Friday 30 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Our Placental Ancestors Briefly Lived With Dinosaurs and Survived the Mass Extinction

June: Humans’ ancestors survived asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs | News and features | University of Bristol
The beginning of the end for larger dinosaurs. The beginning of the age of placental mammals for us.
According to a new study by palaeontologists from the University of Bristol and the University of Fribourg, placental mammals had evolved in the Cretaceous and were living alongside dinosaurs when the asteroid struck and precipitated the mass extinction that wiped out the larger fauna, leaving smaller feathered dinosaurs to evolve into birds and the early placental mammals to diversify quickly into all today's placental mammals and occupy niches vacated by the larger dinosaurs.

This event is known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, marked in the geological column by a thin layer of iridium, believed to be of asteroid origin, the asteroid having vapourized on impact.
The question the team set out to answer was when exactly the placental mammals evolved relative to the mass extinction. The fossil evidence, which has only been found in rocks younger than 66 million years, suggested they evolved after the K-Pg boundary, but molecular data suggested an earlier origin.

The research, which is published, open access, in the journal Current Biology, is described in Bristol University press release:

Thursday 29 June 2023

Abiogenesis News - Urea May Have Been The Precursor to Life.

Why urea may have been the gateway to life | ETH Zurich
Artist's impression of the pre-biotic Earth.

A new technique for observing chemical reactions with an extremely high temporal resolution has enabled Swiss scientists working at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich (ETH Zürich) and Geneva University to see what happens when urea in water is subject to ionizing radiation - the conditions that would have existed on pre-biotic Earth, billions of years ago.

The dominant theory explaining abiogenesis is that it took place around deep ocean hydrothermal vents, or black smokers, but a rival theory, which harks back to Darwin's 'warm little pond', is that it could have occurred in shallow pools subjected to ionizing radiation from the sun. The team's observation of how urea reacts lends support to the latter theory.

Urea is a highly reactive molecule that exists in concentrated solutions as a dimer (two molecules chemically bonded). The researchers observed that ionizing radiation causes a hydrogen ion (i.e., a proton, which carries a positive charge) to move from one molecule in the dimer to the other, creating a negatively charged urea- radical from one molecule and a protonated urea+ molecule from the other. The former is highly reactive and can then form malonic acid - believed to be the first step in creating larger molecules such as RNA. This happens so fast (in about 1 femtosecond, or 150 billionths of a second) that it effectively monopolizes the dimer and prevents other chemical reactions from occurring, so favouring the formation of malonic acid.

The details are given in the ETH Zürich press release:

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - A Gap in the Fossil Record in Texas Has Just Been Filled With A Jurassic Plesiosaur

Plesiosaur, artist's impression.
Newly Discovered Jurassic Fossils Are a Texas First | Jackson School of Geosciences | The University of Texas at Austin

Those pesky gaps in the fossil record into which creationists try to shoehorn their ever-shrinking little god, keep on getting filled by science. To the average child-like creationists it must seem at times as though every serious scientist is trying to prove them wrong. No wonder so many of them are also fruitloop conspiracy theorists.

But the fact remains that the 'fossil record' is simply the record of the fossils found so far. This was neatly illustrated recently when a team of palaeontologists filled another big gap - the lack of Jurassic vertebrate fossils in Texas. Since parts of Texas and Mexico were covered by a shallow sea during the Jurassic, there should have been a fossil record of Jurassic marine vertebrate species and yet none, apart from a few marine invertebrates such as ammonites and snails, had been found - until now.

The discovery of bone fragments of the limbs and backbone of a plesiosaur, was made in the Malone Mountains of West Texas by teams led by Steve May, of UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences Museum of Earth History.

The Jurassic deposits which are found in the Malone Mountains were laid down in the shallow sea just below sea level a few miles from the shore. The deposits have since been lifted up into mountains by tectonic activity. Hilariously, creationists try to explain the ordering of fossils in the geological column by claiming the more advanced animals could run faster so got further up the mountains as the biblical genocidal flood waters rose. This apparently explains why shellfish and marine vertebrates with flippers are found in mountains!

A paper describing the bones was published recently in the journal Rocky Mountain Geology.

A UT Jackson School of Geoscience news release tells the story of the research:

Creationism in Crisis - Our Ancestors Were Eating One Another About 1.45 Million Years Before Creationists Think Earth was Created

Slideshow code developed in collaboration with ChatGPT3 at

Homo erectus
Cannibalized by unknown tool-using hominid.
Humans’ Evolutionary Relatives Butchered One Another 1.45 Million Years Ago | Smithsonian Institution

More evidence that the Bible narrative is wrong by several orders of magnitude about the age of Earth, comes in yet another scientific paper showing that there were human ancestors living in Africa 1.45 million years ago.

And these hominids were also cannibals, judging by the cut marks found on their fossil remains, highly suggestive of the flesh being removed for consumption in much the same way that flesh was cut from the bones of other species.

The evidence comes from the work of three paleoanthropologists led by Briana Pobiner of the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program, Washington, DC, USA. Her colleagues were Michael Pante of the Department of Anthropology and Geography, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA and Trevor Keevil of the Department of Anthropology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA.

Briana Robiner discovered the cut marks when she was examining the specimen KNM-ER 741 for evidence of animal predation by, for example, lions and sabre-toothed cats that were living in the area at the time. KNM-ER 741 was found by Mary Leakey in the Turkana region of Kenya and was originally assigned to the Australopithecine species, Australopithecus boisei but has since been reclassified as the hominin, Homo erectus, making it a direct ancestor of modern humans as well as Neanderthals and Denisovans.

With several archaic hominids co-existing in East and South Africa at that time, the butcher(s) could be from a cousin species which would technically not be cannibalism, which requires the cannibal to consume members of its own species.
Their trio's research is described in a Smithsonian news release:

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Unintelligent Design News - Fossil Teeth From 3.4 Million Years Ago Show Megalodons Were Warm-Blooded (And This May Have Caused Their Extinction)

Megalodon sharks could reach up to three times the size of the largest great white ever recorded.
Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock
Megalodon was no cold-blooded killer | UCLA

Unplanned, mindless evolution can, and often does, push a species up to and over the edge of a cliff, resulting in extinction, because it has no way to tell the future.

This makes no sense as the product of an intelligent process, of course, especially a process controlled and directed by an omniscient god, for whom the future is knowable and predictable, and it is simply not the work of such an intelligent, omniscient designer to deliberately design species such as the megalodon to go extinct.

Now scientists from the University of California - Los Angeles, USA (UCLA) together with colleagues from the William Paterson University of New Jersey, USA, the University of California–Merced, USA, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, USA, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Princeton University, Princeton, USA and DePaul University, Chicago, USA believe they have worked out why the megalodon went extinct.

Determining the body temperature in life from isotopes in fossil teeth.

