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Providential discoveries

Intelligent design proponent stumbles onto a new species

Chrismooreia michaelbehei Photo by Günter Bechly/Biologic Institute, Redmond, Wash.

Providential discoveries

A German paleontologist recently announced the discovery of a new species of dragonfly with ties to intelligent design, a providential discovery he highlighted by naming the insect for one of ID’s longtime champions.

Gunter Bechly discovered the species in 2011 but had to delay publishing the finding until last month because of other obligations, he wrote on the Discovery Institute’s blog. Until 2009, Bechly accepted neo-Darwinism as settled science. In preparing an exhibit for the museum where he worked in Stuttgart, Germany, he gathered books on intelligent design, intending to discredit them. Instead, he realized they made some good points and adopted their worldview as his own.

The story of how he discovered the new species of dragonfly is equally unlikely. While looking at a website for fossil collectors, he realized one of the specimens came from an early Jurassic dragonfly no one had previously identified among about 6,500 species of fossilized and living dragonflies and damselflies. He contacted the owner to ask if he could borrow and study the well-preserved fossil. What he saw led him to identify detailed characteristics of the insect, some of which it shared with other similar dragonflies from the same time period. Those characteristics met the definition of “homoplasy,” features shared between species but not with any identified common ancestor.

“Such homoplasy is a ubiquitous phenomenon in systematic biology and does not readily align with a hierarchical system required by evolutionary classification,” Bechly wrote. “While surprising from the perspective of common ancestry, such incongruences would not be surprising from the perspective of common design” because a single designer might duplicate characteristics among similar species.

For inspiration in naming the new dragonfly, Bechly turned to the intelligent design books he read years ago. He named the species Chrismooreia michaelbehei after author Michael Behe, the American biochemist who argues the irreducible complexity of nature disproves evolution by random mutations—a possibility Charles Darwin himself conceded.

“His second book, The Edge of Evolution, with its fascinating elaboration of the waiting time problem, had a great influence on my own journey from neo-Darwinism to ID,” Bechly wrote.

A health worker prepares to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone in 2014.

A health worker prepares to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone in 2014. Associated Press/Photo by Michael Duff

Ebola outbreak confirmed in Congo

The World Health Organization is sending a team to the Democratic Republic of Congo after doctors there confirmed a new Ebola outbreak. The National Institute of Biological Research in Kinshasa found the deadly virus in two of five people it tested. Doctors with the Equateur Province Health Ministry in Congo’s rural northwest sent samples to Kinshasa after diagnosing 21 cases of a hemorrhagic fever, from which 17 people died. The teams sent in response found the five new cases sent to Kinshasa for testing. This is the ninth confirmed Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976. The last, in May 2017, left four of eight patients dead but didn’t spread beyond a remote village.

The WHO team now headed to the country will include vaccination support personnel, but no vaccine has won approval to combat the disease. Efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine ramped up after the 2014 outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone that killed 11,300 people and sparked fears of a worldwide epidemic. Results of a clinical trial conducted in Liberia with two different vaccines showed promise, but researchers are still trying to determine whether those serums can prevent infection.

A single-dose vaccine developed by pharmaceutical giant Merck has proven effective at preventing infection for up to two years in the first phase of clinical trials, according to study results published this month in the British journal Lancet Infectious Diseases. The company plans to conduct more trials later this year.

“In the meantime, we are maintaining a stockpile of more than 300,000 emergency-use dose equivalents that can support an outbreak response, should the need arise,” Beth-Ann Coller, executive director of Vaccines Clinical Research for Merck Research Laboratories, told Contagion. “Although the vaccine is not yet licensed, there are mechanisms to support the use of the investigational product should an outbreak occur.” —Leigh Jones

A health worker prepares to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone in 2014.

A health worker prepares to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone in 2014. Associated Press/Photo by Michael Duff

Touchscreen everything

Dumb walls may get smart if a new technology developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research catches on. The researchers devised a way to embed conductive paint with electrodes to produce walls that can function as giant touchpads or electromagnetic sensors that can detect and track electrical devices and appliances. “Instead of merely separating spaces, walls can now enhance rooms with sensing and interactivity,” the researchers wrote.

For about $20 per square meter, the system could adjust the level of light when a TV comes on or alert a user when an electric device in another location turns on or off. It could also track the location of a person wearing a device that emits an electromagnetic signature. The researchers estimate the wall-sized electrodes consume about as much power as a standard touch screen. —Julie Borg

Pass the insect repellent

Diseases from mosquito, tick, and flea bites more than tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016, according to a report published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC blamed several factors for the increase, including more global travel and commerce and the emergence of new diseases such as the Zika virus, chikungunya, and at least seven new tick-borne illnesses. Local health departments are not as prepared as they ought to be to fight the diseases and the insects that spread them, the CDC warned. It called for more government resources devoted to pest control and public education. At a news conference last week, Dr. Lyle Peterson, director of the CDC’s vector-borne diseases division, repeatedly said that climate change has not contributed to the surge in these illnesses, but he did say higher temperatures could play a role in lengthening tick and mosquito season and spreading the diseases to more people, CBS News reported. —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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