Petri Dishes VS Giant Particle Colliders

I’m glad the Large Hadron Collider is getting so much press; it’s a rare day that physics takes center stage in the minds of everyday people. Searching for fundamental unifying forces of the universe by smashing atomic particles at near-light speed into each other inside the largest machine ever constructed by human beings is pretty damn awesome. The cutting-edge discoveries that come from it (or the ones that conspicuously fail to) will undoubtedly play a large role in our understanding of the most illusive workings of the universe. So you might be surprised to know that I find research that began 20 years ago with some bacteria in a jar to be even more exciting.

Richard Lenski’s research at Michigan State University is breathtaking. The procedure is stupefyingly simple but the results are stunningly elegant. Not only has he observed evolution in a laboratory setting, but he’s provided snapshots of every step along the way. And when a novel ability was eventually coughed up by natural selection, he rebooted from past generations to see exactly where and how it happened.

It all went a little something like this:

In 1988 Lenski and his team started out with a single microbe of E. Coli, allowed it to divide, and from its offspring he started 12 colonies. They were kept in separate containers, each filled with a glucose-citrate solution. Every day, samples from each colony were frozen and the solution replenished. (E. Coli feed on glucose, but it is an identifying attribute of the bacteria that they can not consume citrate because they are unable to pull it through their membranes.) This process provides a record of genetic change every 500 or so generations that can be resurrected and compared to bacteria at any other stage.

From Carl Zimmer’s article A New Step in Evolution:

Over the generations, in fits and starts, the bacteria did indeed evolve into faster breeders. The bacteria in the flasks today breed 75% faster on average than their original ancestor. Lenski and his colleagues have pinpointed some of the genes that have evolved along the way; in some cases, for example, the same gene has changed in almost every line, but it has mutated in a different spot in each case. Lenski and his colleagues have also shown how natural selection has demanded trade-offs from the bacteria; while they grow faster on a meager diet of glucose, they’ve gotten worse at feeding on some other kinds of sugars.

But then… after 33,127 something weird was going on.

Read the rest of this entry »


It’s fun being the only athiest in an all Christian family

If you read my previous post, you already know that I was raised Christian and that I alone out of my God-fearing family have turned atheist.  My brother Mike I’m not too sure about.  He isn’t an active Christian but as far as I know he still believes in God. Anyways, although I haven’t told my parents outright that I no longer believe in God, I’m beginning to suspect that they are figuring it out.

They like to drop these not-so-subtle hints that I should be going back to church or that God is working in my life.  I generally just shrug these suggestions off to avoid a conflict but there was one instance when I could not resist a rebuttal.

Read the rest of this entry »

Evolution Survey

The School of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University is conducting a survey on the public understanding of evolution. They ask a couple questions about evolution as you see it and then obviously some questions pertaining to demographics. The survey is to get an idea of how education level, religiosity, age, etc relate to how much you understand evolution. It doesn’t take very long, you should check it out. I gave them my email so they’re going to send me the results when it’s over and I’ll probably do a post about that when it happens.

The questions are:

1) To the best of your understanding, and in your own words,
please explain what “evolution” means.

2) If you accept the theory of evolution, please explain in your own words why; or if you do not accept the theory of evolution, please explain in your own words why not.

And for those interested, here are the answers I entered:

Read the rest of this entry »

Creationist Debate

Here, in near entirety, is a debate I’ve had with a creationist friend from back home for the last 2 months. I’ve edited out bits of the conversation that don’t relate to the debate and I’ve condensed multiple sequential responses by one person into a single segment. I’ve edited a small bit at the end regarding pi. I had barely skimmed a link before giving it to him and it turned out to be the opposite of what I was trying to get across. I removed the link and the subsequent bits that related to it to avoid the confusion to the reader that it caused to us. His name has been changed to Mark Pigeon in fairness to him because we didn’t start the debate for the purpose of later publication. There’s a lot of great information in it however and I think other people will be interested in reading it.

It all began when I posted this link on facebook:

His resulting comments on the article spawned the debate that was quickly shifted to private messaging to accommodate the lengthy replies and to keep it one-on-one.

Mark Pigeon

It’s just too bad the writer doesn’t really know his/her science, nor their bible. Just because God can make the world in seven days doesn’t mean that his creation can on it’s own. And the truth is that scientific study shows that the earth isn’t “four and a half billion years old, but only six thousand”. The only so-called science that claims the earth is billions of years old is the theory of evolution, which currently has no proof for it and a good amount of proof against it. As to whether or not what they’re seeing is a planet forming they don’t actually know; we’ve never seen it happen before so we’re not entirely sure what that looks like.

“And if there’s one thing the existence of our world and everything we see in the sky ever proves, it’s that once a clump of matter starts to collapse it tends to keep going.”
What’s this based off of? Our atmosphere and dust is continuously leaving the planet, our galaxy is expanding farther and farther apart, and besides the possibility of black holes we’ve never seen large amounts of dust in space actually come together (by the way you can’t see black holes). And finally, we have no proof that it has been going on for any length of time since we haven’t been watching it with our fancy telescopes the past 1000 years, as well as the fact that everything we see in space has technically already happened since the light takes a while to get here.
And before simply believing either what this article says or what I say you should really do some research for yourself. The great thing about science is that it’s something you can test.

Read the rest of this entry »