Scientists can estimate the body temperature of live animals by analyzing the isotopes of oxygen and carbon found in their fossil teeth using a method known as stable isotope analysis. Here's an overview of how this process works:
  1. Oxygen Isotopes: The ratio of oxygen isotopes (oxygen-18 to oxygen-16) in the body is influenced by various factors, including the temperature and the isotopic composition of the water an animal consumes. As animals drink water or consume food, the oxygen isotopes from those sources become incorporated into their tissues, including teeth.

    Animals that maintain a relatively constant body temperature, such as mammals, have a consistent relationship between their body temperature and the oxygen isotope composition of their tissues. This relationship is often referred to as the "oxygen isotope thermometer."

    By analyzing the oxygen isotopes preserved in fossil teeth, scientists can compare them to the isotopic composition of modern animals with known body temperatures. This comparison allows them to estimate the body temperature of the ancient animals.
  2. Carbon Isotopes: The carbon isotopes (carbon-13 to carbon-12) found in fossil teeth can provide additional information about an animal's diet and metabolism, which can be indirectly related to body temperature.

    Different types of food sources have distinct carbon isotope signatures. For instance, plants using the C3 photosynthetic pathway have a different carbon isotope composition compared to plants that use the C4 pathway. Animals feeding on different types of plants will exhibit different carbon isotope ratios in their tissues, including teeth.

    By analyzing the carbon isotopes in fossil teeth, scientists can infer the type of plants consumed by an animal and gain insights into its dietary habits. This information, in combination with oxygen isotope analysis, helps refine temperature estimates.
It is important to note that these methods provide approximations and are subject to various uncertainties and limitations. However, they offer valuable insights into the paleobiology and ecology of ancient organisms, including their body temperature ranges.
A paper in 2019 suggested that the main cause was competition from the newer and smaller, great white sharks, but this team's findings point to the difficulty in maintaining a body temperature several degrees warmer than the sea water it lived in. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive and a dynamic which demanded a high-energy food intake could be pushed out of balance by competition for food.

The team arrived at the conclusion that the megalodon was warm-blooded by examining the fossilized remains of megalodon teeth which contain isotopes of oxygen and carbon deposited when the shark was alive, so making a permanent record of the relative abundance of these isotopes, which vary according to the temperature of the water they lived in.

The research and its significance are explained in a press release from the UCLA Newsroom:

Creationism in Crisis - Another 'Missing' Link - From 94 Million Years Ago

Life reconstruction of the mosasaur Plioplatecarpus, a distant relative of Sarabosaurus dahli.

Image credit: Sci.News / Dmitry Bogdanov.
UNF: UNF professor & team discover ancient marine reptile fossil, publish ground-breaking evolutionary insight

The chronic problem for creationists, and one the frauds who lead their cult need to work ever harder to give their dupes strategies for ignoring, is that being a counter-factual superstition, the facts keep trying to assert themselves and create doubt in the minds of the faith-fooled.

Another such fact is the discovery that the fossil remains of an early marine reptile, a mosasaur, found 11 years ago, have, on re-examination, proved to be close to the stem mosasaur of this group of extinct marine reptiles and gives clues about the origins of a novel cranial blood supply seen in a particular group of mosasaurs. The species has been named Sarabosaurus dahli after the US Bureau of Land Management volunteer, Steve Dahl, who helped recover the fossil fragments.

The team of Dutch, French and American palaeontologists who identified the fossil as a new species included Dr. L. Barry Albright III, of the Department of Physics, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.A., and, embarrassingly for Creationists, Dr. Michael J. Polcyn, of the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, who obviously has no difficulty accepting that the TOE best explains the observable evidence.

The finding and its significance are explained in a University of North Florida news release:

Monday 26 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - A Continuous Culture in Central America for 11,000 Years. No Evidence of a Genocidal Flood

Macrobotanical remains from El Gigante.

Photo Credit: Thomas Harper
Lessons in sustainability, evolution and human adaptation — courtesy of the Holocene | The Current

The thing about creationists claims of a global genocidal flood with just eight survivors, is that there is no evidence that such a flood ever occurred and what evidence there is all points to it never having happened.

If creationism were based on evidence, those two demonstrable facts should at least cause them to do the unthinkable and consider being wrong. However, considering being wrong is such an existential threat to creationists that it is something that must never even be contemplated.

So, what are these demonstrable facts?
  • The evidence that should be there is of course the global layer of silt containing a jumble of fossils from disconnected land masses than would be the inevitable result of such a flood with no land barriers to how far debris could float. Creationists also claim that extinct orders such as dinosaurs were living at the time of the flood, so the predicted jumble of fossils should contain extinct and extant species in haphazard order.

    But that's not what we see.
  • The evidence that should not be there is of course archaeological evidence of continuous cultures which pre-dated the supposed flood 4,000 years ago and continues in an unbroken sequence through the time of the alleged flood and up to modern times. The culture should have been destroyed along with the evidence for it in a catastrophic global flood, of course.

    But that's what we see.
Normally, having inevitable predictions from a hypothesis refuted is a reason to abandon the hypothesis, but creationists are not normal people, at least in their use of logical deduction. To a creationist, the conclusion is sacred, so facts must be ignored.
Evidence of the latter fact, which shouldn't be there but is, was the subject of a recent paper on PLOS ONE a couple of days ago. It concerns the stratified layers of the remains of food plants in a the 'El Gigante' rock shelter in Honduras, Central America, going back to 11,000 years. The site was recently nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not only does this show a pattern of continuous occupation but it also records the dynamic nature of hunter-gatherer societies and the adaptations to climate and environmental change.

Of course, the scientists were interested in what this tells us about how the local culture evolved from hunter-gatherers to farmers and what lessons can be learned of relevance to today's society. The refutation of the creationist flood myth was purely incidental, like the other frequent scientific refutations of creationism, where the revealed facts speak for themselves.

The international research team included scientists from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB).

A UCSB news release explains the discovery and its significance:

Sunday 25 June 2023

Malevolent Designer News - A Tapeworm that Extends the Age of its Victim to Improve the Chance of it Being Eaten

Two ants of the species Temnothorax nylanderi: The lighter colored ant is infected with larvae of the tapeworm Anomotaenia brevis (bottom right) and thus has a different cuticle color as well as, more importantly, a considerably longer lifespan.

Photo: © Susanne Foitzik

Temnothorax nylanderi

Wikipedia ( (CC BY 4.0)
Parasites as fountains of youth: Study finds infected ants live much longer | Press and Public Relations

A beautiful example of how the mindless, undirected process of evolution can produce parasites that turn their hosts into zombies, because that suits the survival interests of their offspring, was published a couple of years ago in Royal Society Open Science.

And more bad news for creationists because it makes their beloved designer god look even more malevolent.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Professor Susanne Foitzik of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU).

Why an intelligent designer would design something like this is something for creationists to explain because the designer of such a system can only be described as malevolent and planning to increase the suffering in the world, or full of hate for the ants it supposedly also designed.

