1. BBC News: “Neanderthal Genes ‘Survive in Us’” & National Geographic News: “Neanderthals, Humans Interbred—First Solid DNA Evidence

A new genetic study has revealed that many modern humans have Neanderthal ancestry.

The study, published in the journal Science, compared the Neanderthal genome to the genes of five humans alive today. The comparison revealed that in some individuals, up to 4% of the total genome was of Neanderthal origin.

The scientists were led by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who was involved in the original sequencing of the Neanderthal genome (which we reported on last October). “[Neanderthals] are not totally extinct,” Paabo said. “In some of us they live on, a little bit.”

University of Wisconsin–Madison anthropologist John Hawks added, “They’re us. We’re them.” Hawks also noted that he was “surprised” at the extent of Neanderthal contributions to the modern human genome.

Still, Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist Erik Trinkhaus claimed the study may have underrepresented the extent of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans. “One to 4 percent is truly a minimum. But is it 10 percent? Twenty percent?”*

Paabo’s team also discovered that modern African populations seem to lack Neanderthal genetic elements, while individuals from regions not typically associated with Neanderthals—China and Papua New Guinea—had Neanderthal DNA. The evolutionary scientists interpret this in light of “Out of Africa” theory, the belief that humans evolved in Africa before migrating worldwide. The team speculates that Neanderthals evolved separately from modern humans but later interbred with the humans who left Africa.

The news doesn’t surprise young-earth creationists, who predicted overlap between modern human and Neanderthal genomes. Based on Scripture, creationists consider Neanderthals to have been fully human, descendants of Adam and Eve (through Noah), and therefore they would have lived in the same time and place as other humans. But factors related to both the dispersion at Babel and environmental pressures afterward resulted in people groups with different physical characteristics, including humans with “Neanderthal” characteristics.

Liberty University cell biologist (and creationist) David DeWitt called the research an “amazing feat” of science that supports creationist expectations. “Finding Neanderthal DNA in humans was not expected by evolutionists, but it was predicted from a creation standpoint because we have said all along that Neanderthals were fully human: descendants of Adam and Eve, just like us,” he told News to Note.

DeWitt also pointed to research on mitochondrial DNA several years earlier that had boldly claimed that Neanderthals were not our ancestors, based on the genetic results at that time. “We really have to be careful with scientific conclusions and data,” DeWitt explained. “Now, with a more thorough analysis, we have the exact opposite conclusions.”

(DeWitt presents a biblically based approach to the question of human and Neanderthal genetic overlap in Did Neanderthals and Modern Humans Share a Common Gene Pool? The video is available for purchase or free through our Video on Demand feature.)

While Neanderthals remain something of a mystery even to creationists, the new research reminds us of the reality of what the Bible teaches: Neanderthals were neither ape-men nor inferior to other humans. Rather, as with all humans, Neanderthals were part of the one blood of humankind (Acts 17:26), and therefore carried the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

* As to why the percentage of Neanderthal DNA found in modern humans is relatively small, we note the following. Neanderthal fossils are from individuals who have been dead for hundreds to thousands of years. Since that time, there have been selection pressure, genetic drift, and population bottlenecks (such as the bubonic plague that struck Europe, episodes of “ethnic cleansing,” etc.). These all have impacts on the gene pool, as does relative population size. Humans alive today have come through that, while the Neanderthals did not.

2. ScienceNOW: “Scientists Resurrect Mammoth Hemoglobin

Scientists have resurrected a mammoth—a mammoth hemoglobin protein, that is.

Although the feat sounds less dramatic than bringing a woolly mammoth to life, the scientists’ accomplishment was no easy task. A multinational team recovered DNA from a mammoth bone preserved in Siberia, then isolated the specific gene that would have coded for hemoglobin. Finally, the team inserted the gene into E. coli bacteria, letting the microbes rebuild mammoth hemoglobin according to the DNA “blueprint.”

“It’s no different from going back 40,000 years and taking a blood sample from a living mammoth,” argued University of Manitoba biologist Kevin Campbell, one of the scientists. (The team believes the mammoth bone that contained the DNA to be more than 40,000 years old.) By examining the working of the mammoth hemoglobin and comparing it to that of elephants, the team concluded that mammoth hemoglobin released oxygen efficiently without respect to temperature—quite unique relative to elephant (and human) hemoglobin.

