Bladderwort DNA and its Evolutionary Implications

Never heard of a bladderwort?  They’re not all that uncommon.  In fact, Sandra’s nephews used to care for them in their home as a hobby.  And, as is true for everything in creation, we can learn something about God by studying them.  Here, Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell uses the bladderwort to address  a common argument against intelligent design: the supposed presence of “junk DNA.”  Even if science isn’t your thing, as a Christian, you are called to continuously be sharpening your mind for His purposes (Rom. 12:2).  So, read on and learn!  – Arthur

The bladderwort is a highly specialized carnivorous plant. New research shows its genome is surprisingly streamlined. Multicellular organisms’ genomes typically contain a great deal of non-coding DNA  (often called “junk” DNA, implying that it has little function), but not the bladderwort. So how can evolutionists explain the bladderwort’s small genome? Is “junk” DNA necessary for complexity, or not?

bladderwortThis is one of the one-millimeter-long bladders onUtricularia gibba, as seen under the light microscope (top) and in a colorized electron micrograph (below). Utricularia gibba is a species of bladderwort. When trigger hairs are touched, the plant pumps water out of the bladders. The suction thus created draws in organisms from which the plant derives nourishment. Image: Enrique Ibarra-Laclette, Claudia Anahí Pérez-Torres and Paulina Lozano-Sotomayor through news.yahoo.com

bladderwort-flowerThe flower of the bladderwort resembles the snapdragon. Bladderworts lack true roots, however, and derive some of their nourishment from creatures captured in their tiny bladders. Image: photo by “I, kissfox” through commons.wikimedia.org

Non-coding DNA doesn’t code for specific proteins but may have regulatory or other important functions. Some evolutionists have assumed that “junk” DNA is essentially “leftovers” from the evolutionary process as organisms evolved from one kind of organism into another.

The ENCODE project’s discovery—that at least 80% of the so-called “junk” DNA in humans has “specific biochemical activity”—has left a bad taste in the mouths of many evolutionists. After long claiming such “junk” was primarily a useless vestige of eons of evolution, the finding that most actually seems to dosomething in humans led to a debate over the definition of the word functional.

The discovery that the bladderwort Utricularia gibbafunctions quite well without a lot of non-coding DNA tucked into its genome has been something of a revelation. “The big story is that only 3 percent of the bladderwort’s genetic material is so-called ‘junk’ DNA,” says Victor Albert, who co-led an international team of investigators. “Somehow, this plant has purged most of what makes up plant genomes. What that says is that you can have a perfectly good multicellular plant with lots of different cells, organs, tissue types and flowers, and you can do it without the junk. Junk is not needed.”

Carnivorous bladderworts live in freshwater and in wetlands, and there are over two hundred Utriculariaspecies worldwide. When trigger hairs are disturbed, they typically pump water out of tiny chambers, sucking in small creatures that supply their nutritional need for nitrogen and phosphorus. Bladderworts lack true roots, but their flowers closely resemble snapdragons.

Utricularia gibba’s genome has about 80 million base pairs consisting of 28,500 genes. Ninety-seven percent of the DNA consists of genes and codes for proteins. By comparison, the genome of the grape has 490 million base pairs, and the genome of the tomato has 780 million base pairs, and both have a much larger percentage of “junk” DNA.

Researchers believe the evolutionary history of the bladderwort has included three complete doublings of its genome since splitting from a common ancestor that also gave rise to the tomato. Luis Herrera-Estrella, co-leader of the project, says, “This surprisingly rich history of duplication, paired with the current small size of the bladderwort genome, is further evidence that the plant has been prolific at deleting nonessential DNA, but at the same time maintaining a functional set of genes similar to those of other plant species.”

In their paper “Architecture and evolution of a minute plant genome,” published in Nature, the authors propose that as organisms evolve, some are more prone to hang onto the genes that get duplicated within their genomes and others are more likely to shed useless material through an “inherent gene deletion bias.”1 Specific characteristics make the bladderwort genome unusual, such as shorter sections of DNA needed to promote gene expression. They note the absence of segments of DNA that they assume should be there if the genome had undergone the duplications they believe it did during its evolution.1

The authors then write that these genomic characteristics “support the notion that numerous microdeletions have occurred during U. gibba genome evolution, as previously observed inArabidopsis and maize.”1 However, the studies to which they refer do not describe any documentation of evolution of one kind of plant into another but only the genetic differences among varieties of Arabidopsis and among varieties of grasses. They offer no evidence that such a process would produce newly evolved kinds of plants or animals.

