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Found: A plant with no plastid genome

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Lost: Simple evolution theory

Rafflesia arnoldii/ma_suska

From The Scientist :

But two teams have now independently found the first examples of plants whose plastids seem to lack a genome, including a giant rot-scented flower and a group of single-celled algae. Neither case is iron-cast yet, but given the teams’ intense searches, these plants’ plastid genomes are either missing, well-hidden, or can be found only at very low levels.

Jeanmaire Molina from Long Island University and Michael Purugganan from New York University focused on Rafflesia lagascae—a Philippine parasite that does not photosynthesize, and lacks stems, roots, and leaves. The only sign of its existence is a huge red flower, which protrudes from its host vine and looks and smells like rotting flesh.

Molina and Purugganan did detect 46 small fragments of plastid DNA, but none of them amounted to full genes. Even if they were, these genes would have so many mutations that they would not be functional. These plastid DNA fragments remain a mystery, although a third of them may have come from the host vine, the researchers proposed.

In short, horizontal gene transfer, not Darwinian evolution.

Meanwhile, David Smith from the University of Western Ontario and Robert Lee from Dalhousie University found similar results in Polytomella—a genus of single-celled, colorless, freshwater algae. It too has a plastid but not a trace of a plastid genome. Smith and Lee also showed that while the alga’s nucleus produces proteins that are used in its plastids, none of these are involved in expressing plastid genes—another sign that such genes do not exist.

In a significant cultural departure, all the scientists refreshingly admitted that they were at a loss to explain the circumstance at present, with none attempting to conjure feebly in Darwin’s name.

(Darwin’s followers will, of course, claim that this, which they did not predict, demonstrates their theory, but here we mean serious theory, not what you spout so you’re not thrown out … )

Meanwhile, Dennis Jones over at the ID facebook page, asks,

If the entire plant genus of rafflesia lost its genome, why did the genome evolve in the first place?

If one were to ascribe natural selection to this scenario the entire story does not make sense because why would evolution go to all the trouble to evolve over millions of years a genome that is so worthless, it could be discarded without the life forms even noticing the loss? But, if we apply a design application to this question, then yesterday’s news-breaking story makes sense. Like mitochondria, plastids have their own DNA and ribosomes. If an intelligent-like process was involved with orchestrating the rise of the genus Rafflesia, this process might simply do what we do, which would be to borrow software from one DNA program already working in another genus to assist the newly formed genre (species) of life.

But, there’s more. A second observation from this story is equally as interesting. According to THE SCIENTIST article, it reads, “Showing convincingly that something does not exist is always a challenge in science.” This is very strikingly because in order to falsify the ID Theory hypothesis of irreducible complexity, the researchers must show that no evolutionary pathway exists.

So, the scientific methodology that these research teams set up in order to prove that the genomes were indeed lost is exactly the identical way a system that has been predicted to be irreducibly complex could be shown to be scientifically confirmed. This is not the only way. There are conventional ways to prove irreducible complexity. But, I especially love this specific study because if the earlier work is rejected by the scientific community to verify irreducible complexity, then this new approach to prove a biological system does not exist might give ID Theory a lot of much needed mileage.

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