Leviathan has at last been found—according to a broad definition of “Leviathan,” anyway.
Described as “a kind of a sea monster” by Paris Natural History Museum director Christian de Muizon, the whale—what remains of it—was discovered in Peru two years ago. Most prominent are the fossil’s large, menacing teeth. Although similar in many ways to the modern sperm whale, the fossil has teeth on both upper and lower jaws (unlike the sperm whale), and its teeth are more than twice the length and diameter of the modern sperm whale’s.
The whale’s fearsome teeth, combined with an estimated length for the body of 56 ft. (17 m), suggests the creature was a fierce predator—feeding on prey up to 26 ft. (8 m) long. That may have included ancient dolphins, seals, and even other whales.
Just as interesting are the names the scientists have given the fossil and its ilk. Drawing on literary inspiration from both the Bible and Moby Dick, the scientists dub the creature Leviathan melvillei in their description in Nature. The authors also note that, in the BBC’s words, “Leviathan is not merely the stuff of myth and legend.”
We agree, of course—because the Bible describes or refers to Leviathan in several places: Job 3:8, Job 41, Psalm 74:14, Psalm 104:26, and Isaiah 27:1. But while Leviathan is, indeed, described as having “terrible teeth all around” his face (Job 41:14), it is also described as having “rows of scales” (Job 41:15) that deflect swords, spears, darts, javelins, and arrows (Job 41:26, 28). Beyond that, Leviathan is called a “serpent” and a “reptile” or “dragon” (Isaiah 27:1). The Bible therefore paints a clear picture of Leviathan as a creature very much like a plesiosaur or other ancient marine reptile—not a whale. The reporting scientists can get away with the use of this term given its broad meaning as a frightening sea creature, and given problematic biblical interpretations that suggest Leviathan was a whale even while ignoring what the Bible actually says. Based on a plain interpretation of Scripture, however—and therefore concluding that humans shared the earth with dinosaurs and other ancient reptiles—we think fossils such as this one found in Dorset may more accurately be called “Leviathan.”
Are Tibetans the most evolved humans? Just what does that mean?
A new genetic analysis shows that Tibetans’ EPAS1 gene has undergone the most rapid genetic change out of all human genes, according to an analysis conducted by researchers in China, Europe, and the United States. The team chalks the change up to Tibet’s high altitude.
When a human—living in low or moderate altitudes—heads to high altitudes, his body adjusts to the thin air by producing more red blood cells and hemoglobin. While this increased production compensates for the drastically decreased amount of oxygen, there’s a cost: chronic altitude sickness, headaches, and increased exhaustion. Unlike most humans, however, Tibetans are able to endure the thin air of high altitudes without increased red blood cell and hemoglobin production.
Relying on genomic data from 50 unrelated Tibetans, 40 Chinese, and 200 Danes, researchers discovered a handful of genetic mutations that were more common in the Tibetans. Many control how the body uses oxygen. The starkest genetic difference came in the form of an EPAS1 allele (a sort of “version” of a particular gene). The allele showed up in eighty-seven percent of Tibetans, compared to only nine percent of Chinese and nearly none of the Danes.
Based on the analysis, the researchers conclude Tibetans diverged from the main Chinese group about 2,750 years ago, which would make the EPAS1 mutation the most recent example of human evolution compared to other evolutionary estimates. But as with mice adapted for living in high altitudes (see item #3), Tibetans’ adaptation for life in thin air can be understood within the framework of natural selection, which is fully compatible with young-earth creation. Given a distribution of EPAS1 alleles in an earlier population, those with the mutation for high-altitude living survive and reproduce more successfully than others in the plateaus of Tibet; eventually, the population overwhelmingly includes the high-altitude EPAS1 allele. Additionally, if the high-altitude EPAS1 allele results in some deficiency elsewhere in the body—and is therefore costly to have except in high altitudes—this explains why relatively few non-Tibetan Chinese, and virtually no Danes, carry the high-altitude allele. Natural selection, not molecules-to-man evolution, explains the change.
