Snake Venom Snag

Castoe VIII

 

Snake Venom Snag

The genetics of snake venom driving evolution has recently emerged as a popular field of investigation. A new study published in the journal Molecular Biological and Evolution, however, has uncovered a critical new snag.

The evolution of snake venom had been hypothesized to originate through a gene duplication process followed by the actions of natural selection leading to increased venom toxicity over time. However, the research team lead by Todd Castoe (pictured), Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Texas, has discovered a genetic snag challenging this once popular gene duplication theory.

By examining the Burmese python – a proposed “pre-venomous” snake, the team unexpectedly discovered that venomous genes were widely distributed in tissues throughout the body performing non-toxic “house-keeping” functions – rather than in select specialized tissues.

In the words of ScienceDaily, “Researchers have found genetic evidence that highly toxic venom proteins were evolutionarily ‘born’ [sic] from non-toxic genes which have other ordinary jobs around the body.”

This new snag leaves venomous snakes, including rattlesnakes and copperhead snakes, without a genetic “pre-venomous” snake ancestor that had incrementally evolved through a process of gene duplication.

Jenna Iacurci cryptically comments in Nature World News: “A new study details the evolution of snakes and how they came to boast a venomous bite, challenging the conventional view of how the species got their toxic label.” The case for the ancestral genetic origins of venomous snakes continues as a mystery.

“The expression of genes related to venom toxins in oral glands alone,” Jacurci notes, “isn’t enough to definitively say that a snake or lizard is venomous.”

In his new paper entitled “Expression of Venom Gene Homologs in Diverse Python Tissues Suggests a New Model for the Evolution of Snake Venom,” Castoe attempts to develop a new model for the evolution of snake venom since the study failed to find evidence for the once popular successive gene duplication model.

In the words of Castoe, this “illustrates the pitfalls of using transcriptomic [genetic] data alone to define ‘venom toxins.’”

Two Snags

The evidence uncovered two snags. First, not only did the study fail to find Darwin’s “slight successive changes” model of evolution. Second, contrary to the predictions of the Modern Synthesis Theory, the role of genetics in determining biological function has been marginalized – thereby undermining the once popular “central dogma” of evolution.

Shredding the beleaguered evolution industry snag wider, Stephen Mackessy, co-author of Castoe’s study and biology professor at the University of Northern Colorado in an interview with PhosOrg notes the even larger problem –

“Our results also suggest that instead of a single ancient origin, venom and venom-delivery systems most likely evolved independently.”

Tree of LifeDarwin's Tree - No

For the theory of evolution, the presence of “a single ancient origin” is the root of Darwin’s tree of life – no root, no tree. Without a “single ancient origin,” the essence of biological evolution disintegrates. As Charles Darwin explained in The Origin of Species,

“By the theory of natural selection all living species have been connected with the parent-species… and so on backwards, always converging to the common ancestor.”

This snake venom snag, however, is not new. In the book The Logic of Chance (2011), Eugene Koonin, Russian-American biologist and Senior Investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), highlights one of the most significant repercussions that biotechnological advances have had on the theory of evolution: “the genomic revolution… [has] effectively overturned the central metaphor of evolutionary biology, the Tree of Life.”

MosaicMosaic Pattern of Life

“The tree of life has come upon hard times,” concedes John Archibald, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Dalhousie University, Canada, in his book entitled One Plus One Equals One (2014). Biotechnological advances increasingly demonstrate a complex non-evolutionary sequence pattern of nature – not Darwin’s “slight successive changes.” For Archibald,

“The overall picture emerging is one of mosaicism” – a mosaic pattern of life.

Since the term mosaic is intended to characterize nature of life as discrete entities, the new model of evolution emerging is incompatible with Darwin’s “slight successive changes” tree of life. Darwin’s tree of life is now only a mythical evolution industry construct. Physical snags continue to fragment the evolution industry.

The fragmented theory of evolution, however, has been a long-standing nightmare for the industry. Even infamous evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould highlights some of these snags in a paper published in the journal  Natural History in 1977,

“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.”

Castoe was not alone in discovering the snake venom snags. Mark Margres (2013) of the University of Florida and Inácio L.M. Junqueira-de-Azevedo (2014) of the Centro de Biotecnologia-Instituto Butantan, São Paulo, Brazil exposed the same snags.

American biologist, paleontologist, and past director of the American Museum of Natural History, Niles Eldredge, summarizes the current problem with the theory of evolution

“The past 50 years, advances in molecular and developmental biology have outstripped a truly integrated synthesis of evolutionary theory.”

As reflected in the snake venom snag saga, while new genetic evidence continues to undermine biological evolution, the scientific evidence continues to underscore the highly complex mosaic pattern of nature compatible with the Genesis account of creation.

Evolution was once a theory in crisis, now evolution is in crisis without even a cohesive theory.

Biological evolution exists only as a philosophical fact, not as a scientific fact.

 

One Response to “Snake Venom Snag”

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Darwin, Then and Now is a journey through the most amazing story in the history of science - the history of evolution. The book encapsulates who Darwin was, what he said, and what scientists have discovered since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859.

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