Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Evolution of Venomous Proteins

Imagine a Star Trek movie in which two strikingly similar planets are discovered. The planets are in different corners of the universe, yet their coastlines, mountain ranges, inhabitants and cultures are amazingly alike. Or again, imagine a new, yet fully-formed, planet is discovered. The planet was not there a few years earlier, but there it is, complete with inhabitants and civilizations. These two phenomena--convergence and rapid appearance--are common in biology and, needless to say, they contradict evolutionary expectations. These surprises are not often seriously reckoned with. Evolutionists do not engage the implications of these findings, and sometimes they even avoid or deny the findings altogether.

To explain convergence and rapid appearance evolutionists tack on unlikely and complex explanations to their their theory. These epicycles are, themselves, a sort of measure of the truth value of a theory. A large number of epicycles suggests the theory is merely a tautology--a description of what we observe rather than an explanation of an underlying fundamental aspect of nature. A recent study of animal venom is the latest example of this pattern of epicycles and denial.

The study compared toxic proteins across a wide spectrum of species. These molecular assassins are cleverly designed. In World War II, the Allies bombed German ball bearing factories as a way of disabling its larger war machine. Obviously such a strategy required detailed knowledge of the war machine, how it works, the single point failures, where they are located, how they can be disabled, and so forth. Similarly, these biological toxins are finely tuned to disable crucial processes, such as the conversion of food energy to chemical energy, or the nervous system to paralyze the prey. Beyond vague speculation, evolutionists have no explanation for how such finely tuned toxins could have evolved.

Beyond the problem of how such designs evolved, these toxic proteins also reveal patterns of convergence and rapid appearance. Evolutionists are trying to figure out how very different types of animals have such similar venomous proteins. And some of the proteins appear to be completely new, as there are no known proteins in biology that share any significant degree of similarity. This implies a massive degree of evolutionary change in a relatively short period of time (something the study fails to mention), ending with a finely tuned molecular machine.

How can evolutionists present such findings within their framework? A common literary device in the evolution genre is the use of teleological language, such as "evolution designed the hemoglobin molecule to perform several important functions." Of course evolutionists do not literally mean that evolution consciously designed anything. Their teleological language is useful shorthand. Useful because it masks the absurdity of the notion that the blind, unguided process of evolution stumbles upon incredibly complex designs, again and again.

And so, not surprisingly, in this study the evolutionists use a plethora of teleological language in their peer reviewed paper. The reader is told, for example, that the study "confirms that convergent protein recruitment" spans all major animal phyla. We also learn that "the proteins chosen" in the evolutionary process are from widely dispersed protein families. Such literary devices are ubiquitous in the evolution genre and crucial to maintaining a credible narrative.


  1. Dr. Hunter,

    Thank you for linking to the original paper. I found a more readable version.

    "The presence of multiple sequences in phylogenetically distant cephalopods indicates that the transcriptomes in this group are diverse and ancient. Functional and ecologically specialized systems may have been preserved in multiple other coleoid lineages as well, including enigmatic taxa inhabiting largely unexplored biomes, such as deepsea squids and giant octopuses.

    The remarkably similar biochemical compositions of the cephalopod glandular secretions and the complex venoms across the Animal Kingdom suggests that there are structural and/or functional constraints as to what makes a protein suitable for recruitment. In addition to the cephalopod proteins discussed above, other protein classes that have been recruited into venoms on multiple occasions include AVIT peptides, cystatin, defensin, hyaluronidase, kunitz, lectin, lipocalin, natriuretic, sphingomyelinase, and SPRY (Fry et al. 2009). These protein classes span a broad spectrum of different structures and biochemical activities. However, we notice that the major classes share some general features. Typically the proteins chosen are from widely dispersed multigene secretory protein families with extensive cysteine cross-linking. These proteins are collectively much more numerous than globular enzymes, transmembrane proteins, or intracellular protein."

    Your reference to Ptolemy's epicycles is interesting. At least Prolemy’s hypothesis was a genuine attempt at an explanation. I presume you are still refusing to suggest a counter explanation for these observations concerning venom production in life on Earth; not even Front Loading?

    I have significant interest in the historical events from 325 AD to 415 AD when Ptolemy's epicycles was a mainstream theory. 325 AD was when the first Nicene Council met to decide what ideas were to be acceptable to Christians and what was to be considered heresy. 415 AD was when the Christian mob, which had been cleansing Alexandria of all things heretical, grabbed Hypatia (mathematician and astronomer) dragged her to a church and skinned her alive.

    I happen to think prior to this time there was probably a competing hypothesis to Ptolemy’s epicycles. It would have been natural for Pagan sun-worshippers to believe in a heliocentric universe. It would have been just as natural for a mob intent on purging heretical ideas to destroy any books or symbols showing a Sun centered universe.

    But surely, if this was true, there would have been some evidence left behind. Say like the Pantheon dome…

    My point is that I don’t mind having a scientific debate. I welcome it. Sure, four Billion people who believe in God can flex their political muscle to force an allegiance to “one nation, under God” or epicycles but that doesn’t make it scientific.

    If you want to discuss competing explanations, that is science.

    If you want to discuss competing worldviews, that is religion (i.e. philosophy)

  2. Dr. Hunter:

    The evolution of a venomous protein prompts the following observation and question.

    The evolution of a venomous protein does not directly depend on the effect it has on the animal possessing that protein. The evolution depends on the effect that the venomous protein has on the prey species.

    It's as if evolution can't perform its experiments in its own laboratory. It must send out its experiments to a laboratory across town and wait for the results.

    Am I seeing a problem that's not there, or is this a valid observation? It seems that in this case, the evolutionary feed back signal, if you will, is much weaker and not as certain, and that makes the evolution of a venomous protein even more difficult to explain.

    I am for now ignoring the problem of the evolution of the venom's delivery system and the evolution of the animal's immunity to its own venom. These seem to be functions that would have to co-evolve along with the protein itself.

  3. Doublee:

    "Am I seeing a problem that's not there, or is this a valid observation?"

    Yes, absolutely valid. As with evolution creating evolution, this is another example of evolution constructing a design whose fitness improvement is not direct, but rather indirect. As you said, this is over and above the problem of how such designs evolve in the first place.

    But even if they could evolve, we must believe that they persist even though there is no immediate fitness improvement. The "lucky" individual with the new design is still gobbled up by the prey. The difference is that the prey is poisoned.

    So next the predator must evolve a new behavior to avoid that prey, at which time the original fitness improvement is finally realized.

    There are a great many designs whose fitness is not directly realized, if it were to evolve, and they make evolution less likely.

  4. Hi Doublee,

    I am curious. Did you actually read to whole acticle and try to understand it, or are you letting Dr. Hunter do your analysis for you?


    "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
    Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?"

    Ignorance is not an argument, even for God.