The study showed that worker ants of the species Temnothorax nylanderi can live several times longer than normal workers of the same species when infected by a parasitic tapeworm, Anomotaenia brevis.

The ants are the intermediate hosts of the tapeworm, the primary host of which is a woodpecker. The longer an infected ant lives, the greater its chances of being eaten by a woodpecker, so it is in the interests of the tapeworm genes to keep the ant alive as long as possible.

The research is explained in a press release from JGU:

Saturday 24 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - No Doubt About it. Sponges Evolved!

Glass sponge genome furnishes insights into evolution of biomineralization - LMU Munich

Figure 1.Aphrocallistes vastus: habitus, genomic overview and phylogenetic grouping in the Hexactinellida.
(a) Photograph of Aphrocallistes vastus at 170 m depth on the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reefs. Lasers top to bottom right are 10 cm apart (photo by James Pegg, the ROV pilot). The single red laser dot marks the oscular region (‘tip’) and the two laser dots the main ‘body’, the two regions from which differentially expressed genes were assessed.
(b) Photograph taken by ROV of the sponge reefs at Fraser Ridge in the Salish Sea, BC, Canada. Oscula (round openings) are about 5 cm in diameter.
Contrary to creationist fraud claims, research biologists are not turning their backs on the Theory of Evolution and instead adopting the childish creationist superstition complete with its belief in magic and the assumption of an unproven supernatural magician, can make chemistry and physics do things they can't do on their own.

Prime examples are the research biologists working at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany, who believe they have discovered genetic evidence for the evolution of the so-called 'glass sponges' - sponges with silicate skeletons.

Friday 23 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Mystery of Horse Hoof Evolution - Not Whether but How?

Hipparion forcei (a relative of the Laetoli species)

Nobu Tamura - Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
June: Horses lost their toes | News and features | University of Bristol

While increasingly desperate creationist frauds continue to try to fool their followers into believing that biologists are about to abandon the Theory of Evolution in favour of their childish superstition based on unproven magical supernatural entities, real biologists are debating the minute details of how taxons like the equids (horses, donkeys, zebras, etc.) evolved.

One of the mysteries in the evolution of this order is what exactly happened to the lateral toes as the modern equid foot evolved from the common pattern found in ungulates (five at the front, four at the back) through three in extinct equids into a single hooved toe. A recent paper in Royal Society Open Science had suggested that, contrary to the earlier consensus, the toes had become fused into the single central toe with their hooves contributing to the structure of the single hoof with its underlying 'frog'. This had been based in part on an examination of 3.7-million-year-old hoof prints of extinct members of the three-toed Hipparion genus found at Laetoli in the same volcanic ash deposits as those of the extinct bipedal hominid, Australopithecus.

Now a new study disputes those findings and confirms the original hypothesis that, while the lateral upper bones of the digits did indeed fuse as 'splints' to the central digits, the lower bones (the 'fingers and toes') were simply lost. The research team was led by Professor Alan R. Vincelette of Department of Pathology, St. John's Seminary, Camarillo, CA, USA and included Professor Christine Janis of the School of Earth Science, Bristol University, Bristol, UK.

The research is explained in a Bristol University news release:
The distant ancestors of modern horses had hooved toes instead of a single hoof, which vanished over time, according to researchers.

Plantar (underneath) view of feet of a four-toed tapir (left) and a one-toed horse (right) by Nuria Melisa Morales-García. In the middle, a reconstruction of the extinct three-toed horse Hipparion, by Karolina Suchan-Okulska.

Overall design: Morales-García.
The animals, such as the Eocene Hyracotherium, had feet like those of a modern tapir: four toes in front and three behind, each individually hooved with an underlying foot pad.

In contrast, modern equids such as horses, asses, and zebras, have only a single toe, the left over original third toe on each foot, encased in a thick-walled keratinous hoof, with an underlying triangular frog on the sole that acts as a shock absorber.

An international team of scientists, from the UK, the US, and the Netherlands, analysed hoof prints and foot bones from modern horses and fossil records to discover what happened to the lost digits.

The upper portions – the remains of the additional hand and foot bones - remain as ‘splint bones’ fused with the remaining central one, but where are the fingers and toes?

In later fossil horses there were only three toes front and back. The extra toes, known as side toes, in these horses were smaller and shorter than in a tapir, and likely did not touch the ground under normal circumstances, but they may have provided support in exceptional situations, such as sliding or forceful impact.

While the notion that modern horses have retained all of their original toes as within-hoof remnants is a novel one, and so rather appealing, it can be shown to be incorrect.

Professor Christine Janis, co-author
School of Earth Sciences
University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.
In findings, published today in Royal Society Open Science, they confirm the older notion that these toes really have been completely lost in evolution, not somehow retained within the hoof, as proposed in another recent paper published in the same journal in 2018.

Although it does seem that remainders of the proximal (upper portions) of the sider digits have been retained in modern horses, as the earlier 2018 paper claimed, the distal (lower portions, or toes) have simply been lost.

The frog of the horse's hoof evolved independently of the side toes as a unique structure providing shock absorption and traction during locomotion.

Professor Alan Vincelette, lead author
St. John’s Seminary, Camarillo, CA, USA
The 2018 paper proposed that in modern horses these side toes are retained within the hoof of the central toe, in part contributing to the frog - although there are no actual bones within the frog.

This was partially based on an interpretation of the hoof prints of an extinct three-toed horse, Hipparion (not on the direct line to modern horses) from Laetoli in Tanzania 3.7 million years ago, the same site that yielded the famous footprints of the hominid Australopithecus. These hoof prints apparently lacked a frog, and this added weight to the notion that the side toes of horses like Hipparion now contribute to the frog of modern horses.

While not all hoof prints of modern horses with frogs record its presence, an undoubted frog can be seen in many hoof prints that are known to have been made by three-toed horses. These observations cast doubt on the notion that the frog of modern horse hooves formed out of the side toes of tridactyl equids.

The team also show that the feet of one-toed horses have a different shape from the main toe of the foot of three-toed horses, being round rather than oval, a difference that may be related to differences in weight distribution and/or ecological habitat.
Copyright: © 2023 The authors.
Published by The Royal Society. Open access. (CC BY 4.0)
The abstract to the open access paper in Royal Society Open Science, has more technical details:

The traditional story of the evolution of the horse (family Equidae) has been in large part about the evolution of their feet. How did modern horses come to have a single toe (digit III), with the hoof bearing a characteristic V-shaped keratinous frog on the sole, and what happened to the other digits? While it has long been known that the proximal portions of digits II and IV are retained as the splint bones, a recent hypothesis suggested that the distal portion of these digits have also been retained as part of the frog, drawing upon the famous Laetoli footprints of the tridactyl (three-toed) equid Hipparion as part of the evidence. We show here that, while there is good anatomical and embryological evidence for the proximal portions of all the accessory digits (i.e. I and V, as well as II and IV) being retained in the feet of modern horses, evidence is lacking for the retention of any distal portions of these digits. There is also good ichnological evidence that many tridactyl equids possessed a frog, and that the frog has been part of the equid foot for much of equid evolutionary history.

