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Evolutionist retracts key study on origin of life

Scientists’ attempts to find the ‘spark of life’ keep coming up short

Jack Szostak Creative Commons/Exactas UBA

Evolutionist retracts key study on origin of life

A secular scientist who attempted to explain the origins of life has made a bold admission that bolsters arguments against Darwinian evolution. Jack Szostak of Harvard University published a 2016 paper in Nature Chemistry claiming he and his colleagues had figured out a way to get RNA to replicate itself.

Darwinian evolutionists believe RNA, a nucleic acid present in all living cells, were some of the first molecules to form on the Earth and give rise to living things. But for that to happen, the RNA would have had to somehow reproduce on its own without requisite enzymes that would not have evolved yet. Szostak claimed to have facilitated RNA self-replication in his lab, but earlier this month, he said one of his colleagues, Tivoli Olsen, realized they had misinterpreted the data when she could not reproduce the original experiment’s results.

“In retrospect, we were totally blinded by our belief [in our findings] … we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been (and as Tivoli was) in interpreting these experiments,” Szostak told Retraction Watch.

In his 2009 book Signature in the Cell, the Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer noted the inadequacy of using RNA to explain how life spontaneously appeared on earth. That inadequacy continues to stymie evolutionists today.

“As I have investigated various models that combined chance and necessity, I have noted an increasing sense of futility and frustration arising amongst scientists who work on the origin of life,” Meyer wrote, referencing some of Szostak’s earlier work on the subject.

Ann Gauger, a developmental biologist and author for the Evolution News & Science Today blog, commended Szostak and Olsen’s integrity for coming forward with the retraction on their own.

“Scientists are human, and they desire certain outcomes that fit with strongly held beliefs,” Gauger wrote. “It is absolutely necessary that we be our own severest critics, and check and double check our interpretations of data. This applies to all points of view on the origins spectrum.”

A vial of Luxturna.

A vial of Luxturna. Associated Press/Spark Therapeutics

FDA approves gene therapy for blindness

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday approved the first gene therapy for an inherited disease. The injection, called Luxturna, treats patients with a rare form of blindness caused by genetic mutation. Drugmaker Spark Therapeutics said it would not disclose the price until January, but analysts predict the therapy will cost around $1 million.

People with the rare condition usually start to lose their eyesight before age 18 and almost always progress to total blindness. The therapy would involve two injections—one for each eye—that replace the defective gene with a corrective gene. A patient would need just one treatment, which some observers say explains the high price tag of $500,000 per eye. Patients enrolled in a key study of the therapy haven’t seen their vision deteriorate, some for as long as four years. “All the data we have today suggests it’s long-lasting, if not lifelong,” said Spark CEO Jeffrey Marrazzo.

Given FDA approval and strong study results, experts say they expect U.S. insurers to cover the treatment. —Kiley Crossland

A vial of Luxturna.

A vial of Luxturna. Associated Press/Spark Therapeutics

Be prepared

Health officials are bracing for a potentially harsh flu season this year. In early December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed more than 7,000 U.S. flu cases, double the amount from the same time last year. The dominant strain of the flu virus this year, called H3N2, is thought to be particularly infectious and historically was considered the worst type of the influenza A strain. Early reports falsely said this year’s flu vaccine is only about 10 percent effective, but they were based on a strain of the virus found in Australia this year, where there was a record flu outbreak. Health officials say it is too early to tell how well the vaccine will work against the virus in the United States. Regardless, the CDC recommends vigilant vaccinating, handwashing, and disinfecting. —K.C.

Lab work

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) has moved to rescind a moratorium on research into potentially catastrophic diseases. Three years ago, the White House forbade the National Institutes of Health from tampering with bird flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome out of fears the research could lead to an accidental pandemic. Some scientists say such experiments are necessary to understand deadly diseases and prepare for potential pandemics, but others say the increased knowledge isn’t worth the risk. DHS recently unveiled a new framework for analyzing the costs and benefits of pandemic research, and applications for funding are expected to resume. —L.L.

No litter box required

Hasbro toy company and Brown University have teamed up to engineer a robot cat that can help the elderly retain their independence. The Joy for All cat is already on the market as a companion for the elderly, and scientists hope to enhance it with artificial intelligence so it can assist with simple tasks such as finding lost objects or reminding its owner to take medication. —L.L.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is WORLD’s executive editor for news. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kan.


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