According to the researchers, mammoths’ temperature-neutral hemoglobin allowed it to adapt to cold temperatures in the climatic extremes where mammoth remains are often found. More specifically, the hemoglobin would have enabled mammoths to let their extremities cool (to preserve core body heat) without reducing oxygen flow.

While ScienceNOW quotes one scientist who is cautious about the team’s conclusions, and while we should always think critically, the team’s research certainly represents a cutting-edge and inspiring way to study extinct creatures. While there’s a lot to learn about mammoths (including much we may never know), this discovery reminds us that God programmed incredible cellular information into the original created kinds. This information allowed organisms not only to perform complicated biological tasks, but also to adapt to a wide range of environments—including the Ice Age after the global Flood.

3. Canadian Press: “Survival of the Weakest? Study Looks at Whitefish Evolution in Alberta Lake

If the Canadian Press is to be believed, whitefish provide the latest example of “evolution” in action. But as with previous examples, the evolutionary significance is overstated.

A study of fishing practices and whitefish characteristics in Canada’s Lesser Slave Lake has revealed an interesting case of natural selection (or possibly artificial selection since man is the cause). in action. University of Calgary evolutionary biologist Sean Rogers plans to investigate changes in the genetic composition of the whitefish population at the lake—which appears to have come about as a result of human fishing.

Because fishermen use nets designed to catch the biggest fish, smaller whitefish have a reproductive advantage—they are captured less frequently and therefore have a greater opportunity to reproduce and propagate their genes. “Instead of the bigger and best surviving, those were the ones we were actually removing from the population and consequently we elicited this selection response in the fish population,” explained Rogers.

In fact, the whitefish example is a great illustration of the workings of natural selection, an idea Charles Darwin both adopted for his evolutionary idea and expounded upon. However, Rogers points out that people often assume “survival of the fittest” means that the biggest and strongest survive. While that may often be the case, the whitefish example shows the opposite process in effect. Rogers also discussed a similar study from last year (which we covered last January) that showed other cases of “reverse evolution” (i.e., animals whose average size has dropped because of human predation).

What none of these examples demonstrate, however, is anything remotely similar to Darwin’s molecules-to-man story for life’s complexity and diversity. Darwin’s story requires the addition of new genetic information into a population, which natural selection preserves. But in this case and all other examples of “evolution in action,” genetic information is either constant or it decreases as natural selection removes certain members from the population. So such cases really are “reverse evolution”—they are the opposite of what drives Darwinian evolution.

4. LiveScience: “Dwarf Dinosaur Once Roamed Transylvania

When most people think of dinosaurs, they think of the big ones, like brachiosaurs and T. rex, both of which would have towered over humans.

Dinosaur bones dug up more than a hundred years ago in what is now Romania go against the popular view of dinosaurs as hulking beasts. The Romanian fossil, classified as Magyarosaurus dacus, is related to the giant titanosaurs, some of which weighed ten times more than an elephant. Yet new research indicates M. dacus never grew beyond horse-size.

Although the first M. dacus fossil was discovered in 1895 and was considered a “dwarf” dinosaur (i.e., small, but nevertheless an adult), scientists later concluded the fossil must be a juvenile titanosaur with much growing left to do. Now, in the most recent development in the century-long investigation, a team led by the Steinmann Institute Division of Paleontology’s Koen Stein examined bones from nineteen different M. dacus fossils. The team applied lessons learned from studying other dinosaur bones to try to discover whether the M. dacus fossils are all juvenile titanosaurs, or whether M. dacus truly was a dwarf species.

Based on their knowledge of dinosaur bone development, the scientists concluded that the M. dacus fossils found so far were from dinosaurs that were at least 95 percent of their full size—in other words, they weren’t juveniles. For creationists, discoveries of small dinosaurs are reminders of two things. First, complaints that Noah’s Ark could not accommodate the required animals often ignore the fact that the average dinosaur was much smaller than the towering T. rex (and, in addition, Noah could have taken juveniles). Second, the argument that dinosaurs were too dangerous for humans to have lived “alongside” them ignores the fact that we live “alongside” some large, dangerous animals today; again, most dinosaurs weren’t that big (and, in addition, most of the big ones were herbivorous).

5. ScienceNOW: “Island Reptiles Buck an Evolutionary Trend

Rapid speciation (multiple species descending from a single population) is often cited as confirmation of the creation worldview. Can we say the same when no speciation occurs?

