The University of Guelph is located in southern Ontario (Canada) about 2 hours west of Toronto. It has recently gotten a lot of attention because of the presence of several Intelligent Design Creationists among its staff and students.
Here are the main players.
David K.Y. Chiu is Professor of Computing and Information Science and Professor of Biophysics Interdepartmental Group. He has a Ph.D. in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo (Canada).
Professor Chiu is head of the Pattern Learning Research Group. Most of his recent papers have to do with recognizing patterns in bioinformatics data.
Durston, K.K., D.K.Y. Chiu, D.L. Abel and J.T. Trevors (2007) Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins", Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 4:47. [doi:10.1186/1742-4682-4-47]Professor Chiu is a Fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design. Other fellows include Michael Behe, Paul Nelson, Guillermo Gonzalez, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells and Scott Minnich.
Chiu, D.K.Y. and K. Zhang (2007) Biomolecular data analysis: a post-genomic reflection. Biomolecular Engineering, 24:319-320.
Chiu, D.K.Y. and Y. Wang (2006) Multipattern consensus regions in multiple aligned protein sequences and their segmentation. EURASIP Journal on Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, Vol.2006:1-8.
Ma, P.C.H., K.C.C. Chan, X. Yao and Chiu, D.K.Y. (2006) An evolutionary clustering algorithm for gene expression microarray data analysis. IEEE Trans. on Evolutionary Computation 10:296-314.
Hwang, C., Chiu, D.K.Y. and Sohn, I. (2005) Analysis of exon structure using PCA and ICA of short-time Fourier transform. L. Wang, K. Chen, and Y.S. Ong (Eds.): ICNC LNCS 3611, pp.306-315, 2005, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005.(also Second Intern. Conf. on Fuzzy Systems and Knowledge Discovery, joint ICNC'05-FSKD'05, 27-29 Aug. 2005, Changsha, China.)
Durston, K. and Chiu, D.K.Y. (2005) A functional entropy model for biological sequences. in supplementary volume of the journal, Dynamics of Continuous, Discrete and Impulsive Systems, Series B, 2005 (also Proc. 4th Intern. Conf. on Engineering Applications and Computational Algorithms), pp.722-725.
Kirk Durston is National Director of the New Scholars Society whose aim is to "be a resource to those faculty and scholars who have an interest in developing the spiritual area of their lives from a Christian perspective." Durston has a B.Sc. in Physics from the University of Manitoba (Canada), a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Manitoba (Canada) and an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Manitoba (Canada). He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Biophysics Interdepartmental Group at the University of Guelph [Kirk Durston].
Durston's supervisor is David Chiu (see above). This is not a simple case of a graduate student falling under the influence of his supervisor since Durston was a well-known creationist even before he joined Chiu's group. It's just a coincidence that student and supervisor share the same views on religion and evolution since to suggest otherwise would be like accusing Chiu of selecting a student based on his religious views and not on the normal criteria. Intelligent Design Creationists are vehemently opposed to that kind of discrimination.
I'm sure Durston's previous degrees in physics, mechanical engineering, and philosphy made him well qualified to do Ph.D. research on the evolution of proteins in a bioinformatics lab.
Jack Trevors is a Professor in the Dept. of Environmental Biology [Jack Trevors] and he's also a member of the Biophysics Interdepartmental Group [Jack Trevors].
Professor Trevors has a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. from Acadia University (Canada) and a Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo (Canada). Most of his many publications are on various aspects of microbiology diversity and industrial applications but he is also interested in "Bacterial evolution with an emphasis on the origin and of the first bacterial cells and functional genetic instructions."
Trevors is famous in creationist circles for two papers he has published with David Abel, Director of The Gene Emergence Project at The Origin-of-Life Foundation, Inc. in Greenbelt, MD (USA). These papers are widely quoted as evidence that the origin of life cannot be explained by natural processes.
Abel and Trevors have also just published a paper with creationists Durston and Chiu.
Abel, D.L. and J.T. Trevors. (2006) Self-organization vs. self-ordering events in life-origin models. Physics of Life Reviews 3:211-228. [doi:10.1186/1742-4682-2-29]Jack Trevors is not a creationist according to this profile at the University of Guelph. He's a "self-proclaimed atheist."
Trevors, J.T. and Abel, D.L. (2004) Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life. Cell Biology International 28:729-739. [doi:10.1016/j.cellbi.2004.06.006]
Durston, K.K., D.K.Y. Chiu, D.L. Abel and J.T. Trevors (2007) Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 4:47. [doi:10.1186/1742-4682-4-47]
Take that question about the origins of life. It's hardly a new line of inquiry for Trevors, who was about 10 when he began wondering about the existence of God. He's still wondering. Indeed, it's a question that has consumed a fair amount of his own life recently, albeit now voiced in the language of a professional scientist: Where and how did the genetic code and its instructions arise?The same profile article describes his association with David Abel ...
No small question. “The origin of genetic instructions in the DNA is the most pressing question in science,” he says. “Genetic instructions don't write themselves, any more than a software program writes itself.”
He adds that the issue goes far beyond deciphering the recipes for making proteins. Given that our genetic material constitutes the stuff of our own identity, “it's the search for ourselves, our origins,” he says.
Call it looking for God in our DNA — or at least that's how a person of faith might phrase it. Trevors, a self-proclaimed atheist, is more circumspect. “If you're a religious person, you say God. If you're an evolutionist, you say evolution.”
He notes, however, that not even evolution deigns to tell us where or how life itself first came about or how DNA's instructions came to be. Perhaps the birthplace of those instructions — like the very creation of the universe itself — is, in Trevors' words, both “unknowable and ‘undecidable' at this point in time.”
It's a million-dollar question, literally. That's the size of the prize in a contest being run by the Origin-of-Life Foundation based near NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland. All the winner needs to do to claim the reward — actually annual instalments of $50,000 for 20 years — is to explain how the initial genetic code arose — or, in the words of the contest rules, provide "a highly plausible mechanism for the spontaneous rise of genetic instructions in nature sufficient to give rise to life."I don't know about the rest of you but I don't often hear atheists say things like that. Maybe he's thinking of aliens who write genetic programs? I also don't know too many atheists who would publish papers with known creationists who use the data to support their religious agenda.
The Gene Emergence Project is a program of the foundation, a scientific and educational body of about 200 scientists in 40 countries.
"We want the international scientific community to help us prove that genetic instructions don't write themselves," says Trevors, who got involved by contacting David Abel, the project's program director, two years ago.
"Jack relentlessly looks for evolutionary explanations for everything we observe in biology," says Abel, adding that his Guelph colleague helps ensure that "life-origin theory" remains empirically responsible, or answerable to the test of repeated observation. "He likes to include the full gamut of microbiological phenomena to make sure our models are explaining all aspects of genetic control."
Trevors has written on the topic, including a paper last year with Abel called: "Chance and Necessity Do Not Explain the Origin of Life." There and in a more recent piece, they frame the genesis-of-life discussion in terms that might resonate with a computer programmer, including referring to genes as linear strings of digital instructions and describing DNA's four nucleotide building blocks as four-way switches. If genes are merely algorithms, albeit highly sophisticated ones, another obvious question occurs, says Trevors. “Computer programs don't write themselves. Why would scientists or anyone else think genetic programs write themselves? The question has to be asked and examined from a scientific perspective.”
The Origin-of-Life Prize has a complicated set of rules that must be followed in order to claim victory. The organization has posted a list of suggested texts that candidates should be familiar with (see sidebar on their website). That list is very revealing. There are books by well-known scientists like Michael Behe, Hubert P. Yockey, Walter James ReMine, William Dembski, and David Berlinski.