December 26, 2003


Changing one gene launches new fly species: Study also ties sex appeal to cold tolerance (John Easton, December 2003, University of Chicago Medical Center)

In what has been described as the "perfect experiment," evolutionary biologists at the University of Chicago replaced a single gene in fruit flies and discovered a mechanism by which two different "races" begin to become different species, with one group adapted to life in the tropics and the other suited to cooler climates. The tropical group was more tolerant of starvation but less tolerant of cold. The temperate group was less able to resist starvation but better adapted to cool weather.

The altered gene also changed the flies' pheromones, chemical signals that influence mating behavior. As a result, the researchers show in the Dec. 5 issue of Science, the two groups of flies are not only fit for different environments but may also be on their way to sexual isolation, a crucial divide in the emergence of a new species.

"This study directly connects genetics with evolution," said Chung-I Wu, Ph.D., professor and chairman of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago and director of the study. "For the first time, we were able to demonstrate the vast importance in an evolutionary context of a small genetic change that has already occurred in nature."

"We had the luxury," added co-author Tony Greenberg, Ph.D., a postdoctoral student in Wu's laboratory, "of watching the essential event in Darwinian evolution, the first step in the origin of a new species. We were quite impressed, that this simple alteration played such a dramatic role, both adapting flies to a new environment and changing their sex appeal. Once two groups become sexually isolated, there's no turning back."

This is hilarious on a couple levels: first, the description of an obvious example of intelligent design as a "perfect" evolution experiment; second, that rather than any kind of real speciation they end up with mere sexual isolation, the default definition Darwinists have had to fall back on because, for example, fruit flies stubbornly remain fruit flies, just as the different dogs we'bve bred remain dogs, though some can't breed together.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2003 8:25 AM

The problem here, again, is that Darwinism's real ace in the hole is "Time, incromprehensively long time spans". The experiment here yield all it could given the processes Darwinian's believe in: very modest changes. Even the "fast living" fruit fly can not change that.

Posted by: MG at December 26, 2003 9:35 AM

Yes, the fact that the time frames they end up depending on are longer than there's been a Universe is one problem, but who knew they believed in genetic manipulation by sentient beings?

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2003 9:38 AM


I must disagree that this could be considered "intelligent design." It is instead intentional dumb mutation. An intelligent gene design would couple tolerance to cold with tolerance to starvation, since less food is generally available in colder climes.

Posted by: jd watson at December 26, 2003 9:56 AM

I'm more sympathetic to scioence--I'm willing to assume the guys who designed these bugs in their lab were intelligent.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2003 10:15 AM

The same thing, without human intervention, is observed among picture-winger fruit flies in kipuka (bits of rain forest isolated by new lava flows) on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Only there, complete speciation, not merely isolating mechanisms, have been observed, over time scales as short as 20 years.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 26, 2003 2:17 PM

They're still just fruit flies.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2003 2:27 PM

I, for one, am not convinced that some of those rat-things I see being walked on the street are 'dogs'.

Posted by: mike earl at December 26, 2003 7:24 PM


You live in a fascinating place. Not only is speciation occurring before your very eyes, but the theocratic Assembly of God is on the march.

Those of us who thought the clash of civilizations was supposed to take place in the Middle East are humbled.

Posted by: Peter B at December 26, 2003 9:03 PM

It is a fascinating place and more varied than some, but perhaps not more fascinating than yours.

The scientist Louis Agassiz was once asked how he had spent his college summer vacation. His reply: "I spent it traveling. I got halfway across my backyard."

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 27, 2003 2:40 PM


A wise man. I think it wmay have been Kant who never traveled more than a few miles from his birthplace. Delighting and discovering in well-trodden ground is, I believe, the epitome of wisdom.

Posted by: Peter B at December 27, 2003 5:47 PM

"Yes, the fact that the time frames they end up depending on are longer than there's been a Universe is one problem..."

Oh, really?

Count the number of genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees. It isn't very large, particularly viewed against the time since we and chimps shared a common ancestor.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 27, 2003 7:33 PM

It's infinite given that neither we nor chimps have changed at all in the history of human observation.

Posted by: oj at December 27, 2003 9:47 PM


A couple of serious questions, based upon the assumption you are right that we and the chimps had a common ancestor.

