F Rosa Rubicondior: Beneficial Mutations - Another Creationist Howler

Friday 14 August 2020

Beneficial Mutations - Another Creationist Howler

Male brown howler, Alouatta guariba clamitans
Photo credit: Ilaria Agostini
Mutations may have saved brown howlers from yellow fever virus | @theU

Until 2007 El Parque El Piñalito in the Misiones province in northeastern Argentina, had low density, but healthy populations of two howler monkeys - the brown, Alouatta guariba clamitans, and the black and gold, A. caraya. Then they both started to die and by 2009 they were almost extinct.

The cause was the yellow fever virus, transmitted by mosquitoes. Yellow fever was introduced by slave traders from Africa to South and Central America. Increased logging and habitat destruction has also brought the howler monkeys into closer proximity to humans, increasing the risk of howler monkeys catching the virus from humans.

Ilaria Agostini, who has been studying the monkeys since 2005 also noticed that a few brown howlers had survived, seemingly resistant to the virus. In 2014 Nicole Torosi, postdoctoral researcher at Rutgers University and then a doctoral student at the University of Utah joined Ilaria Agostini to search for surviving Howlers. They found nine brown howlers and two black and gold howlers.

Black and Gold Howlers, A. caraya
Torisini and colleagues then sequenced the DNA from the livers of specimens which died of yellow fever, and from the faeces of the survivors, to look for genetic differences that might have helped the browns survive better than the black and gold howlers.

While they found no differences between the survivors and those who died, what they did find were three differences between the two species, in the genes that normally detect a single-strand RNA (ssRNA) virus such as the yellow fever virus between the browns and the black and golds.

The difference was in the DNA that codes for the 'toll-like receptors' (TLRs), TLR7 and TLR8, and two of the three were in the part of the protein that detects the viral RNA, replacing one amino acid with another in the protein. These differences could account for the differential rate of survival between browns and black and golds. Their work has been published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The problem this presents for creationists is that it violates a sacred dogma - that no mutation can be beneficial because it represents a 'degradation' from the initial 'perfection' of spontaneous creation, no matter that it improves the ability to survive an otherwise lethal virus infection, and it shows malevolent intent on the part of any designer who could have given this protection to the black and gold howler too, even if, for some reason, it had felt compelled to create a lethal virus in the first place, yet it chose not to.

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