F Rosa Rubicondior: Malevolent Designer News - What Creationism's God COULD Have Given Us but Just Didn't Bother.

Saturday 24 July 2021

Malevolent Designer News - What Creationism's God COULD Have Given Us but Just Didn't Bother.

A genetic tweak that targets RNA can grow crops that yield significantly more food and show increased drought tolerance, announced scientists from the University of Chicago, Peking University and Guizhou University.
Image: © Shutterstock
RNA breakthrough creates crops that can grow 50% more potatoes, rice | University of Chicago News

One of the pieces of evidence that Creationism's putative god is not the god described in the Christian Bible is that there are so many examples of how it could have done more for mankind if it had wanted to, but did not do so, refuting any claims that it is a maximally good god who created everything for the benefit of its favourite creation - human beings.

I devote the final chapter of The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is Not Good, to some of the many examples of this - from the elephants' resistance to cancers, bats' superior immune system, birds' superior respiratory system, to the superior eyes of birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon, compared to the relatively mediocre eyes of humans. To provide humans with sub-optimal systems and then watch them suffer with an inferior version, is almost as mendacious as the malevolent act of creating parasites to make us sick; it's certainly an act of incompetence which refutes any notion of it being a perfect designer, if indeed, as Creationists like to imagine, it ready did all those things.

On the left, rice plants without the RNA modification. On the right, a rice plant with the RNA modification that boosts yield.
Source: Yu, et al
Now here is another example, discovered by scientists from Chicago, Peking and Guizhou Universities. This time it shows how a supposed designer god failed to provide us with more productive food crops, even though this should have been well within the capabilities of an omniscient, omnipotent god.

The scientists have discovered that adding a human gene coding for a protein called FTO, increases the yield of rice and potatoes by 50%, and makes them more drought-tolerant. Two of the major staple food crops for humans worldwide have been yielding only two thirds of what they could have been producing, while resisting total crop failures from droughts, if an omni-benevolent, anthropophilic creator god really had designed them.

Of course, there is no reason why a mindless, amoral, purposeless natural process, like evolution, should have been concerned for human welfare and preventing famines, so there is no reason to expect our food crops to be optimised for our needs - which is where science scores over the efforts of imaginary omnibenevolent magic sky men for its explanatory power, when it comes to explaining observable reality.

The change really is dramatic. What’s more, it worked with almost every type of plant we tried it with so far, and it’s a very simple modification to make.

This really provides the possibility of engineering plants to potentially improve the ecosystem as global warming proceeds. We rely on plants for many, many things—everything from wood, food, and medicine, to flowers and oil—and this potentially offers a way to increase the stock material we can get from most plants.

This is a brand new type of approach, one that could be different from GMO and CRISPR gene editing; this technique allows us to “flip a switch” in the plants at an early point in development, which continues to affect the plant’s food production even after we remove the switch. It seems that plants already have this layer of regulation, and all we did is tap into it. So the next step would be to discover how to do it using the plant’s existing genetics.

Early field studies show it can be scaled up. We hope to work with academia and industry to further understand this biology and to safely and widely apply this new technology. Even beyond food, there are other consequences of climate change. Perhaps we could engineer grasses in threatened areas that can withstand drought. Perhaps we could teach a tree in the Midwest to grow longer roots, so that it’s less likely to be toppled during strong storms. There are so many potential applications.

Professor Chuan He, Co-Lead and Corresponding author
John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Department of Chemistry and Institute for Biophysical Dynamics
The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
How the discovery was made and its effects on crop yield are explained in the Chicago University news release, by Louise Lerner, and in the report of the research published in Nature Biotechnology:
Many of us remember RNA from high school biology, where we were taught that the RNA molecule reads DNA, then makes proteins to carry out tasks. But in 2011, He’s lab opened an entire new field of research by discovering the keys to a different way that genes are expressed in mammals. It turns out that RNA doesn’t simply read the DNA blueprint and carry it out blindly; the cell itself can also regulate which parts of the blueprint get expressed. It does so by placing chemical markers onto RNA to modulate which proteins are made and how many.

He and his colleagues immediately realized that this had major implications for biology. Since then, his team and others around the world have been trying to flesh out our understanding of the process and what it affects in animals, plants and different human diseases; for example, He is a co-founder of a biotech company now developing new anti-cancer medicines based on targeting RNA modification proteins.

He and Guifang Jia, a former UChicago postdoctoral researcher who is now an associate professor at Peking University, began to wonder how it affected plant biology.

They focused on a protein called FTO, the first known protein that erases chemical marks on RNA, which Jia found as a postdoctoral researcher in He’s group at UChicago. The scientists knew it worked on RNA to affect cell growth in humans and other animals, so they tried inserting the gene for it into rice plants—and then watched in amazement as the plants took off.

“I think right then was when all of us realized we were doing something special,” He said.
The technique relies on a reversing the effects of a discovery made by Professor He's lab, that plants modify the messenger RNA as it is transcribed from DNA by a process of methylation at key locations, similar to the methylation in epigenetics. This is the plant cell's way of limiting and regulating the proteins the RNA codes for and limiting the quantity produced. They set about trying to find ways to modify the process and so improve yields.

This is a very exciting technology and could potentially help address problems of poverty and food insecurity at a global scale—and could also potentially be useful in responding to climate change.

Professor Michael Kremer, (Not involved with the research).
Professor in Economics
Harris School of Public Policy
University of Chicago.
The breakthrough came with the discovery by Guifang Jia, working in Professor He's department in Chicago, that FTO strips this methylation from RNA. This is known to promote cell growth in humans, and some alleles of the gene for it are associated with obesity, so they tried it out in rice by genetically engineering it to insert the gene for FTO. The results were very marked, tripling the yield under controlled greenhouse conditions and increasing it by 50% in field trials. Similar results were obtained with potatoes.

It seems that FTO controls the methylated sites on the mRNA, known as RNA N6-methyladenosine (M6A) by demethylating it. In the abstract to their paper, which sits behind a paywall, the authors say:
Above, the potato yield from unmodified plants. Below, the yield from plants with the RNA modification.
Source: Yu, et al.
We demonstrate that the presence of FTO stimulates root meristem cell proliferation and tiller bud formation and promotes photosynthetic efficiency and drought tolerance but has no effect on mature cell size, shoot meristem cell proliferation, root diameter, plant height or ploidy. FTO mediates substantial m6A demethylation (around 7% of demethylation in poly(A) RNA and around 35% decrease of m6A in non-ribosomal nuclear RNA) in plant RNA, inducing chromatin openness and transcriptional activation.
The question that intelligent [sic] design advocates need to answer then, just as with the superior respiratory systems and eyes of birds, and the elephant's apparent resistance to cancers, is why didn't their putative omnibenevolent, omnipotent, anthropophilic designer god give our food crops this simple genetic modification, so massively increasing food production for the same effort, and even reducing the number and severity of famines due to drought?

Or is this just another example of their beloved malevolence failing to provide as good a world as it could for us because it actually enjoys watching us suffer, for which purpose it appears to have created parasites, cancers and an ineffective immune system for us?

Or is this none of its doing, but instead the result of a mindless natural process in which conscious design and the needs of humans played no part?

Thank you for sharing!

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