Molecular geneticist Dr. Georgia Purdom of Answers in Genesis, commenting on the discovery and its interpretation, said:

They say the genome has “undergone three complete genome doublings” since it split from a common ancestor with the tomato and that it has deleted most of its non-coding or “junk” DNA. But these are assumptions based on the unobservable past according to man’s ideas that one plant evolved from the other. Since the tomato plant and bladderwort plant belong to different families they are likely separate created kinds and are not related to one another.

It is fascinating that this plant has very little non-coding DNA because most multicellular organisms have quite a bit. However, that does not in turn demonstrate that non-coding or “junk” DNA in humans, other plants, and animals is irrelevant and unnecessary. Further experimental science needs to be done (like the ENCODE project is doing) to discover the functionality of so-called “junk” DNA in many organisms.

The observable science shows that the bladderwort plant needs very little non-coding DNA to function. Everything else claimed by the evolutionists studying bladderwort is merely assumptions about the unobservable past based on man’s ideas instead of God’s Word.

There are mechanisms that geneticists can observe in various organisms by which genetic material sometimes gets duplicated. However, in no case does this duplication result in a new or more complex kind of organism. For instance, bacterial antibiotic-resistance genes may appear in duplicate and make some bacteria more resistant to antibiotics, but all are still the same kind of bacteria. Furthermore, the presence of near-duplicate genetic sequences as is seen in multicellular organisms like human beings is not proof those near-duplicates originated through evolution or genetic accident. Finally, the existence of similar genes in different kinds of organisms is a reflection not of their common ancestry but rather of their common design features that equip them to live on earth. And the existence of carnivorous plants—a departure from God’s original design—reflects the variation that has occurred within some kinds of plants over the past 6,000 years in a sin-cursed world.

Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell is a researcher and writer with Answers in Genesis.  She  received a bachelor of science in chemistry from Furman University in 1980, graduating summa cum laude. She graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville in 1984 and completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University Affiliated Hospitals in 1988. She earned board certification and fellowship in the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

This article originally appeared in “News and Notes” at http://www.answersingenesis.org, May 20, 2013

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The Enduring Word

When I have a question on the history of the Bible, the formation of the Bible, or about events in the Old Testament, I turn to Sandra.  She loves anything to do with the Bible and its history.  Those of you who have had the privilege of being in Sandra’s SS class on biblical inerrancy know what I mean.  She knows what she’s talking about, and is able to communicate it memorably.  You leave challenged, amazed, and more confident about the authenticity and power of the Word of God.  Read on and be strengthened!  You’re in for a treat!  – Arthur

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“Joy, don’t jump!”  “Joy, drop!”  “Joy, get off!”  We talk to our golden retriever, Joy, constantly, but what does she really hear?  “Joy, blah blah!”  “Joy, blah!” “Joy, blah blah!”  Dogs may bark and make noises but they are not able to use words.  The gift of words is the priceless gift that was given to us human beings.  With words, we are able to talk about our feelings, talk about the things of the past and hopes for the future.  Words go deep into the inner thoughts of our hearts.  The old adage that says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is so untrue.  How many times have we rehearsed hurtful words said to us, over and over and over again?  With words, we can express complex ideas and relay them orally or in written form to almost anyone.  But overall, the most important thing about language/words is that God chose to use this vehicle to reveal to us who He is!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  (John 1:1)  God spoke the world into existence with His Word, ““Let there be light”, and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)  Words are little carts carrying meaning and when strung together form a train; these trains or sentences can transport what is in one’s heart or mind into another’s heart or mind.  In the Bible, we find God revealing to us His heart, will, and intention from the beginning until the end.