Creationists frequently argue that examples of rapid speciation support the creation worldview because such examples demonstrate how the diversity of life we see today could have arisen since the Flood. By contrast, such speciation is far faster than what evolutionists suspect.

A study of lizards on the island of Martinique reveals the opposite situation: no apparent speciation in the last eight million years, according to a team led by Bangor University evolutionary biologist Roger Thorpe. The scientists believe the lizards on Martinique today once lived (eight million years ago) on four separate islands that now form Martinique. They expected greater genetic divergence during that supposed isolation, but according to the team’s research, genetic study shows that the lizards diverged too little to become separate species.

In a twist, the researchers report that, despite their conclusions about the last eight million years, the lizards may be in the process of speciation today. Different lizard populations have been split in different habitats on the island and now rarely interbreed. The result “really surprised” Thorpe, who added that “people need to rethink their assumptions” about how speciation works.

Or could it be that the team’s assumptions are wrong, both with regard to how long the lizards have lived on the ground now forming Martinique (eight million years or a few thousand?) and about how long (because of wrong evolutionary assumptions) it usually takes a species to diverge? Creationist models of animal dispersal and adaptation predict that from the time animals departed the Ark, they would have adapted rapidly to new environments, including through the process of speciation. And, of course, this process results in less genetic information, not more—the opposite of what Darwinian evolution requires.

6. BBC News: “Animals Need ‘Right to Privacy’ from Wildlife Films

Do animals have a “right to privacy”? Or are such “animal-hugger” claims the logical consequence of evolutionary views only?

According to University of East Anglia film and television studies lecturer Brett Mills, animals’ right to privacy should be taken into consideration in the production of nature documentaries. “We see it as unethical and wrong to secretly film people—we say it’s not allowed,” he explained. But “what does it say about our assumptions about animals [in that we have no such prohibition]?” he asks.

While Mills is okay with filming “public” activities such as hunting, he mentions the use of hidden cameras and the practice of shoving cameras into animal nests and burrows as questionable. Mills argues that animal behavior itself shows that they make a distinction between “public” and “private” arenas.

Is Mills’ idea wacky? Does it stem from an evolutionary worldview that insists humans are simply animals, and that only relative intelligence separates us? Although the Bible is clear that humans are fundamentally set apart from animals, having been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), this does not imply that we may treat animals however we wish; God made mankind stewards of earth and life on it (Genesis 1:28). The Bible is clear that there is morality underlying the treatment of animals (Proverbs 12:10).

That certainly does not mean animals deserve the same rights as humans, and we’re not saying we necessarily agree with Mills. Rather, we’re emphasizing that creationists should not dismiss the topic of what are appropriate animal rights—whether for pets, pests, livestock, or wildlife—without careful thought and biblically minded consideration.

For more information:

7. And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Researchers at the Whitehead Institute have developed a technique to increase the pluripotency of human stem cells. Strangely, although the technique works on stem cells derived from both embryos and adults, both the news report and the journal article emphasize embryonic stem cells.
  • You probably don’t think of ants as insect farmers, but it turns out that some are! Although we don’t buy into the evolutionary tale, we agree that the situation is complex—which, to us, is a reminder of God’s creative ability.
  • Can bonobos shake their heads to indicate “no”? If so, it would be yet another fascinating example of primate intelligence—but as we often point out, chimps’ smarts imply common design, not common ancestry.
  • The Canadian Press reports on what may be the first case of a second-generation polar/grizzly bear hybrid in the wild. (We discussed such hybrids last November.)
  • The French government has decided to send 15 preserved human heads back to New Zealand. Agence France-Presse notes that “in the 19th century” the mummified heads of Maori warriors “became prized European collector items.” We wonder if that interest was stoked by racist theories, themselves fueled by Darwinism.
  • It probably wasn’t the sort of creature to be kept as a pet: the recently analyzed Aetodactylus halli, a toothed pterosaur with a whopping nine-foot wingspan.
  • “Darwin got it going on / Creationism is . . . dead wrong . . . .” That strange lyric is from evolutionist rapper Baba Brinkman’s rhythmic “lecture,” as covered in a New York Times blog. Believe it or not, though, it’s not the first time we’ve covered evolutionary rap (see the last item in the “And Don’t Miss” section of the October 3, 2009, edition of News to Note).

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