Can you hypothesize what kind of evolutionary pressures led us on such different paths? If we had to evolve is response to something, what was it that sent us one way and the chimps the other?

Would you agree that humans are probably the ancestors-in-making of more than one species? Is there any evidence man is speciating in different directions, or that anything is?

Posted by: Peter B at December 28, 2003 5:32 AM

How long is that history? If your observation of the earth was limited to a radius of 100', you would conclude the earth is comletely flat. Yet the ratio between that distance and the distance to the horizon for a 6' tall person is virtually the same as the ratio between the duration of human observation and the time of our last shared ancestor.

If you insist on looking at change through that narrow a soda straw, then you must also discard plate tectonics and virtually all geology.

Erosion didn't cause the Grand Canyon, since it hasn't changed at all in the history human observation.

What are you doing up so early on a Sunday?

Harry or AOG will probably--and rightfully--take me to task for insufficient understanding, but evolution occurs anytime a portion of a population becomes reproductively isolated for a sufficient amount of time.

Most anthropologists think a population of pre-humans left their arboreal environment for grasslands (or the area in which they lived changed over time from arboreal to grassland). The pre-chimps remained in the trees.

At the risk of posing just-so stories, a grassland environment allows something an arboreal environment does not: long range vision. Which in turn rewards those who stand taller (able to see over the grass, which can grow to four or five feet). It also provides a new visual communication opportunity--hand signals--which could well be the precursor for language, which has its own knock-on effects.

As has been noted before, Evolution, just like plate tectonics, is entirely backward looking. So predicting where evolution is going is a fools errand. One might as well make detailed predicitions about the stock market.

However, there is evidence man had been speciating before the Age of Exploration ended genetic isolation. Genetic drift among Australian aborigines was already such that if allowed to continue unchecked for another 50,000 years (or if they had reached Australia 50,000 years sooner), they would have become a genetically isolated population, a new species.

Is there evidence that any other species is speciating? Otters. They were once land dwelling animals, now amphibious, and could well be on their way to being completely acquatic. The fossil record for whales lays out the process in incredible detail.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 28, 2003 8:12 AM

What an I doing up early? Fretting about collective morality.

Jeff, why would I believe that anthropological guess unless I was trying to fit it all into a preconceived theory? Why don't lions stand up and use hand signals? Surely the prehumans lost in speed what they gained in vision? Seems kind of dumb to develop long range vision only to have to spend a few million years inventing weapons to compensate for the lost speed that keeps you from catching all the new exciting things you can now see better.

Posted by: Peter B at December 28, 2003 8:28 AM

Actually, the guess part wasn't so large. The differences between and arboreal and grassland environment do in fact include the characteristics I mentioned. The question is whether that environmental difference led to the evolutionary change.

Why don't lions stand up? Because they can't. Evolution isn't a completely random process because it can't start from just anywhere. The chimp-human common ancestor had the capacity to stand, which frees two limbs to do other things than support the front of the body.

Lions evolved too. But they had a different starting point that limited the available options.

You are right, Evolution is dumb. So dumb that it takes an excruciatingly long time (by human standards) to produce half baked results.

Hemorrhoids are a legacy of our quadrepedal past. Evolution is so dumb the vascular structure would remain essentially unchanged, since there is no reproductive advantage to be gained thereby.

An intelligent designer, on the other hand, would have to be either a few cards shy of a full deck in the brains department, or malicious, to leave in place such a glaring hydromechanical shortcoming.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 28, 2003 10:54 AM


Now, wait a minute. Every scientific schoolbook I've ever seen on animals preaches how well-adapted everything is to its environment. Fur colour, teeth, diet etc. are all just the ticket for thriving and multiplying. Now you tell me evolution is so dumb the cameleon might just as easily have developed to glow bright pink in the dark as to blend in with its background. Just sign me Confused in Canada.

Posted by: Peter B at December 28, 2003 12:20 PM

Perfectly, well, or adequately?

I told you that Evolution is so dumb it won't create the perfect solution to any problem, because, for one, it has to work with what it has. Secondly, some changes can come at the expense of others, and the result only has to be adequate enough for fertility rates to equal or exceed death rates over time.

Another example of the bare adequacy of evolution is the pain and mortality involved in birthing humans, along with our extended childhood.

Now is that the result of a haphazard process that statistically balances the costs of maternal mobility against the gains of braininess? Or is it "intelligent" design?


Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 28, 2003 12:40 PM

That's how mammals are designed.

Posted by: oj at December 28, 2003 2:24 PM

You're right, Peter, that so many textbooks and (even worse) "educational" TV shows bleat on about perfect adaptation.

That's sloppy thinking. It would be more precise to say that, at any point in time, most species are beautifully adapted to present circumstances.

But it is not hard to find species that are poorly adapted. An example is the alala, the Hawaiian crow.

Crows are thought of as intelligent and successful birds, and Hawaiian crows are as intelligent as the others. However, they nest on the ground, which was OK ("perfectly adapted" if you will) as long as there were no grounddwelling predators of eggs or hatchlings.

Now there are rats, mongooses and cats, and the alala is no longer perfectly adapted. In fact, it is headed for extinction.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 28, 2003 3:42 PM

Humans are alone among mammals for birthing pain and maternal mortality.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 28, 2003 8:50 PM

Evolution is like capitalism. Animals are highly adapted to whatever niche they occupy, but no better than they have to be.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 28, 2003 8:52 PM


Not to mention that both are philosophies invented by humans dependent on myriad decisions bu intelligent beings.

Posted by: oj at December 28, 2003 8:59 PM

When you speak of intelligent design with regard to Natural History, you mean an exogenous intelligence working to a plan.

Evolution requires neither external intelligence nor plan.

Neither does capitalism. Human brains within the system are the vehicles of inheritance and source of variation--just like DNA within the realm of Evolution.

Unless you can identify the capitalism's 5-yr plan, then applying the concept of intelligent design to our economy makes precisely no sense.

Of course, ID applied to communist economies. To no salutory effect, however. Evolution did get them in the end, though.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 28, 2003 9:10 PM


If evolution now encompasses all the human developments composed of or created by the conscious decisions of humans, no wonder you say it can be dumb. You are getting very close to a theory of evolution that says nothing more than: "What is, is."

Posted by: Peter B at December 28, 2003 9:42 PM

Peter B:

What is, is--and it requires the functioning of intelligence.

Posted by: oj at December 28, 2003 11:29 PM

That is the outcome of evolution. Which does not mean it is impossible to reconstruct how it got to be.

Economists do the same all the time. Their predictive capacity is pretty close to zero. Coors was mentioned recently. 30 years ago, you could not have found even one market-oriented economist who thought that by now there would be more than 3 brewers in the U.S. One of which was certainly going to be Schlitz.

They were off by two orders of magnitude.

We can reconstruct how that happened, but nobody saw it coming.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 29, 2003 1:39 AM

Except capitalists.

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2003 8:46 AM

All the capitalists?

Or just the ones whose companies survived?

Clearly it has to be the latter, or there would have been no losers. Sounds an awful lot like natural selection to me.

I'll grant that intelligence as you use the term is necessary for capitalism to function if you also agree that DNA is intelligent.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 29, 2003 11:13 AM

DNA is not intelligent in and of itself, any more than the Encyclopedia. Both just carry intelligence for designing beings.

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2003 11:34 AM

I don't know of any capitalists, with the single exception of Maytag (Anchor Steam Beer) who saw it coming.

The holders of small local breweries didn't hold on to them because they didn't foresee the microbrew opportunity. They either sold out to the big brewers or closed down.

Conceivably, if the big brewers had made a product worth drinking, the craft beer niche would not have opened up. Anchor was losing money in those days.

Instead, Miller introduced light beer, and it survived while Schlitz didn't. Since people who actually liked beer could not find a drinkable product, new entrants arose to meet the need.

You can see the same phenomenon going on at the local mall. There's a local, one-man coffee bar for people who like coffee and a Starbuck's for people who don't.

But it doesn't always work that way. Try buying a decent hamburger somewhere.

Business evolution, like organic evolution, is radically unpredictable.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 29, 2003 2:49 PM

For instance, no one who believes in capitalism thinks MicroSoft's size and market dominance is a long term benefit to either users or itself.

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2003 4:54 PM

Yet it survives.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 29, 2003 10:19 PM

As does North Korea--think communism works?

Posted by: oj at December 29, 2003 10:26 PM

Sure. It's like the guy who jumped off the top of the Empire State Building. As he passed the 50th floor someone leaned out and asked him, "How are you doing?"

"All right so far!"

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 30, 2003 2:55 AM