God Acts/God Speaks

In his article, “How is the Bible the Word of God”, George Eldon Ladd says, “Here is the biblical mode of revelation: the revealing acts of God in history, accompanied by the interpreting prophetic word which explains the divine source and character of the divine acts.  Deeds – words; God acts – God speaks; and the words explain the deeds.”  Both the acts and words are divine events, forming an inseparable unity.

When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, there was a great outpouring of His Word written down by Moses in the first five books of the Bible.  When God established the nation Israel and interacted with them, there was another great outpouring of His Word through the prophets.  Then after 400 years of silence, we have the greatest theophany in human history, the incarnation of Christ; and again, there was another great outpouring of His Word, i.e. the New Testament.  In II Peter 1:20, 21, God says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  This is God’s M.O.  He used godly men to write down the words to describe the acts that He performed on this earth.

History is His Story

As we read the Bible, we see how God is working out His will and plan in human history.  God’s intervening acts in human history are the anchors that keep the rest of human history from flowing into a sea of meaninglessness.  The events as recorded in the Bible don’t fit nice and neatly into history, but rather history fits nice and neatly into these events.  God enabled the Egyptians to prosper in order to serve as a nursery to nurture the Israelites from a 70 people clan that entered Egypt (Genesis 46:27) to the estimated 2,000,000 that came out (Numbers 1:46).  The Assyrians and Babylonians just didn’t happen to grow to be powerful empires.  They were made to be powerful so that they might capture the Northern Kingdom, Israel, in 722 BC and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, in 586 BC respectively.  God raised them up for this very purpose.

When God was ready for the Israelites to go back home to Jerusalem, he raised up the Persians to overthrow the Babylonians.  150 years before Cyrus was even born, God had Isaiah pen these words, “’It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd!  And he will perform all My desire.’  Thus says the Lord to Cyrus, His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut.’”  (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1)  As ordained by God, Cyrus was the benevolent ruler who allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.  How could a small Middle Eastern state arise to usurp and overthrow a monstrous giant like Babylon?  Daniel 5:30 records these 9 simple words, “That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain;” and thus was the beginning of the end of the Babylonians.

From historians, Xenophon and Herodotus, we know a fuller picture of what happened in 539 BC.  Babylon, the great walled city, had the Euphrates River running through the city.  The city wall is brought down on both sides to the edge of the stream.  Babylon was impenetrable when the gates of the city were closed.  Yet, as prophesied by Isaiah, “the gates will not be shut,” as Cyrus had daringly diverted the whole river into a great trench constructed outside the walls.  Outside in the darkness that night, if one of Belshazzar’s guests had walked down to the waterside to cool his head, he would have seen that the great waters of the Euphrates had shrunk to a trickling stream.

As Belshazzar ate, drank, and was merry, God’s finger of judgment was writing on the wall, “Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin”.  Frantically, Belshazzar searched for someone to interpret this phantom, other worldly writing.  The Bible says, “his face grew pale, his thoughts alarmed him, his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking”.  (Daniel 5:6)  Upon the Queen’s recommendation, Daniel was brought in and successfully translated the writing to mean,  “You have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.”  (Daniel 5:25-27)

Amid an awed silence, Belshazzar ordered Daniel to be clothed in purple, and a gold chain to be placed around his neck for translating the writing on the wall.  But in that silence the sound the king heard was not only the beating of his own nervous heart, but rather it was the march of Cyrus’ army.  Cyrus and his men had advanced along the river bed into the very heart of the city.  Before half the reveling populace realized anything more than a festival was afoot, Belshazzar was dead.

History is not driven by the most powerful nations that rise up, but rather by God who ordains these empires to exist for His purpose and His glory.  God is in control and He will accomplish what He desires.  “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

Passing the Test of Time

God’s holy Word survives the test of time. The lives and testimonies of the holy men that are recorded in this Book also pass the test of time.  No one names their sons Nebuchadnezzar, but many, including myself, proudly name their son, Daniel.  Herod the Great, the powerful ruler of Palestine, was sitting high in his grand palace, the Herodium, while an obscure baby was born in an animal’s stall a few miles away.  Two millennia later, Jesus is known worldwide and Herod fades into the backdrop as a paranoid ruler who is primarily known for killing little babies born in Bethlehem.  Not many people remember that Herod was given the title, “King of the Jews,” by the Senate when he was 33 years old.  This small fact is hardly recalled except to give an eerie premonition to the plaque placed on top of the cross of another 33-year-old man who truly was “The King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37).

