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Monday, January 09, 2006

Recent Evidence for Human/Chimp Common Ancestors

During his talk, Ken Miller discussed a recent paper in Nature which describes evidence that backs up the theory that humans and chimpanzees descended from a common ancestor.


Complete paper here (pdf).

This is from the Washington University in St Louis Med News:

Human chromosome 2, the second largest human chromosome, originated during the evolution of Homo sapiens by the merger of two chimpanzee chromosomes recently renamed chimp chromosomes 2a and 2b. Other scientists had previously identified the area where the two chromosomes fused together. The new analysis further highlights the remnants of that merger, including a region of about 2.6 million base pairs where the sequence is similar to that found around centromeres, central chromosome structures that are important for DNA replication.

"Inside that region is a tract of about 36,000 base pairs that features a repetitive sequence typical of the centromeres themselves, and we think that may be the remnant of the centromere of one of the two chimp chromosomes that merged to form human chromosome 2," says lead author LaDeana Hillier, senior research scientist at the GSC.

The new insight into chromosome 2's ancestry has senior author Rick Wilson, Ph.D., director of the GSC, interested in identifying other genomic relics of evolutionary change.

"These data raise the possibility of a new tool for studying genome evolution," Wilson says. "We may be able to find other chromosomes that have disappeared over the course of time by searching other mammals' DNA for similar patterns of duplication."

Scientists identified some of the human genome's largest gene deserts on chromosomes 2 and 4. These are large regions of DNA that contain very little in the way of protein-building instructions.

"For example, there are two regions of chromosome 2 that are each almost 10 million base pairs long each surrounding a single gene called protocadherin," Hillier says.

I first heard about this study when PZ Myers mentioned it when he talked to the Minnesota Atheists. I didn't realize - from PZ's talk - that this was such a recent study - and such a new technique. Ken Miller described this study during his talk at Case Western. I strongly recommend it. Ken Miller is an excellent and inspiring speaker - and he effectively rebuts the "teach the controversy" argument used by creationists.

Professor Bleen has an account of Miller's talk. Bleen fingered the ID advocate who was too chicken to debate as Bill Dembski:

Originally, Dr. Miller was scheduled to hold a debate against William Dembski of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based ID "think tank." Dr. Patricia Princehouse of the Department of Biology at CWRU, host of the evening's presentation, wrote a letter to the editor of USA Today inviting any ID apologist to a debate at CWRU. This was in response to a column by right-wingers Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel in which they made a similar proposal, going so far as to wonder aloud "if [sic] the Darwinists would show up." In her letter Dr. Princehouse answered the challenge: "January. Cleveland. The 'science' of ID. Put up or shut up."

Dr. Dembski failed to appear, provoking speculation that he had, in fact, run with his tail between his legs. If he feared a hostile reception, he would have been correct. The crowd was overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic. If any creationists were in attendance (and it is reasonable to assume that a few creationist stooges were sprinkled about), they chose not to advertise themselves.

In the wake of the devastating Kitzmiller decision, the creationists had chosen to "shut up."

The Lawrence Journal World reports that Dempski will be speaking at Kansas University in Lawrence later this month. He's sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ. Several professors declined invitations to be part of this.

Leonard Krishtalka, director of KU's Biodiversity Institute, said he was one scientist who declined an invitation to debate Dembski.

"There is nothing to debate," Krishtalka said. "Intelligent design is religion thinly disguised as science and does not belong in the science classroom."

Krishtalka said debates are rarely about truth, but about winning.

"In order to win, one has to get down and dirty in these debates," Krishtalka said. "I refuse to make either science or religion into a circus or into cheap entertainment."

Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, a group critical of intelligent design, said he volunteered to speak at the Campus Crusade event. Krebs said he told organizers he would not defend evolution at the event, but rather take a broad perspective and discuss, for example, his view that evolution need not conflict with religion. But Krebs said he was turned down.

"I think it's revealing that they want to 'teach the controversy,' but they only want to teach the controversy in the way that they see it," Krebs said.

Brown said he wanted professors to speak at the event. Krebs is not a KU professor. He teaches math at Oskaloosa High School, where he’s also technology director.

John Calvert, director of the Intelligent Design Network, which played a key role in the Kansas State Board of Education’s recent adoption of science standards critical of evolution, said he wasn’t surprised KU scientists declined invitations.

"That's consistent with the boycott of the Kansas hearings," he said.

Mainstream scientists refused to participate in the board’s hearings, saying they weren't really about science.

Calvert said scientists' refusal to compete with intelligent design proponents in a public forum made it difficult to know who is right.

"You can't know they're better unless they engage in a competition," he said.

Many scientists aren't especially effective speakers for this sort of thing. The MacLaurin Institute at the University of Minnesota told me that they weren't doing creationism this year, when I told them that PZ Myers would be willing to debate one of their creationists without charging a lecture fee. They suggested contacting KKMS since KKMS had planned a creationist conference last fall.

A commenter writes:

Should be interesting on Jan. 23rd. I'm wondering what they have to say. Then again, we already know that ID does not belong in a science classroom. The Supreme Court in Pennsylvania has also ruled against ID in science classes. Teaching christianity in classrooms is not something that the citizens of Kansas should tolerate. It should stay in churches.

And to those that say ID does not preach religion/christianity, look at who's funding this event: "The event is being paid for with private funds from churches and Campus Crusade for Christ...."

Exactly. . .