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Science Magazine’s Amino-Acid Error

In its March 2003 edition the magazine Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technique) carried a short article called “The First Synthetic Living Thing.” The article, a translation of a news story in Science magazine, reported on an experiment on the Escherichia coli bacteria carried out by Peter Schultz. The magazine made the statement that this experiment was of great importance from the point of view of understanding so-called evolution.

It will first of all be useful to examine what lies behind Peter Schultz’s research in order to have a better understanding of the experiment in Science. Peter Schultz works as a professor of chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute. In 2001, he and his student Lei Wang published an article called “Expanding the Genetic Code of Escherichia coli,” in which he announced that he had artificially added an amino acid to that bacterium.

As we know, 20 amino acids are synthesized in living species. This takes place thanks to DNA. During the expression of the information in DNA, the consecutive A, T, G and C strings of nucleotides in the genes are read in groups of threes (codons). The property of these codons is that in the formation of the proteins to be used in cell activity they set out the protein production plan by encoding certain amino acids. In other words, every codon is equivalent to a particular amino acid. During protein synthesis, the corresponding amino acids are brought out one by one by molecules known as transfer RNA (tRNA) by reading these codons. These amino acids are later added to the chain making up the protein. One function of the codons is to carry the message “stop!” When an amino acid is brought for each codon during protein synthesis and compared with the “stopping” codons, it is realized that the protein is complete and that the amino-acid carrying process needs to be halted. We may say that these act rather like a full stop. One of these stopping codons is the UAG codon. Schultz altered the role of the UAG codon, and when compared with this codon the protein synthesis, instead of stopping, brought about the addition of a 21st amino acid to the chain (the amino-acid “p-aminophenyl(alanine),” which is not normally found in living things). As a result of the use of this genetic engineering technique, instead of the E. coli protein synthesis stopping at the UAG codon it came to produce a non-naturally occurring amino acid.

In short, the experiment discussed in Science as well as Bilim ve Teknik magazines consists of a kind of “operation” on the genetic code in the cell. It is a grave error to imagine that this represents any evidence for the theory of evolution, because what we are dealing with here is a conscious and exceedingly sensitive intervention in the cell. The theory of evolution maintains that life began spontaneously from inanimate substances and continued, again randomly, with mutations. According to this claim, the theory of evolution regards all the millions of living species in the world as sharing the same origin: chance. Evolutionists maintain that even the most complex structures, the cell for instance, came about by chance. In their view, there is no conscious force in this process that could intervene in and direct chemical reactions.

As a professor of chemistry, Schultz is in the position of a “conscious regulator,” aware of the functioning of the cell and directing it in the light of a specific objective. All the stages in the experiment are the product of a conscious intervention, carried out after conscious planning. All such activities, known as genetic engineering, take place in special laboratories, with technological equipment and by the intervention of expert personnel, in totally “designed,” artificial environments. For that reason, none of these experiments can be regarded as evidence in favor of the theory of evolution, which maintains that everything in nature came about by chance. Genetic engineers may be able to develop cells, add to their genetic information and even produce new cells. Yet none of these activities, all consisting of conscious intervention, offer any proof for the theory of evolution’s claim that life was born and developed by chance, with no conscious intervention.

On the other hand, bearing in mind all the complicated processes going on in the cell, Schultz’s experiment is limited to one very small change: the cell already contains the genetic code to produce amino-acid. The enzymes, ribosomes and messenger and transfer RNAs etc., which will read these and turn them into proteins, are all ready in that environment. To give an analogy, Schultz has succeeded in causing an already perfectly functioning machine to create a 21st product alongside the other 20 it already produces. It remains to say that even if his success were much greater than this, and even if he manages to produce a cell from inanimate matter, this would still be no proof of evolution, as we have already made clear.

Another misleading interpretation in Bilim ve Teknik magazine is the statement that “From now on it will be observed how a living thing with not only the ability to use a non-natural building block, but also to produce that building block, might evolve.” One might almost infer from this that bacteria had acquired that ability by themselves. The fact is, however, that this ability has been artificially “added” with conscious interventions. Even if this bacterium does prove to be more resistant than other bacteria, this will be evidence of conscious design, not evolution, since that resistance will be the work not of random mutations but of genetic engineering.

Science magazine’s description of this experiment as “important from the point of view of understanding evolution” is an inaccurate one, as what is really important about the experiment regards the concept of the invalidity of the theory of evolution. With the irreducibly complex structure it displays, the amino-acid synthesis which was the subject of the experiment overturns the theory of evolution. The famous philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper made the following statement regarding the dead-end the theory finds itself in on this subject:

What makes the origin of life and of the genetic code a disturbing riddle is this: the genetic code is without any biological function unless it is translated; that is, unless it leads to the synthesis of the proteins whose structure is laid down by the code. But … the machinery by which the cell (at least the non-primitive cell, which is the only one we know) translates the code consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in the DNA. Thus the code cannot be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a baffling circle; a really vicious circle, it seems, for any attempt to form a model or theory of the genesis of the genetic code. (1)

What this means is: The DNA and proteins have to be present right from the start, otherwise life will not be possible. To claim that they emerged by chance in the same place flies in the face of reason.

The RNA world thesis, which evolutionists now cling to because of these limitations, is not enough to save them from their difficulties regarding the origin of life. According to this scenario, put forward in 1986 by the Harvard chemist Walter Gilbert, billions of years ago an RNA molecule capable of replicating itself somehow emerged by chance. Then, this RNA molecule suddenly began to produce proteins under the influence of environmental conditions. Later still, the information felt the need to be hidden in a second molecule, and somehow the DNA molecule came into being. The stages set out in this thesis consisted of a “chain of impossibilities,” lacking any scientific evidence.

Gerald Joyce, a researcher known for his contributions to the RNA world models regarding this thesis, whose invalidity has been experimentally demonstrated (2), makes the following admission:

The most reasonable assumption is that life did not start with RNA …. The transition to an RNA world, like the origins of life in general, is fraught with uncertainty and is plagued by a lack of experimental data. (3)

All this shows that DNA, RNA, proteins and of course the cell membrane need to be present at the same time, and fully formed. In other words, it is impossible for a cell to emerge by chance.

As we have seen, there are no scientific grounds for equating the experiment mentioned in Science with evolution. All that lies behind this speculation is the evolutionist dogma that “life must have begun by chance.” The materialists who blindly defend this dogma totally ignore the fact that the origin of the cell deals the gravest possible blow to that theory and that the complex structure of the cell can only be explained by creation. We hope that Science will not fall prey to the same dogmatism and that it will adopt an independent approach to the origin of life. In that event, the editors of the magazine will see that there can be no other explanation for life than “conscious design,” in other words, creation.

Popper, K.R., 1974, Scientific Reduction and the Essential Incompleteness of All Science; In Ayala, F. and Dobzhansky, T., eds., Studies in the Philosophy of Biology, University of California Press, Berkeley, p. 270
Mills, G.C. and Kenyon, D.H., 1996, The RNA World: A Critique. Origins and Design, 17(1) pp.9–16
Joyce, G. F., 1989, “RNA evolution and the origins of life,” Nature, vol. 338, pp. 217–224

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