch a Chinese boy with cat's eyes sits on? 

Under current evolutionary theory, that's going to be pretty much impossible.

Fortunately, there is an alternative theory floating around out there.  Described by Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder.  The Latent Library theory explains the lobster with fur, and it clears up some existing issues with current evolutionary theory as well. 

The amount of DNA in the genome essentially amounts to the number of bookshelves in your local library in that it determines the amount of information that can be stored. Scientist have long known that only part of our DNA seems to be read (which in genetics means regularly used to make proteins).  The rest of the DNA, seemingly without any real purpose, has long been termed "Junk" DNA (although it is now known that some of that junk DNA has other purposes).  And even in humans, whose genome size falls pretty much in the middle of the range seen in all life forms, most of the DNA--an estimated 98%-- is junk.

So the take home message is that virtually all organisms have plenty of available storage.

To understand the latent library theory it will be helpful to think about your local library.  Some books (the current bestsellers) get read over and over again.  You can think of those as the traditional genes.  Some exist behind the librarians' desks' and dictate higher-level organizational procedures.  They aren't in circulation so they aren't really read in the normal sense.  You can think of those as the junk DNA.

And then there are some books that just sit on the shelves.  Nobody reads them.  They contain useful information, but it's information that just isn't really relevant in the place in which they exist.  Like "How to Dig Your Own Well" in New York City.  Or "What I Love About America" at Berkeley.  These books are a latent library, a sort of information storage.

The Latent Library theory in genetics hypothesizes that some of that extra DNA that organisms possess may be just that-- information stored that it not currently relevant to the organism in question.  According to this theory, even the most primitive organisms may have all the DNA necessary to create any life form that exists in the world today. When things work as planned, only the books (genes) that are necessary for that organism to develop are actually read.

Fortunately, things work as planned a very high percentage of the time, because DNA is a wonderfully designed system for perpetuating specific organisms, with multiple amazing levels of quality control.  DNA error rate, after the molecule exits said levels of quality control, is only 1 out of every one billion nucleotides, which is why, ordinarily, dogs have only puppies, cats have only kittens, and lobsters don't usually have fur. 

But when things don't work as planned we get a glimpse into the factory.  Lobsters with fur mean that there was a procedure in the files, and something pulled it out by mistake.

So the Latent Library theory is intriguing.  But is there really any hard evidence?

Exhibit A: the tunicate.

The tunicate is considered by evolutionary scientists to be essentially the precursor to fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, including man.  In other words, the tunicate is a fairly primitive organism.

The adult organism is a transparent inch-long sac that you might see affixed to rocks or boats.  The larval form, however, is a free-swimming tadpole, kind of shaped like a fish,  that has a nerve cord, a notochord (precursor to a spine), and a tail. All of which will have disappeared by the time the tunicate is an adult.

But even more interesting is that fact that the larval form also has an eye, and not a particularly primitive eye.  The tunicate larval eye has a fairly developed lens, retina, pigment and cornea. 

All of these are absent in the adult tunicate as well. 

A fact that evolutionary theory has a little difficulty explaining.  The whole basis of evolutionary theory is based on the "survival of the fittest".  That's really a misnomer. It should really be called the "fertility of the fittest", because the basis of evolutionary theory is actually not that more advanced organisms have better survival rates, it is that more advanced organism have higher fertility rates.  They survive to pass on their genes. 

And if you think that through, what it means is that genes that aren't expressed as adults, according to evolutionary theory itself, cannot drive evolution.

Natural selection can't act on genes that aren't expressed.

And evolutionary theory has no mechanism of action that could explain the formation of eyes and nerve cords in tunicates, fur on lobsters, or hair on chickens. 

Genes stored in a latent library but not intended for regular expression, however, does.

You may be aware that traditional Darwinism, due to acknowledged inconsistencies with the fossil record, has been replaced by a theory called "punctuated equilibrium" in an attempt to explain the fact that changes in fossil forms appear to occur too quickly for evolutionary processes to have taken place. 

The latent library, with a abundant supply of genetic information which could be recombined and selectively expressed, would  explain apparently rapid "evolution" too. 

So back to the boy in China.  Reporters videotaped the boy reading in the dark, and reported witnessing the cat-like reflection of light from the boys eyes, which Pennsylvania physicist noted would require the extra layer of cells in the cat's eyes called the tapetum lucidum, which creates retroreflection.  James, Reynolds, a pediatric ophthalmologist in SUNY Buffalo, noted that although mutations can happen, "there is no single mutation that could produce a fully formed and functioning tapetum lucidum." Evolution, he said, happens incrementally, and not by leaps and bounds.

So science is stumped.  How to explain it?  My vote, if the whole thing isn't a hoax, is the latent library, a stored biological database that formed the basis of life at creation.

The consensus on the internet is either Star Child or Alien Hybrid.

Star Child.  Yeah, that's much more credible than an infinitely creative God.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Daniel Meets Mother Goose

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