Are mountain mice the murine equivalent of Tibetan humans (see item #2)?
The results of a study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology show that mice living in South America’s Andes have “independently evolved a strategy to maximize energy yield when little oxygen is available.” According to researchers, the adaptation enables mice living at high altitudes to use oxygen more efficiently than those living at lower altitudes.
At the center of the research is how mice (and other mammals, for that matter) fuel their metabolism: with fatty acids or with carbohydrates. Generally, the proportion of each used reflects the degree of high-intensity activity (i.e., exercise), with increased carbohydrates burned as activity increases.
A team led by McMaster University biologists Marie-Pierre Schippers and Grant McClelland measured cardiac muscle metabolism and fuel-burning patterns in several species of mice living in either high or low altitudes in the Andes. The team discovered that, relative to low-altitude mice, the high-altitude mice burn an increased proportion of carbohydrates. This likely indicates an oxygen-saving advantage, as burning carbohydrates produces fifteen to eighteen percent more energy (per unit of oxygen) than burning fatty acids does.
Although the scientists claim the high-altitude mice have “independently evolved” this preference for carbohydrates, the inferred change can be understood simply as an act of natural selection. Given an initial population of mice with variation in fuel source preference, and taking the researchers conclusion (that carbohydrate-burning is more efficient with respect to oxygen consumption), then it makes sense that only mice that burn increased carbohydrates may survive if transplanted to high altitudes. Once again, we see that a harsher environment has led to decreased diversity: survival of the fittest has eliminated (or reduced) diversity among the high-altitude population—the opposite of what molecules-to-man evolution is predicated upon.
T. rex, you’ve just been taken down a notch.
We already knew—as reported in June 2007—that Tyrannosaurus rex was probably not as quick a mover as has been portrayed in movies and other media. The study covered in 2007 concluded that T. rex “was unlikely to have topped 40km/h (25mph)” and also cast doubt on the dinosaur’s agility.
Now, a different line of research comes to the same conclusion. While the previous study relied on biomechanical modeling, the new research is based on the “speed limit” of nerve signals in a large creature’s body. Through close study of the nervous systems of a variety of modern animals, researchers led by Max Donelan of Simon Fraser University suggest there is a nerve speed limit of about 180 ft. (55 m) per second. And the nerve speed limit applies to dinosaurs like T. rex as well.
“To be agile, Tyrannosaurus would need to be both all muscle and all nerve,” Donelan joked, referencing previous studies that have shown T. rex’s muscle mass insufficient for high speeds. But the study’s authors are careful to note that T. rex would still have been “impressive and exciting to see, and capable of surprising feats from time to time.”
The research reminds us that it’s not unrealistic to imagine humans and dinosaurs sharing the planet—as the Bible plainly implies. Just as modern humans survive on the same earth as carnivorous beasts, humans from previous generations would have been wise about which dinosaurs were to be avoided and where those dinosaurs lived. Learning more about T. rex’s true abilities—and limitations—shows how such cohabitation was possible.
Once again, scientists are turning to God’s creations for inspiration.
A team at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at Switzerland’s Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne is taking a cue from the insect world in developing more intelligent, more capable robots. The scientists’ most recent creation is an insect-like robot that can perch on almost any surface.
“We are not blindly imitating nature, but using the same principles to possibly improve on it,” noted the school’s Mirko Kovac, a robotics engineer. “Simple behavioral laws such as jumping, flying, and perching lead to complex control over movement without the need for high computational power.”
Kovac and his colleagues hope that such highly mobile robots may one day be put to use carrying sensors and cameras to explore areas being destroyed by natural disasters. However, a current difficulty is the heavy power sources flying robots must carry to power their propulsion. By giving flying robots the ability to perch, Kovac’s team paves the way for flying robots that use less energy and are therefore more feasible for real-world applications.
“I am fascinated by the creative process, and how it is possible to use the sophistication found in nature to create something completely new,” Kovac added. To us, the research is one more great example of human designers recognizing the creativity of the Master Designer.
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