Vincelette, Alan R.; Renders, Elise; Scott, Kathleen M.; Falkingham, Peter L.; and Janis, Christine M. (2023)
Hipparion tracks and horses' toes: the evolution of the equid single hoof
R. Soc. open sci.; 10230358230358. DOI:10.1098/rsos.230358.

Copyright: © 2023 The authors.
Published by The Royal Society. Open access.
Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)
Yet another piece of biology refuting several basic creationists claims, and to make matters worse, one of the scientists, the leader of the team and lead author of the paper, Professor Alan R. Vincelette, PhD, is a Catholic seminarian and a leading expert on the evolution of horses. He expresses no doubt at all that the TOE provides a complete explanation for the fossil record which shows the evolution of the equids over time.

But then, in mainstream Christianity, there is no problem at all with accepting the TOE. It's only the wackadoodle extremist fringe cults that requires their members to be fooled by falsehoods.

So, which creationist is going to explain to Professor Vincelette, PhD, why he is wrong, both in his theology and in his science?

Wednesday 21 June 2023

Malevolent Designer News - How Food Poisoning Must Look Intelligently Designed to a Creationist

Providencia alcalifaciens growing on culture medium
New insights on bacteria that causes food poisoning | Osaka Metropolitan University

The thing about believing in intelligent design, if that's what Christian and Islamic creationists genuinely do, is that you have to believe the bad stuff is designed by the designer of the good stuff because your religion only allows you to believe in one supreme designer, or you have to believe there is some other entity or force capable of intelligently designing things against which your putative supreme designer is powerless.

The other entity or force is capable of altering your supreme designer's plans at will and there is not a thing the supreme designer can do about it. Even the bizarre and morally repugnant blood sacrifice of its own son didn't give it sufficient power to overcome this rival designer, apparently.

The logic then of insisting there is only one intelligent designer is that the same designer that designs parasites that make us sick, designed our immune system to protect us from its malevolent designs. It needs a private definition of the word 'intelligent' to define that as intelligent design.

As this latest piece of research shows, some bacteria, in this case those that cause food poisoning not only have genes that produce the toxins that make us sick have also been designed to share these genes even with other species, and creationists dogma dictates that creationists believe this can't have evolved by a mindless process, so must be the design by ab intelligence that can only be described as malevolent.

The research was conducted by scientists at the Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Osaka Prefecture University, Osaka, Japan, with colleagues from the School of Environment and Life Sciences, Independent University Bangladesh (IUB), Bashundhara, Dhaka, Bangladesh and the Department of Pediatrics, Mizushima Central Hospital, Okayama, Japan.

The work is explained in a brief press release from Osaka Metropolitan University:

Monday 19 June 2023

Unintelligent Design - How the Appearance of Design in a Fibonacci Spiral Evolved

Fibonacci fractal
Fossil study sheds light on famous spirals found in nature | The University of Edinburgh

One of the things that creationists unwittingly present as evidence of design (and therefore of a designer) is the spiral pattern known as a Fibonacci spiral that occurs throughout nature, from the pattern of florets in a sunflower, the arrangement of leaves in plants, the spiral of a hurricane to the shape of a spiral galaxy.

The irony is that a Fibonacci spiral is the result of a mathematical progression known as a Fibonacci sequence where the next is the sum of the preceding two numbers, 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34... etc., so the appearance of design is in reality the result of a simple mathematical progression. In other words, it's not evidence of design at all but evidence of how the appearance of design can arise without a designer, intelligent or otherwise.
It's also an example of how creationists employ post hoc reasoning and deduce their desired answer from ignorant incredulity and the false dichotomy fallacy - "I can't work out how this happened naturally, therefore it must have been done by [fill in the name of the god their mummy and daddy believed in]".

Of course there will be those who extend their post hoc rationalization and claim the existence of mathematical laws like the Fibonacci sequence shows there must be a law maker, i.e., [fill in the name of the god their mummy and daddy believed in], failing to understand the deference between the descriptive laws use in science, which simply describe what happens, and the proscriptive and prescriptive laws that humans make to control our behaviour in a society.

But then where would creationism be without this ignorance, failures of logic and post hoc rationalization, in the complete absence of any supporting evidence?

And now, as though to add to creationists' discomfort, scientists have found evidence that the Fibonacci spiral seen in the arrangements of leaves in many plants is an evolved feature which was not present in the earliest plants.

First, a description of how Fibonacci sequences arise naturally in nature:

Sunday 18 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - What Our Ancestors Were Doing 80,000 Years Before Creationists Think Earth Was Created.

Slideshow code developed in collaboration with ChatGPT3 at

A day in the life of an excavation at Tam Pà Ling cave.

Credit: Kira Westaway (Macquarie University)
A rare glimpse of our first ancestors in mainland Southeast Asia – News

Something that creationists find puzzling, in their desperate search for certainty at the expense of truth, is how science continually reassesses and revisits what we think we know, and of course, how we change our collective mind when that produces new evidence.

An example of this was published recently in the journal Nature Communications, where a combined team of Laotian, French, Danish, American and Australian researchers showed the results of a reevaluation of the age of fossil early Homo sapiens, found in a cave in Northern Laos, and showed that early modern humans spread through the area, on their way into Southeast Asia and Australasia, much earlier than had originally been thought. This pushes the earliest Homo sapiens presence in the area back from 40,000 to 86,000 years ago.

The newer dating uses luminescence dating because Laotian law forbids damage to the specimens from what is a world heritage site.

Saturday 17 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Rogue Mitochondrial DNA - Malevolent Intelligence, Incompetence or Mindless Evolution?

Creationism in Crisis

Rogue Mitochondrial DNA - Malevolent Intelligence, Incompetence or Mindless Evolution?
Mitochondria surrounded by cytoplasm
Credit: Dr David Furness

Transmission em image of mitochondria
New route to evolution: how DNA from our mitochondria gets into our genomes | University of Cambridge

So often, if only they hadn't learned to ignore it like an elephant in the room, or stay carefully ignorant of it, creationists should be confronting evidence that, if they believe it was designed, could only have been designed by a malevolent or incompetent designer.

Take for example this discovery that sections of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) frequently (in about 1 in 4,000 births) cross into the nuclear DNA, where it can cause cancer.

Creationists insist that this must have been intelligently designed by an omniscient designer who would therefore have known the outcome of its designed processes. The presence of mitochondria in cells is of course, good evidence of how simple, prokaryote cells, evolved into more complex, eukaryote cells by endosymbiosis - something creationists insist didn’t happen, so they are already an acute embarrassment for creationists. Now we have this finding that a supposed intelligent design process would look like a design to cause cancer.
This was discovered recently by a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London. The team were investigating a 2018 claim by researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in the USA, that there were occasional instances of inheritance of paternal mtDNA, in contradiction to the normally accepted view that mtDNA in inherited exclusively from the maternal line because the sperm head, which fertilizes the egg does not contain any mitochondria.

