Monday, March 1, 2010

The Minimal Cell

As Francis Bacon pointed out so long ago, a key strategy in scientific research is to narrow the problem. Remove unknowns, freeze variables and pare back extraneous components. Often the best way to learn how nature works is to focus in and isolate one aspect of the problem. Once that aspect is understood, then freeze it and move on to the next. So when it comes to figuring out how the living cell works, one strategy is to begin with the simplest of cells to be found in nature. Enter Mycoplasma pneumoniae—a bacteria that causes a type of pneumonia.

Prokaryotes are far simpler then eukaryotes, and M. pneumoniae has one of the smallest genomes of the prokaryotes. Such small prokaryotes are a good starting point in the search for the minimal cell.

What is the difference between a living and dead cell? What functions and components are crucial and exactly what do they do? Constructing a minimal cell is a good step toward answering questions such as these.

There’s only one problem: M. pneumoniae is enormously complex.

Evolutionists expected that small bacteria such as M. pneumoniae, like a stripped down machine, would be simpler than the larger cells. But the tiny bacteria’s protein machines, metabolic reactions and DNA transcripts are all sophisticated and reveal fascinating novelties. As one evolutionist admitted:

At all three levels, we found M. pneumoniae was more complex than we expected.

Another evolutionist agreed with similar sentiment:

There were a lot of surprises, Although it's a very tiny genome, it's much more complicated than we thought.

And what are these surprises? Here are some of the novelties discovered:

● Many of M. pneumoniae’s molecules are multifunctional.

M. pneumoniae’s transcribed DNS is much more similar to that of eukaryotes. As in eukaryotes, a large proportion of the transcripts produced from M. pneumoniae's DNA are not translated into proteins.

M. pneumoniae’s gene expression is more complex than expected.

M. pneumoniae is incredibly flexible and readily adjusts its metabolism to drastic changes in environmental conditions. This adaptability and its underlying regulatory mechanisms mean M. pneumoniae has the potential to adapt quickly.

It is exactly the opposite of what evolution would expect. Rather than an evolutionary pattern, M. pneumoniae designs are unique, novel, sophisticated and finely-tuned.


  1. Mycoplasma are allegedly stripped-down versions of their alleged ancestors- they devolved.

    Also they are parasites or saprotrophic- meaning they cannot survive without a host or decaying organic stuff from another organism.

  2. I would say that cell biologists, evolutionists, engineers and everyone else would expect that a stripped down cell would be simpler than an unstripped down cell. and indeed it is simpler in many ways. for example, it can't make new purines or pyrimidines. it has no carboxylic acid cycle and an incomplete electron transport chain. but i guess those minor changes pale in significance next to the increased complexity of having molecules that perform multiple functions, bc somehow having fewer working parts means greater complexity?

  3. Dr. Hunter asks:

    "What is the difference between a living and dead cell?"

    I have posed similar questions. Why does a particular arrangement of carbon, hyodrogen, and oxygen atoms, etc. result in a living cell as opposed to some another arrangement?

    If scientists could somehow artificially duplicate that arrangement would that result in a living cell? (What would it mean if scientists could not construct a living cell by duplicating the arrangement of atoms?)

  4. I liked this reference as well Dr. Hunter

    "No man-made program comes close to the technical brilliance of even Mycoplasmal genetic algorithms. Mycoplasmas are the simplest known organism with the smallest known genome, to date. How was its genome and other living organisms' genomes programmed?" - David L. Abel and Jack T. Trevors, “Three Subsets of Sequence Complexity and Their Relevance to Biopolymeric Information,” Theoretical Biology & Medical Modelling, Vol. 2, 11 August 2005, page 8

  5. Cornelius,

    St Paul had the issue described perfectly which is as true today as when he wrote it, without any knowledge of science:

    "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." Romans 1:20

  6. "It is exactly the opposite of what evolution would expect."

    Why wouldn't it? Mycoplasma pneumoniae is the product of billions of years of evolution.

  7. Please, Dave Mullenix, Don't argue with us! Argue with the evolutionists who said the following:

    "At all three levels, we found M. pneumoniae was more complex than we expected."


    "There were a lot of surprises, Although it's a very tiny genome, it's much more complicated than we thought."

    Evidently there is a reason they expected less complexity in this, one of the simplest of all cells. I thought Dr. Hunter did a good job of explaining why evolutionary theory would predict more simplicity. I would think that you as an evolutionist would understand this.

    Here, once again, we have find more complexity than we would expect to find - another finding contradictory to evolutionary predictions.

    Maybe, Dave, if you e-mail Dr. Hunter, he would be willing to try and explain it to you in simpler terms.

  8. Wow, scientists found out something new! It was different to how they thought it might be! Well, they must be wrong about everything then!! Take note that the scientists said it was more complicated than 'we' expected, not more complicated than 'the theory of evolution expects'. These researchers were surprised, but I don't think it shatters any world view and it certainly is in line with the idea that a prokaryote, along with every other living organism on the planet has had as much time as you and I to evolve. Complexity is to be expected. Also, is this organism more or less complex than a single eukaryote cell?