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Mole rat defies natural selection

Research results don’t quite line up with evolutionary expectations

Mole rat iStock/taviphoto

Mole rat defies natural selection

The lowly Highveld mole rat, a burrowing rodent, often shares its underground home with natal droptail ants, insects whose bite injects victims with formic acid, a chemical that should cause intense burning and stinging. But the chemical doesn’t affect these mole rats, and evolutionary scientists recently conducted a study, published May 31 in Science, to learn why. What they found fits far better with a creationist worldview than with the predictions of Darwinian evolution.

The scientists analyzed RNA samples of eight species of mole rats and observed their pain responses when exposed to a variety of chemical irritants. The researchers discovered that some species of mole rats have resistance to pain from the chemicals with which they have the most frequent contact.

Evolutionary theory would predict that the resistance developed over time, appearing in mole rat species according to their supposed evolutionary ages. If natural selection accounted for the mutation, there should be older species without it. And once the mutation arose and was “selected,” subsequent species should possess it, as well. But the scientists discovered that both the older and younger species had the adaptation, while those in the middle of the evolutionary age range showed no such pain resistance.

Troy Lacey, an Answers in Genesis writer with a degree in natural science, told me a creationist worldview could explain the study’s finding two ways: Either God created various kinds of mammals already possessing adaptations that would become necessary after the fall, or he made them with the genetic diversity they needed to develop those adaptations in a post-fall world.

For example, the Bible says that thorns and thistles became prevalent when God cursed the ground after the fall (Genesis 3:17–18). Many plant defenses, including chemical ones, could have come into existence at that time, Lacey wrote. For a burrowing animal that lives on a diet of plants and insects, adapting some sort of pain resistance would be advantageous.

A second possibility is that some of the species of mole rats that developed after the Genesis flood had no need for the pain insensitivity because their diet and environment may no longer have included plants and animals with toxic chemical defenses.

“The latter half of Psalm 104 describes how God provides for animals in a post-fall world,” Lacey wrote. “Even in a world of poisonous plants, biting ants, and stinging nettles, God makes sure that every animal is provided for, and can turn these barriers into good things,”

An artist’s conception of astronauts on Mars

An artist’s conception of astronauts on Mars NASA

Mars, the next frontier

Last week, the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, but many hope to fly even farther. During an Independence Day address to the nation, President Donald Trump said that “someday soon we will plant the American flag on Mars.” If everything goes according to NASA’s plan, that will happen in the 2030s, but many specifics must be worked out before then.

Researchers from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland are devising a plan to make regions of the Martian surface habitable by introducing a blanket of silica aerogel, somewhat like a frozen smoke, into the planet’s atmosphere. According to the researchers, a thin layer of this material could mimic Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse effect and increase average temperatures to an Earth-like range in Mars’ middle latitudes. The goal is to make part of the planet warm enough to keep water in a liquid state.

In the paper, published June 15 in Nature Astronomy, the scientists showed that a 2- to 3-centimeter-thick shield of silica aerogel could block hazardous ultraviolet radiation, permanently raise temperatures beneath it to above the melting point of water, and transmit enough visible light to allow plants to grow in the Martian soil.

Laura Kerber, a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the aerogel could create self-contained areas on Mars where people could live and grow crops.

“Mars is the most habitable planet in our solar system besides Earth, but it remains a hostile world for many kinds of life,” she said in a statement. “A system for creating small islands of habitability would allow us to transform Mars in a controlled and scalable way.” —J.B.

An artist’s conception of astronauts on Mars

An artist’s conception of astronauts on Mars NASA

Archaeologists unearth Biblical city of Ziklag

Archaeological discoveries continue to provide support for Biblical narratives and fill in the details of the ancient world. The Israel Antiquities Authority, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Macquarie University of Sydney, Australia, believe they have discovered the ancient Biblical city of Ziklag, according to an article published July 8 in the Jewish News Syndicate.

The city shows up throughout the Old Testament. The Bible tells how Philistine King Achish gave the city to David when the future ruler sought asylum from King Saul (1 Samuel 27:1–6). The book of 2 Samuel identifies Ziklag as the place David lived before going to Hebron, where after the death of Saul’s son, all the elders of Israel anointed him king of all Israel. Nehemiah says Jews returning from the Babylonian exile settled in Ziklag, and 1 Samuel 30:1 describes the Amalekites destroying the city by fire.

Over the years, archaeological experts have proposed numerous locations for the city, but none met all the required criteria, particularly any evidence of destruction by fire. But the new site shows evidence of a continuous Philistine settlement, as well as a King David–era Jewish settlement. It also shows signs of destruction by a massive fire that carbon dates to the time of King David. —J.B.

An artist’s conception of astronauts on Mars

An artist’s conception of astronauts on Mars NASA

Data embedded in music

Researchers at Zurich’s ETH Computer Engineering and Networks Laboratory just developed a technique to embed data in music and transmit it to a smartphone. The data, imperceptible to the human ear, doesn’t distort the music.

The researchers implanted the data by overlaying the dominant notes with two slightly deeper and two slightly higher and quieter notes that carry the information. A smartphone can receive and analyze the data using its built-in microphone, but the human ear cannot detect the additional notes through the dominant notes.

The new technology could enable organizations to embed access data for their local Wi-Fi network in background music and send it to smartphones.

“That would be handy in a hotel room since guests would get access to the hotel Wi-Fi without having to enter a password on their device,” Simon Tanner, one of the researches who developed the technology, said in a statement.

Manuel Eichelberger, another of the technology developers, noted the technique works best for tunes with lots of dominant notes like pop songs. Quiet music doesn’t work as well. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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