The Cambridge/London team found that these were in fact examples of the migration of sections of mtDNA into the cell nucleus where they had become incorporated into the nuclear DNA. The process is in theory a two-way process except for two things:
  1. There is only one nucleus with two copies of the DNA, but a cell can contain thousands of mitochondria, each with a copy of its DNA so the odds are greatly in favour of sections of mtDNA becoming free-roaming.
  2. The nuclear membrane has pores which allow RNA to pass out into the cell, whereas the mitochondrial membrane is an intact barrier through which DNA or RNA can't normally pass.
The scientists’ findings are explained in a Cambridge University press release:

Creationism in Crisis - Key Ingredient for Abiogenesis Found on Jupiter's Moon, Enceladus

Creationism in Crisis

Key Ingredient for Abiogenesis Found on Jupiter's Moon, Enceladus
Enceladus has the whitest and most reflective surface that astronomers have yet observed, and it’s known for spraying out tiny icy silica particles.

Source: UCLA

Key building block for life found at Saturn’s Moon Enceladus | Southwest Research Institute
Artist's impression of the south polar region of Enceladus shows massive jets of water ice being blasted into space.
Image credit: Karl Kofoed / NASA.

Creationist frauds playing the 'Big Scary Numbers' tactic and the false dichotomy fallacy, which argues that the probability of self-replicating molecules arising on Earth is so small as to be indistinguishable from zero, and therefore it must have been done by the locally-popular god their mummy and daddy believed in, usually include the notional idea of the 'Goldilocks zone' which is assumed to be a zone round the sun where the conditions are 'just right' for life to exist.

They then argue that the Universe must be fine-tuned for human life on Earth, therefore God did it!

This is, of course, a statistical sleight of hand because the probability of something happening that has already happened is 1 (certainty), not some infinitesimally small fraction of 1. It has happened, therefore it happened. For some reason, the logic in that escapes the hard of thinking on whom the creationist frauds prey.

So, anything which shows that self-replicating molecules, i.e., life arising elsewhere in the Universe, and especially in the solar system far away from the 'Goldilocks zone', is anathema for creationists who must find a way to deal with another inconvenient fact.

Nevertheless, this is exactly what happened recently when an international team of scientists led by Frank Postberg, of the Institut für Geologische Wissenschaften, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany, and including Christopher R. Glein of the Space Science Division, Space Sector, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX, USA have shown that the ocean beneath the ice covering on Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, has a key building block for 'life', phosphate. Phosphates are essential for life as we know it, not only as the main mineral in the bones of vertebrates but also as a component of metabolic pathways in the form of adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the nucleotides in DNA and RNA.
The discovery was made in data from NASA’s Cassini mission.

A Southwest Research Institute press release explain how this was done:

Friday 16 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - 'Viking Disease' was Inherited From Neanderthals As Eurasian Humans Evolved by Hybridization

Creationism in Crisis

'Viking Disease' was Inherited From Neanderthals As Eurasian Humans Evolved by Hybridization

Dupuytren's contracture
The Viking disease can be due to gene variants inherited from Neanderthals | Karolinska Institutet Nyheter

As scientists continue to use the Theory of Evolution to explain the observable facts, oblivious to creationist claims that they are about to abandon it in favour of the childish creationist superstition involving an unevidenced magic supernatural magician, a research team led by Hugo Zeberg from Karolinska Institutet and Nobel laureate, Svante Pääbo from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, have shown that Dupuytren's contracture is probably caused by genes inherited from Neanderthals.

Dupuytren's contracture, also called 'Viking disease' because it is relatively common in North European men with over 30% of males over the age of 60 developing the condition, is a painless but debilitating condition in which one or more fingers is bent across the palm and locked in position.

The researchers were investigating genetic risk factors for the condition and analysed the DNA of a large cohort from UK, Finland and USA so could compare the DNA of 7,871 sufferers and 645,880 healthy controls. Three of the 61 risk factors were in genes inherited from Neanderthals and two of these were the second and third most important risk factors.

The team have published their findings in an open access paper in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

A news release from Karolinska Institutet explains the research:

Creationism in Crisis - 'Lucy' Was More Human Than we First Thought

First hominin muscle reconstruction shows 3.2 million-year-old ‘Lucy’ could stand as erect as we can | University of Cambridge
Australopithecus afarensis
Australopithecus afarensis (artist's impression)
Illustration by Maurice Wilson
News today that 'Lucy' was more human than we thought should increase the hatred creationists have for her.

Creationists hate the fossil nicknamed by her discoverers, 'Lucy' because 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' by the Beatles was riding high in the pop charts at the time. Her scientific name is Australopithecus afarensis, so named because she was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia in East Africa. Their hatred comes from the fact that her existence refutes just about every creationist superstition, so, rather thn change their minds (something no self-respecting creationist can ever do), creationists try to change the facts or shout abuse at them till they go away.

So concerned are creationist frauds such as Ken Ham and Kent Hovind that they routinely lie about her and how she was discovered, claiming, amongst other things that it is the skeleton of a deformed chimpanzee and that the scientists constructed it out of the fossils of different animals from multiple locations, so it should be regarded as a forgery. Neither of these are true, of course.
Facial reconstructions of what the early hominin (human relative) Australopithecus afarensis may have looked like
Left image: © by Ellywa (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Right image: by Daderot (CC0 1.0)
Australopithecus afarensis is an extinct hominin species that lived between approximately 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago. The most famous specimen of Australopithecus afarensis is "Lucy," a remarkably complete skeleton discovered in 1974 in the Afar region of Ethiopia. The discovery of Lucy and other A. afarensis fossils has provided significant insights into the story of human evolution.

Lucy's discovery was led by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson and his team. Her fossilized remains consisted of about 40% of her skeleton, making it an incredibly important find. The age of the fossils and their unique characteristics shed light on a crucial period in human evolution.

Australopithecus afarensis is significant because it is believed to be one of the earliest hominin species to exhibit a combination of ape-like and human-like features. It walked upright on two legs, like modern humans, but also possessed some primitive traits, such as a small brain size and long arms.

The discovery of A. afarensis fossils challenged previous assumptions about the course of human evolution. Prior to this discovery, the prevailing view was that early humans developed large brains before adopting a bipedal, or upright, walking style. However, A. afarensis presented evidence that bipedalism evolved before significant increases in brain size.

The existence of A. afarensis suggests that upright walking was a critical adaptation for our early ancestors. Bipedalism freed the hands for tool use, allowed for greater efficiency in movement across open landscapes, and may have played a role in the development of other characteristics associated with humans, such as increased social cooperation.

