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Friday, October 17, 2008

Jonathan Wells reviews the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Wieschaus Experiment

In his book, Icons of evolution, Jonathan Wells has ten chapters devoted to refuting evolution. This is typical behavior for an Intelligent Design Creationist. There's no mention anywhere in the book of positive evidence for intelligent design.

One of the chapters is "Four-Winged Fruit Flies." The main point of the chapter is that most of the Drosophila developmental mutations are lethal or extremely deleterious so they can't be transitional states in evolution. Yet, according to Wells, the textbooks are full of misleading statements claiming that morphological mutations supply the raw material for evolution. Wells says that there's no evidence for any beneficial mutations in spite of the fact that they have been looked for.
Yet the evidence cited in these textbooks falls far short of supporting those sweeping claims. To be sure, biochemical mutations lead to antibiotic and insecticide resistance, and human beings carrying the sickle-cell trait are more likely to survive malaria as infants. But only beneficial morphological mutations can provide the raw materials for morphological evolution, and evidence for such mutations is surprisingly thin. As we have seen, four-winged fruit flies do not provide the missing evidence, despite their current popularity.

If textbook-writers have no good examples of beneficial morphological mutations, it's not because biologists haven't been looking for them About the time that Lewis was studying Ultrabithorax, German geneticists Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus were using a technique called "saturation mutagenesis" to search for every possible mutation involved in fruit fly development. They discovered dozens of mutations that affect development at various stages and produce a variety of malformations. Their Herculean efforts earned them a Nobel prize (which they shared with Lewis), but they did not turn up a single morphological mutations that would benefit a fly in the wild.
[my emphasis]
The experiment that was performed by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus was designed to detect recessive lethal mutations that affected development. These kind of mutations are likely to identify genes that are essential for development. I described the experiment in a separate posting [Balancer Chromosomes].

Note that the experiment was specifically designed to detect deleterious mutations—lethal being about as deleterious as you can get. It could not possibly have detected beneficial mutations, as Wells claims, since these would have been discarded early on when the mutant lines were established.

Was the true purpose of the experiment a well-kept secret known only to insiders? Hardly. Everyone who read the papers knew that the screen was for recessive lethals. In her Nobel lecture Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard says,
In 1979, Eric Wieschaus and I, at that time in the EMBL, Heidelberg, had developed the methods for the large scale screening for embryonic lethal mutations in Drosophila. The screening procedure focused on the segmented pattern of the larval epidermis (8). In this and subsequent screens, a number of new genes acting in the embryo and required for the formation of a morphologically normal larva were discovered (9-11).
Should Wells have known this? You be the judge.

Wells has a Ph.D. in biology, molecular and cell biology, from the University of California, Berkeley (USA). He worked on embryology and evolution as a graduate student and subsequently as a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Carolyn Larabell at Berkeley. He published two papers on development in 1996 and 1997.

It's safe to assume that Wells understands the basic principles of genetics and developmental biology.

Could Wells have misunderstood the purpose of the Nüsslein-Volhard & Wieschaus experiment? No, Wells may be an IDiot but he's not that stupid. When Wells makes an issue of the fact that Nüsslein-Volhard & Wieschaus did not find any beneficial mutations there's only one rational conclusion: Wells was deliberately misrepresenting the truth.

[Photo Credit: Jonathan Wells from Conservapedia]


Bayman said...

Hey isn't that PZ Myers? Is he playing both sides?

RBH said...

Wells was deliberately misrepresenting the truth.

Which is to say Wells was lying. In other news, dog bites man.

Anonymous said...

it's safe to assume that Wells understands the basic principles of genetics and developmental biology.

Don't be so sure. The fact that someone has a degree does not yet means anything.

Doppelganger said...

Totally irrelevant, but what is it with the IDcreationists and silly haircuts and dopey much-bigger-than-they-should-be goatees?

Anonymous said...

A creationist lying? Who'd a thunk it?
Noble lecture?
aka Nobel lecture.