We are not the ones that are upholding His Word.  His Word is upholding us.  As well-known science fiction author, H. G. Wells states in A Short History of the World, “It is not so much the Jews who made the Bible as the Bible which made the Jews.”  He says that, “Their importance in the world is due to the fact that they produced a written literature, a world history, a collection of laws, chronicles, psalms, books of wisdom, poetry and fiction and political utterances which became at last what Christians know as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.  And they were all held together by the Bible and by the reading of the Bible.  Jerusalem was from the first only their nominal capital; their real city was this book, of books.  This is a new sort of thing in history.”

Short Strings vs. the Long String

God’s Word keeps us in the greater metanarrative of  life, the life that God created in the Garden of Eden.  There is such a gravitational force that makes us want to revolve everything around ourselves.  I don’t think that there has been another time in the history of mankind where “our story” and “our lives” are so celebrated.  We are able to share with everyone who we are with, what we are eating, what we just bought.  We share our opinions and thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs for everyone to read.  We are so easily satisfied with these frayed “short strings” that connect us to each other and to the physical world, but are utterly impotent to connect us to the Father.

If we want to connect to God, we need a “long string,” an “enduring string,” an “eternal string” that reaches into the depths of our sinful souls and is able to bring us to the heights of heaven … where God abides.  This “Long String” is the Word of God that testifies of the Word that became flesh.  God has dropped down the Rope from heaven and has enabled His own to grab hold of it.   Just as a person can’t push someone else up a rope, we can’t depend on someone else to do what each one of us has the responsibility to do ourselves with this amazing Gift.  Each of us needs to care enough about the Eternal Word of God to do whatever it takes TO GET IT RIGHT!  Instead of using our smart phones, ipads, iphones or computers to constantly connect with the world, let us harness their power to deepen our relationship with God.  Use your phones or computers to read/listen to the Bible or a sermon. Go onto monergism.com or blueletterbible.org and do a word or topic study. Knowing God and His will for us is truly the highest calling for the use of any words or language. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Matthew 13:31

“This book contains: the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.  Its doctrine is holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.  Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved, and practice it to be holy.  It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.  It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter.  Here heaven is open, and the gates of hell are disclosed.  Christ is the grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.  It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.  Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully.  It is a mine of wealth, health to the soul, and a river of pleasure.  It is given to you here in this life, will be opened in judgment, and is established forever.  It involves the higheset responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and condemn all who trifle with its contents.”    (Written in the forward of the John MacArthur Bible)

– Sandra Hsieh

(originally written for the MBCLA Chronicles, May 2013)

Wanna Know What Heaven’s Like?

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A slice of heaven.  That’s the most common way I’ve heard to describe the experience at Joni and Friends Family Retreat.  And with good reason.  Heaven is where God lives and is near.  And since God promises to draw near to the weak, when you draw near to them, heaven can’t be far behind.

If you are ready for God to change your life and focus your direction and purpose; if you are ready to get over yourself and love others in Jesus’ name; if you are ready to receive immeasurable blessing; and if you’re ready to have lots of fun while being changed, you still have an opportunity!

There are still spots left for you to join your counselors and other TD’ers as short-term missionaries who are can’t wait to meet the Lord.  But you need to act fast and let your counselor know that you’re interested.

The dates are July 16-21 in Murietta Hot Springs, CA.

Click here to find out more:

TD Bible Study – “Growing Up As Jesus”

Hey TD!

This Friday is our LAST small group discussion of the year!  Can you believe it?

The message and Bible study on Luke 2:41-52 are posted below, as well as on the TD website.  Please download the study, work through the questions, and get ready to have a great discussion this Friday!  Please be diligent, sincere, and passionate as you fight to know Jesus Christ in a deeper way.  See you then! – Arthur

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” Col. 3:23

“Growing Up As Jesus” message (mp3)

“Growing Up As Jesus” Bible Study (doc)

Is Our Future Determined or Free?

