Date:         Sat, 08 Apr 95 23:29:00 EDT

Subject:      Creationism Is Correct (2/2)

                         CREATIONISM IS CORRECT - Part 2

   "Science: Evolution Beetle that may explode the ideas of Darwin."

                          By Robert Matthews

                         (The Daily Telegraph)

                         (July 22, 1991; p.12)

                     "An insect that has undergone

         three mutations cannot be the product of mere chance.

      Robert Matthews asks whether it offers proof of a Creator."

   Scuttling about in the undergrowth of Florida is  a  little  beetle

which points up a controversial problem in modern biology.  Called the

Bombardier beetle,  it has a defence system that is  little  short  of

miraculous.   Indeed,   "creationists"  -  who  claim  that  God,  not

evolution,  is responsible for all living creatures - see this  insect

as proof of their arguments.  The Bombardier carries around inside its

body an explosive mixture of chemicals.  Fortunately for  the  beetle,

they  are  normally  prevented from going off by a chemical inhibitor.

But when the Bombardier is threatened,  it injects another chemical  -

an  anti-inhibitor - into the mix.  This triggers the manufacture of a

boiling-hot vapour of noxious gunk which the  Bombardier  sprays  over

its  attackers  from  a  rotatable pipe built into its underside.  The

scientific problem the Bombardier illustrates is that of creating such

a creature from random mutations of its genes,  with natural selection

picking  out  the most useful mutations.  Suppose,  for example,  that

millions of years ago one Bombardier underwent a mutation that enabled

it to make the explosive chemicals.  Unless  it  was  very  lucky,  it

would never live to try out its new-found capability.  It would simply

explode.  To survive,  it needs  a  second  mutation  -  to  make  the

inhibitor  chemical.  But  a  beetle  with  both these mutations is no

better off than one without the  explosive  chemicals.  To  enjoy  any

benefit,  the  beetle  needs  a third mutation,  this time to make the

anti-inhibitor. We are back to the exploding beetle problem. In short,

the Bombardier appears to demand that all the random mutations  needed

for its amazing abilities occur at the same time. Yet given the rarity

of  a  single  useful  mutation occurring,  the idea of many occurring

simultaneously stretches credulity to the limit.  Creationists have  a

ready answer - God. This eliminates the problem of simultaneous random

mutations;  they are simply not involved.  Scientists counter that the

answer may be that the Bombardier got some benefit from having just  a

little  of  the  explosive  chemical,  and this led it to survive long

enough to undergo other mutations.  EVEN so,  the  beetle  graphically

illustrates  a  nagging  problem  in biology:  are mutations more than

simply random?  In particular,  are living creatures able to influence

mutations themselves,  to ensure maximum benefit?  In the latest issue

of the Proceedings of the  National  Academy  of  Sciences,  Professor

Barry  Hall  of Rochester University,  New York,  publishes convincing

evidence for just such an ability.  It  seems  that  some  unexplained

process may be directing mutations in living creatures.

   This  "heresy",  that  creatures  can  change  genes in response to

changing environmental conditions to give  their  offspring  a  better

chance  of  survival,  was propounded in the nineteenth century by the

French biologist Lamarck.  But in this century it was rejected as part

of the modern synthesis called neo-Darwinism.  Last year Hall caused a

stir  when  he came up with support for John Cairns and his colleagues

at the Harvard School of Public Health,  who had  published  tentative

evidence  for  this  process  in  1988.  Hall  took a mutant strain of

bacteria unable to make a nutrient vital for its  survival,  and  then

prevented  them  from  getting  the  nutrient.  He discovered that the

bacteria somehow forced themselves to mutate into a form  which  could

make the nutrient.  This does not square too well with the idea of all

mutations being random.  However,  by depending on just one  mutation,

the  experiment  left  room  to  doubt  that  radical new thinking was

needed.  Now Hall has forced the issue by new experiments in which the

bacteria  have  to  undergo  two mutations.  If the probability of the

bacteria hitting just one mutation correctly is low, the chances of it

getting two right is minute.  And yet he has found  the  same  effect.

Hall calculates that if the results were due to chance,  he would need

about 100 tonnes of bacteria to see just one bacterium change.  In the

event,  he  reports  seeing 37 independent bacteria undergo the double

mutations - exceeding the expectations of  conventional  theory  by  a

factor  of  100 million.  So far,  the results have been restricted to

bacteria,  and it is not clear yet whether the same process is at work

in  more advanced creatures - such as the Bombardier beetle.  However,

Hall does not rule it out, if only because he has no clear explanation

for what is going on in his Petri dishes.  "Finding the  mechanism  is

clearly  the  highest  priority  at  the  moment," he said,  admitting

frankly:  "At this point,  I'm groping around." Finding out  what  the

process  is and controlling it could bring major benefits,  Hall says.

"For  example,   cancer  often  involves   multiple   mutations,   and

understanding  the  process  that  generates  multiple mutations could

provide a major insight into this disease." Whatever its end uses, the

implications of  a  mutation-controlling  force  in  living  creatures

could,  it is argued,  trigger a revolution in biology.  Views of this

sort put Hall rather out on a limb.  An intriguing reaction comes from

Professor John Maynard Smith,  the distinguished theoretical biologist

at Sussex University.  He is not going to tear up his text books  just

yet,  but  last  week  he ventured to say:  "I really do think there's

something interesting going on. One does need to be a bit cautious, of

course.  A cell has to have some way of knowing that  it  must  fix  a

certain mutation - otherwise it is magic!" In the United States,  Hall

is,  however,   bracing  himself  for  a  backlash  from  conservative

biologists:  "The old paradigm that says that mutations are absolutely

random with respect to their usefulness is dead - and that's going  to

be hard for a lot of biologists to swallow."