Additionally, the discovery of A. afarensis and subsequent research have helped bridge the gap between our common ancestry with other primates and the emergence of the Homo genus, which includes modern humans. It provides valuable evidence of our evolutionary journey and allows scientists to study the changes and adaptations that occurred over millions of years.

In summary, the discovery of Australopithecus afarensis, particularly the famous specimen Lucy, has been instrumental in understanding the early stages of human evolution. It has contributed to our knowledge of bipedalism, the timeline of brain development, and the evolutionary transitions that eventually led to the emergence of modern humans.

ChatGPT "What information do you have about the discovery of Australopithecus afarensis, and its significance for the story of human evolution?"[Response to user question]
Retrieved from

  1. Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey, "Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind"
  2. Ann Gibbons, "The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors"
The most complete specimen is known to science as AL 288-1 which comprises about 40% of the complete skeleton.

How exactly she fits into the human evolutionary tree is still the subject of debates with some placing her immediately on the Australopithecus side of what is an artificial line dividing Australopithecines from Hominins and so making her directly ancestral to the Homo genus, which includes modern humans and some placing her in a side branch, making her a sister species of our immediate Australopithecine ancestor.

The line dividing the Australopiths from the hominins is of course arbitrary because a slowly-evolving species does not cross an imaginary line at a defined time; in reality there is a smooth transition, as in the box on the right, but the reason 'Lucy' is not universally accepted as our direct ancestor is because there are other species competing for that position from South Africa - Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba for example, and, given the tendency of hominid species to interbreed, it is always possible that the ancestor of the stem Homo could have been two or more Australopiths, and we will probably never know for sure.

But the story was given a little twist yesterday with the publication in Royal Society Open Science of the results of a new study which shows that 'Lucy' was fully bipedal, that is, she walked upright like we do.

The work was carried out by Dr Ashleigh L. A. Wiseman, of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. A Cambridge University news release explains his research:
Digital modelling of legendary fossil’s soft tissue suggests Australopithecus afarensis had powerful leg and pelvic muscles suited to tree dwelling, but knee muscles that allowed fully erect walking.

Lucy’s muscles suggest that she was as proficient at bipedalism as we are

Dr Ashleigh L. A. Wiseman McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK.
A Cambridge University researcher has digitally reconstructed the missing soft tissue of an early human ancestor – or hominin – for the first time, revealing a capability to stand as erect as we do today.

Dr Ashleigh Wiseman has 3D-modelled the leg and pelvis muscles of the hominin Australopithecus afarensis using scans of ‘Lucy’: the famous fossil specimen discovered in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s.

Australopithecus afarensis was an early human species that lived in East Africa over three million years ago. Shorter than us, with an ape-like face and smaller brain, but able to walk on two legs, it adapted to both tree and savannah dwelling – helping the species survive for almost a million years.

Named for the Beatles classic ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, Lucy is one of the most complete examples to be unearthed of any type of Australopithecus – with 40% of her skeleton recovered.

Lucy’s ability to walk upright can only be known by reconstructing the path and space that a muscle occupies within the body. We are now the only animal that can stand upright with straight knees. Lucy’s muscles suggest that she was as proficient at bipedalism as we are, while possibly also being at home in the trees. Lucy likely walked and moved in a way that we do not see in any living species today.

Australopithecus afarensis would have roamed areas of open wooded grassland as well as more dense forests in East Africa around 3 to 4 million years ago. These reconstructions of Lucy’s muscles suggest that she would have been able to exploit both habitats effectively.

Without open access science, this research would not have been possible.

Muscle reconstructions have already been used to gauge running speeds of a T-Rex, for example. By applying similar techniques to ancestral humans, we want to reveal the spectrum of physical movement that propelled our evolution – including those capabilities we have lost.

Dr Ashleigh L. A. Wiseman.
Wiseman was able to use recently published open source data on the Lucy fossil to create a digital model of the 3.2 million-year-old hominin’s lower body muscle structure. The study is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

The research recreated 36 muscles in each leg, most of which were much larger in Lucy and occupied greater space in the legs compared to modern humans.

For example, major muscles in Lucy’s calves and thighs were over twice the size of those in modern humans, as we have a much higher fat to muscle ratio. Muscles made up 74% of the total mass in Lucy’s thigh, compared to just 50% in humans.

Paleoanthropologists agree that Lucy was bipedal, but disagree on how she walked. Some have argued that she moved in a crouching waddle, similar to chimpanzees – our common ancestor – when they walk on two legs. Others believe that her movement was closer to our own upright bipedalism.

Research in the last 20 years have seen a consensus begin to emerge for fully erect walking, and Wiseman’s work adds further weight to this. Lucy’s knee extensor muscles, and the leverage they would allow, confirm an ability to straighten the knee joints as much as a healthy person can today.

Lucy was a young adult, who stood at just over one metre tall and probably weighed around 28kg. Lucy’s brain would have been roughly a third of the size of ours.

To recreate the muscles of this hominin, Wiseman started with some living humans. Using MRI and CT scans of the muscle and bone structures of a modern woman and man, she was able to map the “muscle paths” and build a digital musculoskeletal model.

Wiseman then used existing virtual models of Lucy’s skeleton to 'rearticulate' the joints – that is, put the skeleton back together. This work defined the axis from which each joint was able to move and rotate, replicating how they moved during life.

Finally, muscles were layered on top, based on pathways from modern human muscle maps, as well as what little “muscle scarring” was discernible (the traces of muscle connection detectable on the fossilised bones).

These reconstructions can now help scientists understand how this human ancestor walked.
Dr Wiseman's paper is published open access:

To understand how an extinct species may have moved, we first need to reconstruct the missing soft tissues of the skeleton, which rarely preserve, with an understanding of segmental volume and muscular composition within the body. The Australopithecus afarensis specimen AL 288-1 is one of the most complete hominin skeletons. Despite 40+ years of research, the frequency and efficiency of bipedal movement in this specimen is still debated. Here, 36 muscles of the pelvis and lower limb were reconstructed using three-dimensional polygonal modelling, guided by imaging scan data and muscle scarring. Reconstructed muscle masses and configurations guided musculoskeletal modelling of the lower limb in comparison with a modern human. Results show that the moment arms of both species were comparable, hinting towards similar limb functionality. Moving forward, the polygonal muscle modelling approach has demonstrated promise for reconstructing the soft tissues of hominins and providing information on muscle configuration and space filling. This method demonstrates that volumetric reconstructions are required to know where space must be occupied by muscles and thus where lines of action might not be feasible due to interference with another muscle. This approach is effective for reconstructing muscle volumes in extinct hominins for which musculature is unknown.

