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Where’s Darwin When You Need Him?

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Here’s an article about Chernobyl. Quite fascinating—and extremely long!! The pertinent pages are the last two: pp. 6-7. The biologist working at Chernobyl is studying the effects of cesium and strontium, presumably the by-products of fission present at Chernobyl after the reactor failure. It’s been 25 years since the accident. They’ve been studying animals for 17.

What are the results? For the most part, life is abundant at Chernobyl. It’s become a new Garden of Eden (less man, for the most part). But NO new life forms.

What about changed life forms? Well, . . . yes. Here’s what they say:
On the surface, Igor says, the wildlife seems to be thriving, but under the fur and hide, the DNA of most species has become unstable. They’ve eaten a lot of food contaminated with cesium and strontium. Even though the animals look fine, there are differences at the chromosomal level in every generation, as yet mostly invisible. But some have started to show: there are bird populations with freakishly high levels of albinism, with 20 percent higher levels of asymmetry in their feathers, and higher cancer rates. There are strains of mice with resistance to radioactivity—meaning they’ve developed heritable systems to repair damaged cells. Covered in radioactive particles after the disaster, one large pine forest turned from green to red: seedlings from this Red Forest placed in their own plantation have grown up with various genetic abnormalities. They have unusually long needles, and some grow not as trees but as bushes. The same has happened with some birch trees, which have grown in the shape of large, bushy feathers, without a recognizable trunk at all.

All of these documented changes are defects of one kind or another, making them “less fit” in normal populations. This is true of the animals more than for the plants; but even for the plant life present, what good is a birch tree without a trunk? Can you call it a tree?

Now, with all the great amount of variety that mutations can cause in such an irradiated environment, one would think that this would be a great place for Darwinian mechanisms to work their ‘magic’. But that is not what we see. We see deterioration. We see life becoming less fit, not more. We don’t see new species; we see old species that have become bizarre, with “genetic abnormalities”.

And, yet, we know that the lizard species transplanted from one Adriatic island to another back in the 70’s, in but 35 years, became “more fit”, growing “cecal valves” in its stomach, becoming larger, having larger jaws, and changing its behavior patterns. Roughly the same amount of time. One location where the mutations (= genetic variation) form at the normal rate, and another one where mutations form at a much higher rate(= greater genetic variation). But NS supposedly works on genetic variation, and the more variation there is, then the more beneficial changes that are expected.

So what happened? How do you get more change than any kind of Darwinian mechanism can explain (given the time span involved) rendering a species “more fit”, whereas in a location where Darwinian ‘magic’ should be going a ‘mile-a-minute” everything becomes “less fit”? Could there possibly be something wrong in positing Darwinian mechanisms to explain positive morphological change?

Oh, no. That couldn’t possibly be the case. Why? Because “nothing makes sense” without evolution. Just ask an evolutionary biologist.

N.B. I did ask a very well-known evolutionary biologist to explain the changes seen in the lizard species. He never answered the question. And when I pressured him about it on his blog, he simply erased my post from his blog and blocked me out. Ah, yes, the search for truth, wherever it takes us . . . . . .

