There are two kinds of evolution:
1) There’s the version that you read about in the bookstore. It’s two-thirds science fiction.
2) Then there’s the version that PhD biologists, cancer researchers and genetic engineers use to do their jobs.
The two are entirely different.
Popular books tell you evolution works like this:
“Mutations are the random changes in genes that constitute the raw material for evolution by non-random selection.”
-Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, 2009
Dawkins would have you believe that all you need is the fantastically amazing power of natural selection, and given enough time, through random copying errors, the most extraordinary things become possible.
This is what casual bookstore readers and college freshmen are told. But it’s ridiculously oversimplified and it’s mostly false. It’s the “Dick and Jane” story of Evolution.
But there’s another version of evolution:
It’s rarely mentioned, or at best glossed over, by the atheist evolution lobby and the mainstream press. Yet it’s incredibly sophisticated and elegant. This is “Real World” evolution.
As you begin to discover Real World Evolution, you find it’s entirely different from the Dick and Jane story you were taught. 98% of people know nothing about this. Today, the first in a series where I share with you the incredible adaptive engineering that’s under the hood of all living things.
Evolution Untold Story #1: How Bacteria Adapt
You probably know that bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. The more we use antibiotics, the more resistance bacteria develop and the harder it is to kill them. We all know that we must not over-use antibiotics. But has anyone ever told you how bacteria generate this resistance in the first place?
Hint: It doesn’t happen by accident.
You’re fighting off an infection and you’re taking antibiotics. To the bacteria, the antibiotic is poison. It leaks into the bacteria cell wall and begins to kill it. The bacteria says, “This poison is killing me. I have to find a way to pump this out of my system!”
It travels around in your body, hunting for a pump.
It locates a cell somewhere in your body that has a pump. It extracts a copy of that cell’s DNA from a plasmid. It locates the section of the new DNA that codes for a pump, inserts that code into its own existing DNA, and builds a pump.
This is called Horizontal Gene Transfer or HGT. It is one of the most common evolutionary mechanisms. This is “real world evolution.” It’s been observed in labs for 50 years now. Because of HGT, the traditional evolutionary “tree of life” isn’t really a tree, especially among lower organisms. Because of genes being passed back and forth between organisms, it’s more like a web.
If the new pump does its job, then the bacteria can now resist the antibiotic. It now produces other bacteria that inherit the same resistance.
But it also does something else: It finds its bacteria brothers and sisters in your system and gives them the same piece of code!
Now ALL the bacteria in your system have a pump that makes them immune to the antibiotic. Your only chance is to find a more powerful antibiotic or hope your body can find some other way to kill them.
Horizontal Gene Transfer on Video:
Consider what Horizontal Gene Transfer tells you about bacteria:
1. They know what new features they need to survive attack
2. They actively seek out other organisms with those features
3. They exchange and read the DNA of other organisms
4. They analyze the DNA of those organisms
5. They locate the sections of DNA that they need
6. They splice the correct sections of DNA into their own DNA
7. They build entire new complex structures with the instructions in that DNA
8. They evaluate the success of what they’ve done
9. They pass the adaptations along to their offspring
10. They evangelize the newly acquired code to their fellow bacteria
Notice that this does not take thousands of generations. It takes one! Through HGT, an organism can acquire a completely new feature in one step. No gradual accumulation of errors necessary.
Bacteria are not stupid. Invading organisms stage an attack, an arms race against your immune system. Bacteria are as skilled at using code as as any software programmer you’ve ever met.
Hmmm… what tricks could software engineers pick up by studying bacteria?
Your own immune system fights back the exact same way. When you get an immunization shot for tetanus, for example, a weak version of tetanus is injected into your blood stream. Your cells have to “crack the code” of how to kill it. Once they’ve done so, they pass this information to their offspring.
You need to get a new immune shot every 10 years, because after a long periods of time, if your immune cells don’t need the extra code, they’ll discard it. Your cells won’t carry around extra instructions they don’t need.
Single-celled organisms are capable of exchanging DNA with each other, and HGT is massively influential in the development of living things. My friend, Open Source Software is w-a-a-a-a-y older than Linux. It’s been powering nano-machines for 3 billion years!
Organisms share code much the same way musicians and writers and software engineers share riffs and rhythms and programs. The never-ending arms race between prey and predator makes each incredibly robust and ensures the survival of both.
Are you beginning to notice how entirely different this is from the antiquated “random mutation” theory? There’s nothing random about Real World Evolution at all. It’s spectacularly sophisticated. It’s intentional.
The “Dick and Jane” version of evolution is deeply misleading, because it fools you into believing that as long as cells replicate, evolution is somehow inevitable. That it’s bound to happen sooner or later. People try to tell you that natural selection is capable of cleaning up whatever mess is made by haphazard, purposeless accidents.
Not true. Even the most elementary mechanisms of evolution – like Horizontal Gene Transfer – are extraordinary feats of software programming genius. Natural Selection has no creative ability whatsoever. It’s just the final step after the cells have performed their task of innovation.
Organisms evolve much the same way human ideas evolve: By intentional innovation and necessity. By borrowing and recombining existing ideas from the outside to form new ones.
If you’ve witnessed the evolution of English or jazz or computer software or smart phones, then you also understand biological evolution. Because all these things evolve through an identical set of processes: Intentional lending, borrowing, and re-combining of the old to make something new.
By the way, geneticists and other professionals who do cancer research and artificially modify organisms do not splice DNA with a tiny set of tweezers. They employ Horizontal Gene Transfer and other mechanisms I’ll discuss in this series. Scientists set up the experiments, but the cells themselves do the heavy lifting.
And while evolution certainly makes many “fortunate discoveries,” they’re not “accidents” in the usual sense of the word. No more than Thomas Edison’s discovery that carbon is a good filament for a light bulb was an “accident.”
Edison’s light bulb was no accident! He swapped out thousands of materials until he found one that worked. Organisms exchange genes and chromosomes until they find genetic combinations that serve their purposes.
Horizontal Gene Transfer is just one of several amazing, systematic evolutionary mechanisms. It’s not random or accidental, it’s algorithmic. In future installments I’ll share 5 more with you. Stay tuned.
Bacterial Conjugation on Video:
National Science Foundation: “One step at a time!” Do organisms change slowly or by leaps and bounds?
Citizendium Encyclopedia: Horizontal Gene Transfer
HGT via Parasites: How Bacteria Can Transfer DNA Between Animals. That’s right – micro-organisms can transfer DNA from one species to another. From Medial News Today.