Figure 1.
Workflow diagram outlining the process for the current study. Comparative data were collected from a male human, in which MRI data from [22] were used to guide muscle LoAs, segmental and inertial properties. The bone geometries were poor quality, necessitating these parameters to be scaled to high-quality CT data (data from [11,47]). For both the human and AL 288-1, joint centres and axes were created. A convex hull was created of each body segment of AL 288-1, of which the centre of mass and inertial properties was corrected following Coatham et al. [48]. A polygonal muscle approach was implemented [18], producing muscle LoAs which were implemented into the biomechanical model of AL 288-1. Note: while [22] included the M. psoas major (visualized here), it was excluded from the current study due to uncertainty over thorax reconstructions. LAR, long-axis rotation; FE, flexion/extension; ABAD, abduction/adduction. *[22]; **[11,48].

Figure 2.
Here, Brassey et al. [27] reconstructed pelvis (shown in purple) was modified (shown in grey), in which the sacroiliac and pubic joints were rearticulated. Specifically, the distance between the ischiopubic ramus was reduced and both Os coxae were internally rotated, thus improving sacroiliac articulation.

Figure 3.
Completed views (ventral, dorsal, lateral and medial) of the polygonal muscle modelling approach in AL 288-1, in which 36 muscles were created per lower limb—this total does not differentiate between muscles composed of multiple heads (i.e. the M. extensor digitorum longus). The polygonal muscles of AL 288-1 are shown in comparison to three-dimensional muscles of the human which were segmented from MRI scan data. Intrinsic muscles of the foot were not modelled; rather, only ‘foot' muscles which crossed the ankle joint were included due to the sparsity of preserved foot material. See electronic supplementary material, S2 for a diagram illustrating muscle origin and insertions in which the colours correspond to the muscle colours used here. Full muscle configurations shown here, refer to electronic supplementary material, S3 to visualize deep musculature.
The significance of this, and something creationists will need to dismiss for whatever reason they can settle on, is that it shows full bipedalism had evolved in an Australopithecine before the Homo genus was on the scene. This means one of two things: either it had evolved in a common ancestor from which A. afarensis and the Homo genus evolved, or A. afarensis is the ancestor of Homo.

Of course, this doesn't settle the question of exactly where A. afarensis fits in the ancestry of Homo sapiens but is does help understand how and when what is now a uniquely human trait evolved.

And of course, Dr Wiseman shows no doubt at all that his findings have an explanation in the Theory of Evolution or that it requires a supernatural magician to explain it. And all this evolution took place millions of years before creationists believe Earth existed.

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Wednesday 14 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Scientists Believe They Have Found Evidence That Reptiles Came Before Eggs

Creationism in Crisis

Scientists Believe They Have Found Evidence That Reptiles Came Before Eggs
Boyde's Forest dragon, Lophosaurus boydii
Source: pixabay

The amniotic egg, showing the semipermeable shell and the extraembryonic membranes
Image credit: Michael Benton
June: Earliest reptiles may have borne live young | News and features | University of Bristol

On of the more infantile creationist "Gotcha!"s is to ask which came first; the chicken or the egg, in blissful ignorance of the fact that eggs predate chickens by tens of millions of years and hens evolved from egg-laying ancestors, so the real question is, when did eggs evolve as a reproductive strategy in multicellular organisms? But of course, that would give the scientific answer; what creationists want is a superstitious answer - "God made the first chicken and designed it to lay eggs!"

Sadly for creationists, the fossil evidence flatly contradicts that superstition, but, since creationism is a counter-factual superstition, mere evidence is ignored if it isn't what the cult wants its dupes to believe.

Since the evolution of the amniotes, which includes all reptiles, mammals and birds, there have been several instances of the evolution of extended embryo retention (EER), most notably in all the mammals, but also in some reptiles such as lizards and snakes, although not in birds.

And now a combined team of researchers from Bristol University, UK and Nanjing University, China, led by Professor Baoyu Jiang, of the State Key Laboratory for Mineral Deposits Research, School of Earth Sciences and Engineering and Frontiers Science Center for Critical Earth Material Cycling, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China, have discovered fossil evidence the a reptilian common ancestor of mammals and bird had evolved EER and had become viviparous.

Skeleton of a baby chorisodere, Ikechuosaurus, from the Early Cretaceous of China, found curled up inside the remnants of a parchment-shelled egg.

Image Credit: Baoyu Jiang, Nanjing University.
As the Bristol University news release explains:
The earliest reptiles, birds and mammals may have borne live young, researchers from Nanjing University and University of Bristol have revealed.

Until now, the hard-shelled egg was thought to be the key to the success of the amniotes - a group of vertebrates that undergo embryonic or foetal development within an amnion, a protective membrane inside the egg.

However, a fresh study of 51 fossil species and 29 living species which could be categorised as oviparous (laying hard or soft-shelled eggs) or viviparous (giving birth to live young) suggests otherwise.

Monday 12 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Remains of Earliest Eukaryote Organisms From 1.0 - 1.6 Billion Years Ago

Creationism in Crisis

Remains of Earliest Eukaryote Organisms
From 1.0 - 1.6 Billion Years Ago

Artist’s imagination of what a planktonic stem group eukaryote of the ‘Protosterol Biota’ may have looked like. Based on molecular fossils, organisms of the Protosterol Biota inhabited the oceans about 1.6 to 1.0 billion years ago and are our earliest known ancestors.

Image: Orchestrated in MidJourney by TA 2023

Early Eukaryotes (artists impression)
Artist's reconstruction of early eukaryotes on marine sediment.
Remains of an extinct world of organisms discovered: GFZ

The great thing about the Theory of Evolution or descent with modification, is that it predicts simpler ancestry as you go further back into archaeological history, and this is just what we find as we dig down into the geological column. Creationists have never managed to come to terms with that evidence other than the almost unbelievably childish notion that the more advanced species could run faster so got higher up the mountains as the encroaching genocidal flood grew deeper.

Which of course doesn't explain why fossilised shellfish are found on tops of mountains.

And nor does it explain why the fossils are arranged so neatly in sedimentary strata that creationists also claim was all produced by that single global flood event, since dead bodies would float away from the mountainsides where they supposedly drowned.

And, of course it doesn't explain the arrangement of the species which don't run away from a flood, like marine species and single-celled organisms, and yet, there they are in the geological column, looking for all the world as though the simpler, more primitive organisms got buried below the more advanced forms.

And now we have the spectacular discovery that strata laid down between 1.6 and 1.0 billion years ago contains molecular fossils produced by the earliest (and simplest) single-celled eukaryote organisms, just where and when the TOE predicts they should be!

The chemical fossils are in the form of "protosteroids", i.e., intermediate stages in the production of sterols such as cholesterol that almost all modern eukaryotes produce. These intermediate may have been the end product in these early eukaryotes in which the modern metabolic pathways were still evolving, but the fact that they were being produced by these early eukaryotes suggests that amongst them was the stem species from which all later eukaryotes have descended.