Yes, indeed, Linus, it does!  Many non-Christians and Christians alike are adept and skilled at asking difficult questions, thinking themselves intellectual or smart for doing so.  It is easy to ask questions.  However, it takes much diligence to arrive at a sound, reasonable, life impacting answer.  That’s what Michael Ramsden does.

We’ve enjoyed knowing and hearing from Michael for well over a decade now.  As a world class Christian apologist based in Oxford, UK, with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Michael’s life is devoted to helping believers think and thinkers believe.  Through the God-given gifts of Scripture and reason, his sound theology (accompanied by his classic British wit) has helped thousands think through ultimate issues and arrive at answers that satisfy the mind and touch the heart. 

Here, he takes an interesting approach to an age old question.  May it help spark your thinking and drive you sharpen your theology! – Arthur

Questions of freedom and destiny have been raised in every generation. Do we exercise choice, or has everything already been decided? Is our future determined or free? The resultant mental gymnastics leave many feeling confused and others feeling disappointed. Christians insist that nothing takes God by surprise. On the other hand, Christians throughout the ages reject the kind of fatalism that is seen in some parts of the world.

The problem with the question as it is presented is that it is not nearly difficult enough. In order to truly appreciate the magnitude of what we are discussing, we must first deal with an even greater question. And it is this: Imagine if I were able to stop time right now. What would you be thinking? What would you be feeling? The answer is nothing.

In the absence of time, we cannot think or feel or do. Everything is frozen. People sometimes complain that I speak too quickly—the problem being that there is not sufficient time for them to think about what has been said. I always try to cheer myself by saying that at least something has been said for them to think about! But it is a fair criticism because in the absence of sufficient time we cannot think things through. In the absence of time altogether, however, we cannot even begin to think, as there is literally no time to think in.

The Christian understanding is that we live and have our existence in a space-time continuum. “[We] belong to eternity stranded in time,” observes Michael Card.(1) This also means that before God created there was no time; in other words, time is not co-eternal with God. But Christians also attest that God was a thinking, feeling, doing Being even before God created. Can you imagine a Being who is able to think in the absence of time? Of course not, but the God Christians profess not only exists outside of time, God can think and act in the absence of time.

Just reading this may be enough to make us feel overwhelmed. And so it should. Whenever we think about the person of God, we should rightly feel that we have come across something truly awesome. And maybe this is part of the problem. We are not faced with a logical contradiction here. Rather, we are faced with the reality of what it means for God to exist, for God to be God. You and I are only able to think in time, and thus, God confronts us with choices: “Choose this day whom you will serve,” “choose life” and so on (Joshua 24:15; Deuteronomy 30:19). But God, as Christians believe, who is outside of time, sees all of history stretched out before Him. The problem comes, therefore, when the attempt is made to confine God within time. But this needn’t be the case. For Christians, a proper understanding of the tension drives us back both to God’s divine nature and to our knees, acknowledging how wonderful God is.

This understanding also helps Christians with the issue of eternal life. Many people when confronted with the idea of eternity find the idea frightening, tedious, or absurd. What could one possibly do with all of that time? Once again, the dilemma arises because we are captive both to the passage of time and too small a view of who God actually is. People also then ask: if God truly knows all things, then why did God create knowing that we would experience pain in a fallen world? But here Christians attest that God did not create the world and then think of a plan to rescue it. The book of Revelation depicts that the Lamb was slain before the foundations of the world were laid. This does not mean that the crucifixion took place in our space-time history before creation (there was no space-history for it to take place in). What it does mean is that even before God created, God also knew the cost—the suffering of his own Son—to redeem creation and unite us with the Father. God didn’t count that cost too great—and hence Christians sing of God’s amazing grace.

Let me conclude with the following. The Christian God is big enough to be able to say, “I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). There is no hope without a secure future, and the future is frightening in the absence of hope. Only God is big enough to bring these two things together—hope and a future—and this is what God has done for us.

Michael Ramsden is European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in the United Kingdom.