“You know nothing of my work”
[Update: William Jeck has kindly responded and provided an explanation for how circular RNAs may have arisen.]
In the movie Annie Hall Woody Allen is trapped in a long theater line right in front of a rather loud-mouthed fellow. What’s worse, the fellow is pompously expounding on the work of Marshall McLuhan even though he’s all wrong. Allen finally runs out of patience but the fellow won’t back down. So amazingly Allen produces Mr. McLuhan himself, right then and there, who authoritatively informs the fellow of his ignorance (click to view the video). That funny scene sometimes plays out in evolution discussions for there are a great many evolution experts who, like Mr. McLuhan, may drop in at any moment and smash the critic. But the denouement is not always quite as Allen scripted it.
Occasionally evolution researchers such as university professors and graduate students visit this blog to set the skeptics straight. This happened last week in response to our post on circular RNA. That post pointed out the challenge for evolution posed by circular RNA, but an evolution researcher decided he had heard enough. Like Marshall McLuhan he would authoritatively inform us of our ignorance. Here is what he wrote:
I am one of the scientists working on circular RNAs (See Jeck et. al. 2012 in RNA), and probably ought to know better than to respond here, but the willful ignorance is just baffling. In fact my article points to a possible mechanism of circular RNA formation and evolution (through transposable elements, in particular the ALU repeat element). Science is complicated, and before you say that something CANNOT be explained, perhaps you should read up about it to see if, in fact, it already has been.
Wow. That is a big-time slam. The evolutionist explains that he is one of the few scientists working on this very topic of circular RNAs and that, in no uncertain terms, we don’t know what we’re talking about.
Can you imagine what bypassers must have thought. While average readers fill the room with noise, here a real evolutionary scientist rises above the din and easily disposes of the entire post as meaningless.
There was only one problem. What the evolutionist said so authoritatively is, well, not even wrong.
It is difficult to criticize this evolutionist and his paper because it is not that his explanation for how circular RNAs evolved is weak, fallacious or even absurd; it is that his explanation for how circular RNAs evolved is nonexistent.
That’s right. After all the bluster about our “willful ignorance” and how his paper has already explained the evolution of said circular RNAs, the fact is the paper provides no such explanation. So here is our response:
Thank you for pointing us to your 2012 paper on circular RNA that explains how it evolved:
Just to be clear, we did not say that the evolution of circular RNAs “CANNOT be explained.” We did point out that (i) the fact that exons code for circular RNAs constitutes yet another genetic information layer, making protein evolution even more challenging, and that (ii) evolutionists have no scientific explanation for how circular RNAs could have evolved.
Now that you have pointed us to your paper we can retract that latter statement. One question for you though: Why do you think your 2012 paper provides such a scientific explanation of circular RNA evolution?
Your paper said nothing about how exons could have evolved to include the circular RNA information layer. That would be on top of all the other information exons code for, such as for the protein and its multiple functions, instructions for transport and other interactions, for mRNA stability, mRNA editing, DNA copy error correction, the speed of translation, avoiding an amyloid state, for any other genes that overlap with the gene, and for controlling tRNA selection which can help to respond to different environmental conditions.
You did cite another study that found circular RNA in Archaea so you concluded that “the production of RNA circles is evolutionarily ancient.” But that just aggravates the problem, since that means that the circular RNA signals must have evolved early, long before there were multicellular organisms, for instance.
You also found circular RNA similarities between humans and mice, including the ALUs in the flanking introns. But aside from stating that these similarities reveal an evolutionary relationship, you again said nothing about how the circular RNA could have evolved. You seem to be saying that the observation of similarity implicitly constitutes a scientific explanation for how circular RNAs evolved.
In fact you mention evolution only four times, and in each instance you simply are making the assumption that circular RNA similarities reveals an evolutionary relationship.
So we’re happy to retract our statement, but need a little guidance first. Thanks again.
Not surprisingly, there has been no response.
Unfortunately this is a typical example of how these discussions go. The confidence is exceeded only by the lack of evidence. I’d like nothing more than to acknowledge the strong evidences for evolution. I can go with evolution being true, false, or anywhere in between. But I can’t go against science.