The discovery was announced a few days ago in the journal Nature, by an international team of researchers, including GFZ geochemist Christian Hallmann of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany, and a news release from GFZ:
Newly discovered biomarker signatures point to a whole range of previously unknown organisms that dominated complex life on Earth about a billion years ago. They differed from complex eukaryotic life as we know it, such as animals, plants and algae in their cell structure and likely metabolism, which was adapted to a world that had far less oxygen in the atmosphere than today. An international team of researchers, including GFZ geochemist Christian Hallmann, now reports on this breakthrough for the field of evolutionary geobiology in the journal Nature.

The previously unknown “protosteroids” were shown to be surprisingly abundant throughout Earth´s Middle Ages. The primordial molecules were produced at an earlier stage of eukaryotic complexity — extending the current record of fossil steroids beyond 800 and up to 1,600 million years ago. Eukaryotes is the term for a kingdom of life including all animals, plants and algae and set apart from bacteria by having a complex cell structure that includes a nucleus, as well as a more complex molecular machinery.

The highlight of this finding is not just the extension of the current molecular record of eukaryotes. Given that the last common ancestor of all modern eukaryotes, including us humans, was likely capable of producing ‘regular’ modern sterols, chances are high that the eukaryotes responsible for these rare signatures belonged to the stem of the phylogenetic tree.

Christian Hallmann, co-author
GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences
Potsdam, Germany
Unprecedented glimpse of a lost world

This “stem” represents the common ancestral lineage that was a precursor to all still living branches of eukaryotes. Its representatives are long extinct, yet details of their nature may shed more light on the conditions surrounding the evolution of complex life. Although more research is needed to evaluate what percentage of protosteroids may have had a rare bacterial source, the discovery of these new molecules not only reconciles the geological record of traditional fossils with that of fossil lipid molecules, but yields a rare and unprecedented glimpse of a lost world of ancient life. The competitive demise of stem group eukaryotes, marked by the first appearance of modern fossil steroids some 800 Million years ago, may reflect one of the most incisive events in the evolution of increasingly complex life.

Almost all eukaryotes biosynthesise steroids, such as cholesterol that is produced by humans and most other animals. Due to potentially adverse health effects of elevated cholesterol levels in humans, cholesterol doesn’t have the best reputation from a medical perspective. However, these lipid molecules are integral parts of eukaryotic cell membranes where they aid in a variety of physiological functions. By searching for fossilised steroids in ancient rocks, we can trace the evolution of increasingly complex life.

Benjamin J. Nettersheim, co-first author
Research School of Earth Sciences
The Australian National University
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
And MARUM–Center for Marine Environmental Sciences and Faculty of Geosciences
University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
What the Nobel laureate thought impossible...

Nobel laureate Konrad Bloch had already speculated about such a biomarker in an essay almost 30 years ago. Bloch suggested that short-lived intermediates in the modern biosynthesis of steroids may not always have been intermediates. He believed that lipid biosynthesis evolved in parallel with changing environmental conditions throughout Earth history. In contrast to Bloch, who did not believe that these ancient intermediates could ever be found, Nettersheim started searching for protosteroids in ancient rocks that were deposited at a time when those intermediates could actually have been the final product.

But how to find such molecules in ancient rocks?

We employed a combination of techniques to first convert various modern steroids to their fossilised equivalent; otherwise we wouldn’t have even known wat to look for.

“Once we knew our target, we discovered that dozens of other rocks, taken from billion-year-old waterways across the world, were oozing with similar fossil molecules.

Profess Jochen J. Brocks, co-first author
Australian National University
Canberra, ACT, Australia
Scientists had overlooked these molecules for decades because they do not conform to typical molecular search images.

One of the most profound ecological turning points in our planet’s history

The oldest samples with the biomarker are from the Barney Creek Formation in Australia and are 1.64 billion years old. The rock record of the next 800 Million years only yields fossil molecules of primordial eukaryotes before molecular signatures of modern eukaryotes first appear in the Tonian period.

…the Tonian Transformation emerges as one of the most profound ecological turning points in our planet’s history. Both primordial stem groups and modern eukaryotic representatives such as red algae may have lived side by side for many hundreds of millions of years.

Christian Hallmann.
During this time, however, the Earth's atmosphere became increasingly enriched with oxygen — a metabolic product of cyanobacteria and of the first eukaryotic algae that would have been toxic to many other organisms. Later, global "Snowball Earth” glaciations occurred and the protosterol communities largely died out. The last common ancestor of all living eukaryotes may have lived 1.2 to 1.8 billion years ago. Its descendants were likely better able to survive heat and cold as well as UV radiation and displaced their primordial relatives.

Since all stem group eukaryotes are long extinct, we will never know for certain how most of our early relatives looked like, but artistic efforts have created tentative visualisations (see pictures attached), while the primordial steroids may eventually shed more light on their biochemistry and lifestyle.

Earth was a microbial world for much of its history and left few traces.

Benjamin J. Nettersheim.
Research at ANU, MARUM and GFZ continues to pursue tracing the roots of our existence — the discovery of protosterols now brings us one step closer to understanding how our earliest ancestors lived and evolved.

Title of the original study: Jochen J. Brocks, Benjamin J. Nettersheim et al.: Lost world of complex life and the late rise of the eukaryotic crown. In: Nature. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06170-w
Sadly, the team's paper in Nature is behind an expensive paywall but the abstract is available.

Eukaryotic life appears to have flourished surprisingly late in the history of our planet. This view is based on the low diversity of diagnostic eukaryotic fossils in marine sediments of mid-Proterozoic age (around 1,600 to 800 million years ago) and an absence of steranes, the molecular fossils of eukaryotic membrane sterols1,2. This scarcity of eukaryotic remains is difficult to reconcile with molecular clocks that suggest that the last eukaryotic common ancestor (LECA) had already emerged between around 1,200 and more than 1,800 million years ago. LECA, in turn, must have been preceded by stem-group eukaryotic forms by several hundred million years3. Here we report the discovery of abundant protosteroids in sedimentary rocks of mid-Proterozoic age. These primordial compounds had previously remained unnoticed because their structures represent early intermediates of the modern sterol biosynthetic pathway, as predicted by Konrad Bloch4. The protosteroids reveal an ecologically prominent ‘protosterol biota’ that was widespread and abundant in aquatic environments from at least 1,640 to around 800 million years ago and that probably comprised ancient protosterol-producing bacteria and deep-branching stem-group eukaryotes. Modern eukaryotes started to appear in the Tonian period (1,000 to 720 million years ago), fuelled by the proliferation of red algae (rhodophytes) by around 800 million years ago. This ‘Tonian transformation’ emerges as one of the most profound ecological turning points in the Earth’s history.

In summary, the presence of these chemical fossils was predicted 30 years ago by a Noble Prize-winning scientist, using the Theory of Evolution. They have now been found in abundance, exactly when and where the theory predicted, and it all took place on an Earth that is many orders of magnitude older than creations claim.

In other words, yet another casual refutation of creationism by scientists who simply revealed the truth.

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