Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Unintelligent Design News - WWI Muddle

Vibrio cholerae bacteria. If swallowed, these highly contagious organisms release toxins in the gut that cause severe diarrhoeal disease.
Credit: David Golding,
Wellcome Sanger Institute
Genetic code of WWI soldier's cholera mapped | Wellcome Sanger Institute

Creationism's putative intelligent (sic) designer seems to have gotten itself into a right old muddle during World War I, according to the findings of a team of researchers published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science today.

The team from the Wellcome Sanger Institute analysed the genome of a strain of the bacteria normally responsible for causing cholera, Vibrio cholerae, isolated from a sample of the stools of a WWI soldier of the British Expeditionary Force which had been taken in 1916 while the soldier was convalescing in Egypt.

As the Wellcome Sanger Institute press release explains:

Cholera is a severe diarrhoeal disease caused by ingesting food or water that is contaminated with toxigenic V. cholerae. The disease can spread rapidly in epidemics and in global pandemics.

WWI coincided with an historical global cholera pandemic, known as the sixth pandemic, which was caused by ‘classical’ V. cholerae. Surprisingly, very few soldiers in the British Expeditionary Forces contracted cholera during the war, despite the disease being considered as a threat.

In 1916, a strain of V. cholerae was extracted from the stool of a British soldier who was convalescing in Egypt. Reports indicate that the isolate was taken from ‘choleraic diarrhoea’. The bacterium was stored and subsequently deposited in the National Collection of Type Cultures (NCTC)* in 1920.

Researchers at the Sanger Institute revived the WWI soldier’s bacteria – thought to be the oldest publicly-available V. cholerae sample – and sequenced its entire genome.

The team found this particular strain of V. cholerae was not the type capable of causing epidemic cholera, and was unrelated to the classical V. cholerae that caused the sixth pandemic at the time of WWI.

*Founded in 1920, NCTC is one of four Culture Collections of Public Health England that supplies over 5,000 type and reference bacterial strains of medical, scientific and veterinary importance.

Reports in the literature indicated that there was something unusual about the strain of bacteria from the WWI soldier. It’s promising to see that our genomic information aligns with those historical records. We also made other observations – under the microscope, the bacterium looks broken; it lacks a flagellum – a thin tail that enables bacteria to swim. We discovered a mutation in a gene that’s critical for growing flagella, which may be the reason for this characteristic.

Matthew Dorman
First author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute
The team found a number of surprising things. Firstly, it seems the gene for making the bacteria's flagellum was broken by a mutation; secondly, although it had genes for making toxin and may have caused diarrhoea, that seems to have been much milder than the lethal strains produce.

Thirdly, they discovered that this strain had the gene for ampicillin resistance, even though antibiotics were not in use at that time.

The team also believe they have shown that this strain of V. cholerae, although distantly related to the strain that caused the 6th pandemic, it is nevertheless not a different species of Vibrio, as some studies had suggested.

The sixth global cholera pandemic lasted from 1899 to 1923. However, despite widespread fear of the disease and of its negative effects on troop morale, very few soldiers in the British Expeditionary Forces contracted cholera between 1914 and 1918. Here, we have revived and sequenced the genome of NCTC 30, a 102-year-old Vibrio cholerae isolate, which we believe is the oldest publicly available live V. cholerae strain in existence. NCTC 30 was isolated in 1916 from a British soldier convalescent in Egypt. We found that this strain does not encode cholera toxin, thought to be necessary to cause cholera, and is not part of V. cholerae lineages responsible for the pandemic disease. We also show that NCTC 30, which predates the introduction of penicillin-based antibiotics, harbours a functional β-lactamase antibiotic resistance gene. Our data corroborate and provide molecular explanations for previous phenotypic studies of NCTC 30 and provide a new high-quality genome sequence for historical, non-pandemic V. cholerae.

It appears then that there was something different about the cholera British soldiers suffered from, and that this either gave them resistance to the much more lethal strain causing the 6th pandemic raging around them, or prevented them from being infected by it.

We have decoded the genome of what we believe to be the oldest archived ‘live’ sample of V. cholerae. It is a privilege to be able to look at the genome of this isolate. Studying strains from different points in time can give deep insights into the evolution of this species of bacteria and link that to historical reports of human disease. Even though this isolate did not cause an outbreak it is important to study those that do not cause disease as well as those that do. Hence this isolate represents a significant piece of the history of cholera, a disease that remains as important today as it was in past centuries.

Professor Nick Thomson
Lead author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute
Now, let's look at this from an intelligent (sic) design perspective.

The intelligent (sic) designer has apparently designed a strain of V. cholerae so it doesn't work anymore. Having given it a gene for making a flagellum, it then broke it. Having given it a gene for making a lethal toxin, it changed it to a non-lethal form. And having allowed its design to cause a pandemic that killed millions, it gave British soldiers a special broken one. If it really had wanted British soldiers specially protected from cholera, why did it not just prevent them becoming infected in the first place? Indeed, why, if it wanted them to live, did it allow them to be in a war that killed millions in the most grotesque ways and live in the conditions in which cholera thrives?

Lastly, that ampicillin resistance takes some explaining.

Antibiotics are produced by fungi to protect themselves against bacteria, so we already have one of those inexplicable things for ID advocates - why design bacteria to attack fungi then design fungi to prevent bacteria attacking them? In other words, an evolutionary arms race that is entirely predictable as an evolutionary process but inexplicable as the design of an intelligence.

And then we have this bacterium being redesigned, apparently, to overcome the 'solution' to the 'problem' of bacteria doing to fungi what they were designed to do.

And we now have an example of this supposed intelligent designer redesigning a bacterium to protect a group of specially-selected humans by breaking a gene instead of simply removing it, but then equipping it with a way to overcome a future development of medical science and which can be passed by horizontal gene transfer to the more lethal forms it was protecting them from in the first place.

In other words, we have a supposedly intelligent (sic) designer behaving exactly like a designer that hasn't got a plan and doesn't know what it's doing. It's exactly like this 'designer' was relying entirely on a mindless, evolutionary process.

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