May 25, 2012

NEWS: Ancient Fish Had Human-Like Spine

Once again, the fossil record is showing us that complexity arose quickly and in animals that didn't even need it. Some of the predictions of the theory of evolution espoused on this blog have been convergent evolution, rapid emergence of complex features, and complexity in some of the earliest animals. This is now being proven by science, piece by piece. This latest example is great evidence that the genetic codes for complex features were already existing in animals before they became needed and expressed. Here is the latest finding:
For decades, scientists believed that a spine with multiple segments was an exclusive feature of land-dwelling animals. But the discovery of the same anatomical feature in a 345-million-year-old eel suggests that this complex anatomy arose separately from -- and perhaps before -- the first species to walk on land.

But in a new description of Tarrasius published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Lauren Sallan describes a five-segment column much more similar to the spinal anatomy of land-dwelling animals called tetrapods, including humans.

... By contrast, fish vertebrae are typically categorized anatomically into two segments: caudal and pre-caudal. But the spinal column of Tarrasius shows a complexity more like that seen in tetrapods, with five segments separated by abrupt transitions.

... And while Tarrasius lived several million years after the first tetrapods with hands and feet, the discovery of these spinal features in a fish species confirms that this anatomy can evolve separate from the evolution of walking behavior.

Instead, the commonalities suggest that similar environments or other selective pressures may produce convergent evolution of this complex spinal organization.[1]
(Emphasis mine.)
This is a great example of convergent evolution. The problem is that this eel did not need such a complex spine. Furthermore, it did not need a complex spine that was ideal for walking on land. The odds of this convergent evolution happening by chance because of "selective pressures" and mutation and survival of the fittest is basically zero. You would be better off suggesting that there was lateral gene transfer because of bacteria. Instead, scientists are struggling to explain why this eel needed such a complex spine for wiggling back and forth in the water. This complex design should have conferred some great fitness edge to the eel, but that is hard to imagine even for the best scientists.

The very best answer, of course, is that the genetic information for a five-segment spinal column existed in the genome of the ancestors of both these eels and land animals; over time, the genetic information became expressed in both these eels and the land animals. (It's true that "selective pressure" may have been behind the expression of this information, but it may have been subtle pressure.)

Reptile with Feathers Before Birds and Archaeopteryx?

Did you know that there was a reptile that lived probably more than 200 million years ago that had (arguably) feathers coming out its back? It's called Longisquama. Now, understandably, evolutionists are highly hesitant to say these were feathers, since feathered dinosaurs didn't come about until roughly 50 million years later. Birds are supposed to have come from dinosaurs not reptiles. This is awkward for typical evolutionists. In fact, some have tried to argue that the fossil is of a reptile that fell down on some kind of ferns, and it only looks like feathers! Well, more modern research has confirmed that these are not ferns, but an actual part of the reptile. Here is the latest:
(March 23, 2012)  "...Buchwitz says the appendages are clearly similar to the real deal [feathers]. Like feathers, they have a central filament running along their lengths, for example. He thinks this means that they were constructed using the same developmental genes that later produced feathers.  ...Longisquama shows that evolution was experimenting with the genes that gave rise to feathers long before any of these animals appeared on the scene." [2]

"Living during the Triassic [200+ million years ago], Longisquama was a small, lizard like creature that appears to have had a series of long feathers on its back. This implies that birds might have not evolved from theropods, but lizard-like reptiles instead." [3]
(Emphasis mine.)
Now, was it theropods or reptiles that gave rise to birds? Most would say theropod dinosaurs. But, as can be seen from the quote above, this fossil adds some confusion to bird origins. This is another case of convergent evolution, I would argue. But the hard question here is really why would a reptile have feather-like structures protruding out its back for no apparent functional purpose? It appears that complexity was expressing itself before a good functional purpose. That is not plausible, consistent, or indicative of random evolution.

The very best answer is that the design for feathers (which are perfect for flying, by the way) was already contained in the genome of the ancestor of both theropod dinosaurs and this reptile, Longisquama. The genetic information was just waiting -- no, itching -- to burst out and become expressed. That's what the evidence seems to indicate, here.

Squid Ink Remains Practically Unchanged Over 160 Million Years

Scientists have amazingly managed to analyze 160-million-year-old melanin (used in squid ink) from a fossilized cuttlefish. Their results show that the melanin has remained virtually unchanged over these eons of time -- and there is no telling how far back the original melanin design goes.
(May 22, 2012)  "'It's close enough that I would argue that the pigmentation in this class of animals has not evolved in 160 million years,' said John Simon, chemistry professor at University of Virginia. ...Simon says, 'the whole machinery apparently has been locked in time and passed down through succeeding generations of cuttlefish. It's a very optimised system for this animal and has been optimised for a long time.'" [4]
(Emphasis mine.)
Efficiency achievement was not a gradual process, I believe. Evolution has done absolutely nothing to improve the design of this cuttlefish ink over 160 million years. Why? Because it was a "perfect" design to begin with! The best answer is that the genetic code for the melanin was pre-optimized and simply waiting to become expressed in the cuttlefish. The cuttlefish got the best design for its ink without waiting for it to evolve for millions of years.

Information for Land Plants Existed Before Land Plants

Lignin is a critical chemical component of wood that land plants use to help them grow without needing support. It acts a bit like glue by helping fortify a plant's cell walls. Until a few years ago, scientists had believed that this chemical was unique to land plants, since it was assumed that only they would need it for support. This turned out to be a faulty assumption. Red algae also contains the instructions for making lignin. (Land plants came from green algae.)
(January 27, 2009)  "Because red and green algae likely diverged more than a billion years ago, the discovery of lignin in red algae suggests that the basic machinery for producing lignin may have existed long before algae moved to land." [5]
(Emphasis mine)
Thus, once again, the basic instructions for a critical chemical needed for land plants preexisted the land plants. Furthermore, like with the feathers and spinal column mentioned above, there is not a good reason for why red algae would have evolved this chemical since it didn't need it. The best answer, I think you can see, is that the genetic information for wood (including lignin) was stored within the genome of algae more than a billion years ago.

This information, along with all the information for all complex chemicals and designs, was contained in the genome of the very first cell(s) that existed on the earth.

Concluding Remarks

There are plenty of other similar examples of complex designs seemingly appearing without rhyme or reason. (Another good example is sodium channels related to nervous systems oddly found within single-celled organisms[6].) These examples have to do with complexity appearing rapidly (or instantly) in animals, and sometimes in animals that don't need the complexity and sometimes in multiple animals evolutionarily distantly related. Darwinian evolution has a lot of explaining to do! Random mutations and survival of the fittest doesn't cut it, here. In my personal opinion, Darwinian evolution offers absolutely no answers in these cases and should be discarded for a better theory. A designed evolution where all the genetic information was contained in simple cells billions of years ago fits all the evidence the best, and it can make accurate predictions like a good theory should be able to do.