1. BBC News: “Ancient Seaweed Is Living Fossil

Great sea depths have been hiding an ancient creature. Is it Leviathan?

No, it’s not Leviathan, but rather seaweed—two types of seaweed, to be specific, that scientists have found growing more than 650 ft (200m) underwater. That’s “certainly deep for a photosynthetic organism,” emphasizes California State University–Fresno biologist Frederick Zechman, one of the researchers involved in the research.

Although the seaweed had already been identified, its genetic makeup was unknown until Zechman’s team collected samples from both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for testing. The team hoped to place the mysterious algae within the tree of evolution—but it was in for a surprise.

DNA analysis turned up two unexpected results. First, it appears the algae is not closely related to any of its expected evolutionary kin, but is instead biologically distinct. Second, the genes are so unique that the scientists consider the algae to be extremely ancient—perhaps a billion years old or more. “These green algae are among the earliest . . . if not the earliest diverging lineage of green plants,” Zechman explains.

The team has therefore dubbed the algae a “living fossil” even though it is not known from the fossil record. The alternative, creationist explanation is that the tree of evolution is a flawed model of biological origins, because not all organisms are genetically related—life is more like an “orchard” than a tree. Distinct forms of life most likely represent unique creations of God during Creation Week, not “primitive” or “ancient” life-forms. Furthermore, if the evolutionists were right that the algae are living fossils, it would merely be another case of an organism having changed little in hundreds of millions of years.

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2. ScienceNOW: “Alien Planet May Have Come from Another Galaxy

No, the “alien planet” isn’t home to alien life (as far as we know); according to astronomers, the planet itself is a veritable outsider in not only its own solar system, but in our entire galaxy.

The planet, over two-thousand light-years from earth, circles a star known as HIP 13044. At least the size of Jupiter, the planet was discovered by astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the European Space Agency who noticed a puzzling 16-day fluctuation in HIP 13044’s velocity relative to our own solar system. From that, they inferred the existence of a planet orbiting the star.

What’s strange about this planet is that it’s in the wrong place, apparently. HIP 13044 is a metal-poor star, with only about one-hundredth as much metal (used in a broad sense to mean heavy elements) as our own sun. Evolutionary views of planet formation postulate that stellar metal is crucial for planet formation, and thus requires stars with plenty of metal—not stars like HIP 13044. So where did the planet come from?

HIP 13044 is located amid a band of stars in our galaxy called the Helmi stream. The stars supposedly originated in another galaxy, having joined the Milky Way when the two galaxies collided between six and nine billion years ago. Given this background, the team has suggested that HIP 13044’s planet—and perhaps the star itself—isn’t from our galaxy at all, and the two became acquainted long after they first formed. “The claim that it’s extragalactic is kind of a guess,” NASA’s Steven Pravdo admits, though he said the idea is “a nice possibility.”

According to Rice University astronomer Christopher Johns-Krull, the planet disputes the idea of gradual, evolutionary planet formation. “This planet says, maybe that’s not right,” he notes, suggesting a more violent process is responsible instead. Either way, HIP 13044’s unexpected planet stands in sharp contrast to standard, naturalistic models of planet formation and shows one of the problems in an evolutionary view of astronomy.

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3. PhysOrg: “The Benefits of Being Bitter: How the Cranberry’s Evolution Made it a Thanksgiving Staple

No doubt many News to Note readers ate cranberries this week, as the small fruit plays a big role in the traditional Thanksgiving holiday dinner in the United States. So should we have given thanks to evolution for the cranberry?

From its bitter taste to its ability to float, the cranberry isn’t your average fruit. Inside Science News Service offers a look at what makes the cranberry special—and commercially popular. But if the report is to be believed, the cranberry’s uniqueness is all the work of evolution.

For one thing, cranberries are dispersed quite differently from most fruits, which rely on hungry animals to eat them and spread the seeds as they travel. Instead, cranberries, which grow well in wetlands, rely on water for transportation. According to geneticist Nick Vorsa at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research, this explains why other fruits evolved to produce sugars (to attract animals), while cranberries didn’t have to—leaving them naturally sour and bitter.

Vorsa thinks the evolutionary stimulus came during the most recent ice age, when fewer animals were around to eat the fruit. Selective pressures led to sweeter and sweeter blueberries, for instance, but cranberries grew more acidic. Many years later, the cranberry’s ability to float drove its commercial success because harvesting was relatively straightforward. Cranberry bogs are flooded, and the floating berries are skimmed off the top. The cranberry is also popular for its medical merits, which may trace back to its distinct chemical composition.

So should we thank evolution for cranberries? To the contrary, natural and artificial selection make sense in the biblical worldview. Cranberries did not “evolve” into a more advanced organism; environmental and human pressures may have selected for cranberries with certain characteristics (e.g., better floaters). Easy seed dispersal via water probably meant that there was no selective pressure for sugar production, which other fruits may have experienced. The cranberry, like all fruits, has no doubt seen many changes over time, but it ultimately traces back to God’s creation.

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And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Scientists have discovered an unusual, Mafia-like relationship between two species of birds living in the Kalahari Desert. Apparently one species helps protect the other from predators but steals some food in return. But is it actually a case of “evolution,” as a press release repeats? On the contrary, we can understand symbiotic relationships as one way in which organisms adapt to their environment through selective processes—which offers no support for Darwin’s idea of common descent.
  • Researchers at Duke University have determined that “dogs have figured out how to read human behavior and human gestures better than any other species has, even chimpanzees,” CNN reports. That’s another strike against the popularly held idea that chimps are uniquely intelligent in the animal kingdom, thus (supposedly) evincing our shared ancestry.
  • Along the same lines, ScienceNOW mentions elephants’ famous “good memory,” “complex communication skills,” and “rich social lives,” some of which we’ve discussed before (see the September 13, 2008, and February 20 and February 27, 2010, editions of News to Note). Scientists have recently begun examining elephant brains to try to understand elephant smarts, but their conclusion is simply that “evolution has found multiple ways to build a complex brain.”
  • Silken spider webs are often (and rightly) admired as one of the most sophisticated creations of the natural world—super-strong yet light, and woven in interesting geometric patterns. But a sea worm’s gooey secretion may rival spider silk for scientists’ interest. The complicated protein glue starts out as “a mess of disordered proteins” that become organized after contacting the worms’ prey, forming a “solid, sticky gel” that immobilizes the prey. How’s that for an incredible design?
  • Time and again we learn of the superiority of God’s creation to human designs, and a new study of aerodynamic efficiency teaches the same thing. Engineers “independently re-designed a bird shape” unintentionally while searching for the most efficient aircraft design.
  • A CBS News profile of outspoken scientist Craig Venter, one of the minds who helped sequence the human genome, repeats misconceptions about Venter’s team having “created” a synthetic form of life in the laboratory. As we reported in May, the accomplishment was closer to “rebuilding” an already existing organism. The profile also shares Venter’s views on God. “I believe the universe is far more wonderful than just assuming it was made by some higher power,” he said, even though he admits that the DNA “writing software” that underpins life “is pretty miraculous” and “stunning.”

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