Re: IC (Challenge)

Kevin O'Brien (
Mon, 22 Mar 1999 17:33:37 -0700

>>All you need is a college degree in molecular biology. A BS would be
>>to get you in the door as a research technician, but if you got a PhD you
>>could do your own work as a principle investigator.
>This may be why I am two years into my BA degree in molecular biology and
>genetics. However, I am also 7 years into my 'sabbatical' being a mom and
>a housewife. Someday, when priorities permit.....

Whenever you get back, try for a BS rather than a BA. Often times the BA
curriculum is less rigorous, so you might have trouble getting a job or an
advanced degree with a BA.

Also try to take any advantage available to get some hands-on training and
experience. In many institutions the professors will hire undergraduates to
work in their labs doing scut work in exchange for some personal training
and actual experience doing lab work. Some institutions even have specific
programs that encourage students to do this.

>>If you don't mind a final comment, I believe the reason is because IC is
>>based on a bad analogy. IC assumes that proteins are like mousetraps in
>>that they are artifacts that must be specifically designed and built by
>>intelligence. I have no doubt that a mousetrap is IC, but a mousetrap
>>not evolve on its own (no dynamic information system). If in fact
>>are not artifacts, but are simply smaller versions of whole organisms,
>>they too could have evolved piecemeal over time, even though the current
>>result "appears" to be IC.
>It may, indeed be a bad analogy, however there are still some questions
>which the attachment of the label IC requires be asked.
>What does the cell do with a new functional protein?

That depends upon whether the cell needs the new function. For example,
bacteria living in a landfill containing discarded nylon would find very
useful an enzyme that could break down nylon and derive energy from the
reaction. Nylon would then become a new source of food for bacteria. Or a
plant living in an area contaminated by heavy metal toxins would benefit
from a protein that sequestered metal ions. Or a bacterium exposed to a
synthetic antibiotic would benefit from an enzyme that destroyed the
antibiotic. Or an insect exposed to a synthetic pesticide would benefit
from an enzyme that destroyed the toxic molecule. Or...(etc., ad infinitum,
ad nauseum).

And these are just the examples we know have actually occurred.

>Unless it is contained
>within an appropriate system, it is quite possible that the function of
>this protein could kill the cell.

This rarely happens, but if it did, the mutation would be lost with the cell
and so could not be passed on to other cells. More often than not the new
protein simply has no function that the cell can use (which is not the same
as having no useful function at all, by the way).

>Therefore, how does such a system develop?

Actually you don't need a new system. Systems are largely artificial,
identified by biochemists trying to make sense out of what would otherwise
be chaos. Systems are not factory assembly lines, where each component
directly interacts with each other component. In fact, for the vast
of systems, the components don't even "know" they are part of a system. All
they do is pick up a reactant, convert it to product, then expell it. The
product then wanders until it encounters the next component in the system.

New systems develop when a new protein arises that can do something
different with the product of an existing system component, or when an
existing system component mutates to create a branching in the current
system, or when a new protein can further process the product produced by
another new protein. The ability of existing systems to modify themselves
so as to take over a function of a lost or damaged system is well

>would seem to me, that not only do whole proteins need to appear, but also
>a cascade of functions to keep things in balance.

Not really, since "balance", like "information" and "complexity" is another
of those terms that has no real meaning in biochemistry. Besides, the
ability of cells to create new proteins or systems to handle sudden new
problems is also well documented. So if a new protein did create a product
that was toxic to the cell (just as long as it was not immediately lethal),
a new protein or system would be developed to handle it (this kind of thing
is seen all the time in laboratory experiments and is well documented). The
result, seen after the fact, may appear IC, but it still evolved piecemeal.

>I can't think of any
>specific examples, but I'm sure you and many others on this list could.

Any example would only appear to be IC, but the chances are still good that
it would have evolved piecemeal.

Kevin L. O'Brien