PaV, First, sorry for taking so long to reply. Second, sorry about the tone of my comment. I'm definitely more in the ID camp than the Darwin camp, but it wasn't evident from what I wrote. Third, It was Upright BiPed who brought up the lizards. I don't have enough info to comment on them, and I'm with Upright in hoping that someone will do the DNA scanning necessary to find the exact cause of change. Fourth, about those mice. While re-reading the article I noticed that it said that the house mice had left (or died off), and forest and field mice had replaced them. It also had a picture of a lab technician with a mouse. Supposedly this was one of the forest or field mice that were immune to radiation. What was noticeable about the mouse was that it was white. White is a commomn color for lab mice, but for field mice? If the ability to handle radiation is tied to albinism, then those radioactive mice would be less fit in a normal population. I hope someone is sequencing the genome of those mice, or doing what it takes to find out the difference between them and normal mice. Fifth, about adaptation versus pre-existing resistance. It might have helped to have sequenced the genome of those mice before the melt down. Somehow, I don't think anyone thought about that at the time. SteveGoss
PaV, When the Lizard story first rolled out, I went slumming to find out what tune Darwin's Choir was singing. Aside from having to laugh at those who were proclaming the news as yet another self-evident Proof of Chuck©, I remember someone (?) of significance in the Darwin camp stating that a study was to follow in order to find out the exact cause(s) of the change. I called Vegas and put a twenty spot on the culprit being new scripts enacted from the "junk". Upright BiPed
Upright Biped: The remark that made Jerry Coyne eliminate by post(s) was exactly when I pointed out that in the original article the authors themselves state that the lizard species are "genetically identical"!! What's to wait for? Now, they were working off of mitochondrial DNA information and so, it might not be the same as saying that the 'nuclear' DNA is identical---they could, and should---follow up on that. But the mitochondrial evidence simply means that the changed lizard descended directly from the original lizards. They weren't "hybrids," IOW. I suspect, based on what Denise has just posted---it was an article I saw the other day---that there will probably be minor changes in regulatory areas, and no change whatsoever in the genes themselves. But, of course, 30 years is not sufficient time for any kind of genetic change to take place in such a small population. Thus, the more sensible, and probable, cause is environmental: yes, that's right, jerry, it's likely Lamarkian. We're on the verge of giving Lamark his due. Lamarkianism has this great advantage over Darwinism: it actually makes sense. It might not be completely right; that is, it might not give us the whole answer, but it will give us an answer that: (1) makes sense, and that (2) can actually be documented. PaV
Steve: Would you like to explain to me how those lizards change their morphology so quickly? Do you see how you seize on one minor thing that will allow you to stroll forward as a Darwinist, when there are huge factors that simply tear Darwinism to shreds? Why strain gnats and swallow elephants? Isn't the truth more important than politically correct scientism? PaV
Steve: I agree. When nuclear reactors blow up, mice with resistance to radiation are more fit. Does that make you happy? Now, let's examine this a bit closer. How do we know that the mice have "resistance to radioactivity"? Because they're perfectly normal, and, I suppose, when our biologist friend gives them cesium and strontium, they handle it quite well. Those are the FACTS. Here's the INTERPRETATION: . . .[the mice] developed heritable systems to repair damaged cells. Well, when did they develop it: before or after it? Quite likely it was already present (there are all kinds of wonderful repair mechanisms within organisms; more and more are being discovered these days) and they simply SURVIVED. If it "developed" afterwards, then how in the world would that have helped them at the time of the spill? So, we're dealing simply with SURVIVORS. That's what NS is after all, isn't it? The presence of resistance is no proof whatsoever that this resistance "developed". What it quite likely means is that most mice now present in Chernobyl are the ones who could withstand the high radiation at the time of the explosion. The mice's resistance was very, very likely already in place. So what we're witnessing isn't the "survival of the fittest", but, instead, it's the "survival of the survivors". IOW, this resistance, being present within the gene pool of the mice prior to the events at Chernobyl at a lower frequency, simply came to the fore when the conditions required it. This in NO WAY means that ANYTHING "developed". Rather, the better wording would not be that "it developed", but that "it showed up." Yes, gene frequencies have changed. Aha! Evolution! Sorry, it's nothing more than "changed gene frequencies". Nothing NEW has been brought about, but simply something OLD has greater density within the gene pool. And I would bet that over time, as other Chernobyls fail to happen, this frequency will become less dense. You know, there is such a things as the Hardy-Weinberg Law. PaV
There are strains of mice with resistance to radioactivity—meaning they’ve developed heritable systems to repair damaged cells.
All of these documented changes are defects of one kind or another, making them “less fit” in normal populations.
Actually, I would think that a mouse that could shrug off the effects of radiation would be more fit, not less. Or am I missing something? SteveGoss
I have been waiting for the results for the Adriatic lizards. As I last remember it, they were going to chase down the exact genetic change(s). Have they done so? Did I miss the parade? Upright BiPed

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