I recently attended a Creation Biology Seminar with speakers Dr. Joe Francis, microbiologist, and Dr. Todd Wood, baraminologist. With the Fall and the Flood as their theme, they covered such extensive topics as the baraminology of Lantana flowers and the possible uses of viruses in a Pre-Fall world. They went into great detail on the various research projects they are conducting within their fields, and it was honestly quite exciting!
Dr. Wood opened with suggestions on the origin of toxic, harmful and carnivorous plants, focusing on the variation found in the North American native, Lantanas. Imported to Europe where gardeners cultivated them, they soon ‘escaped’ to various places in Europe and Asia. While the vast majority of the species are harmless and covered with stiff, fuzzy hairs, some have thorns and others are poisonous.
When plants hybridize (as happened to the Lantanas when they invaded the Eurasian continent), they often become polykloidal, meaning simply that they double their chromosomes. This speeds up speciation and accentuates traits. Many such Lantanas became poisonous with a chemical called Lantadene, a deathly liver toxin.
What Dr. Wood showed was that thorns appear to be modifications of stiff hairs, and even this Lantadene appears to originally have been of some use. Many other Lantana species produce Oleanolic acid, which is chemically and structurally very similar to Lantadene. Almost as a kind of ‘anti-Lantadene,’ it benefits the liver where Lantadene harms it, soothes the skin where Lantadene causes rashes, and even helps prevent tumors where Lantadene causes them. Was Lantadene simply made by a slight modification of Oleanolic acid production? Further research may shed light on how such a thing might have occurred. But one thing is clear: bad structures in creation seem very similar to good counterparts, almost as though they were degenerated slightly in some way.
Dr. Francis spoke next on the topic of complex organisms that cause disease, particularly microbes. Many of these viruses, bacteria, fungi and such are meticulously and awe-inspiringly designed to do their jobs – even though their jobs can lead to such things as cholera and blindness. How can a Christian account for this?
Amazingly, viruses have been found to have very important roles in an ecosystem. The oceans, for example, contain plenty of bacteria, like those causing cholera, yet one does not get sick after every swim at the shore. This is because there is not enough such bacteria to accumulate into the amount necessary to bring about the sickness. This is becuase viruses in the ocean control the bacteria’s population and keep it from exploding beyond control.
Cyanobacteria, another marine microbe, are more efficient than all the world’s forests combined in photosynthesis. It does all its work at the ocean’s surface, however, where it is affected by constant exposure to sunlight. But there is a cyanophage virus that injects DNA into the cyanobacteria – DNA that the bacteria have lost from sunburn and would die without! Here, viruses have a directly beneficial effect on the environment.
Bacteria have a similar population control effect on insect populations. A bacteria called Wolbachia can prevent insects, like mosquitoes, from reproducing too rapidly. But the Wolbachia must also be controlled, or insects would go extinct. That control of the bacteria is done by another type of virus.
Modern medical research has even used the virus to its advantage. A certain type of blindness is due to a genetic deficiency for eyesight. When doctors ‘infected’ such a blind 12-year-old boy with a virus containing the missing DNA, he gained the ability to see.
Viruses also play a role in our DNA. The human genome has 50,000 endogenous retroviruses (ERV’s) that evolutionists say are remnants of our evolutionary history – our ancestors must have been infected with them. As such, it qualifies as junk DNA. But even though ERV’s don’t translate into proteins, they do play vital roles. For example, in embryo development, a mother’s immune system must be regionally suppressed so that the baby is not rejected. This is done with ERV’s. If that is the case, they are certainly not junk. This is becoming more and more apparent for all forms of ‘junk DNA,' be it pseudogenes, transposons, or anything else not translated into a protein.
Flood biology was then discussed by Dr. Wood. Examining the different estimates of how many animals were on the Ark – thirty-five, sixteen, or possibly even two thousand animals – he estimated only 25\% of the Ark’s space was needed for them. The Ark itself contained 1.5 million cubic feet, so at 450 feet long, it could easily fit even the largest dinosaur, the 30-foot Brachiosaurus (and full grown, at that). Most of the animals were smaller than a chicken anyway. Required food would be around 2,000 tons, which depending on the type could vary in amount of space needed. Averaging out to 25\% and adding 10\% for the million gallons of fresh water (the Ark had room for 11 million gallons), about 60\% of the space of the Ark was used for storing provisions and animals. This leaves 40\% of the Ark – 600,000 cubic feet – for living space. God preserved a great deal of the Ark for anyone who decided to follow Noah. It’s interesting that during the Middle Ages people saw the Ark’s 6-to-1 proportions as a coffin, representing the death of Christ. They saw the Ark as a symbol of salvation, and as we have seen, it had plenty of room for those who wanted it.
How did other organisms survive the Flood? This is where lots more research comes in. There are clues that freshwater fish were once androgynous (that is, they could tolerate fresh and salty water). Perhaps saltwater tolerance was lost in some fish after the Flood. Taking a look at the lake near Mt. St. Helens shows mats of logs from the forests torn up at its eruption. What would have happened to the worldwide forests torn up during the Flood? These Mt. St. Helens mats have lasted thirty years! Similar ones may have been a place for insects and plant seeds to harbor around during the year of the Flood.
For bacteria and algae, however, populations would thrive. They reproduce rapidly in warm temperatures that the Flood would have produced. Diatoms, which love high temperatures but have a limit as to how much heat they can handle, experienced a boom in population levels sometime after things started cooling down a little, leading to postdiluvian diatomite deposits. The nutrients that all these organisms need (but especially bacteria), such as phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, silicon and iron, would have enriched the water from all the geologic activity going on.
Dr. Francis concluded with research on how ecosystems are restored after a disaster. Comparing modern observations of life coming back after Mt. St. Helens to how bioremediation may have occurred after the Flood, he showed how vital microbes are to earth’s ecosystems and how they form a biomatrix for other organisms to grow upon.
The disaster of Mt. St. Helens was quite devastating. 600 degree F temperatures and 600 mph winds led to a complete sterilization of the Pumice lands. But in 1981, a trace amount of life was found there in a lone lupine, growing against all odds. Further exploration found amphibians and pocket gophers living in the nutrient-depleted soil, and elks beginning to encroach the area. What happened?
Carbon certainly was everywhere, but the lupines needed something else: nitrogen. Risobiom, nitrate-fixating bacteria, was the basis of it all. It attached to the roots of the lupines and from there, the ecosystem could begin to grow again.
Even some geological formations can be explained with bacteria. Caves are generally interpreted to have been formed by water over millions of years, but New Mexican gypsum caves couldn’t possibly have experienced such a thing – gypsum rots when exposed to water! Instead, all scientists, creationist and evolutionist alike, know that these caves (at least) were formed rapidly by acid-eating bacteria.
Bacteria form a biomatrix that affects ecology and geology in profound ways. Extremophiles – literally, ‘extreme loving’ bacteria – live in such otherwise toxic zones of salt and heat and even radioactivity and are found all over the world. They can then support an entire ecosystem. What’s more, they even have been found restoring ecosystems. At sea, metal eating bacteria are breaking down the Titanic, methane eating bacteria are cleaning up oil spills, and recently plastic eating bacteria were found shrinking garbage refuse floating in obscure places in the ocean!
Bacteria, microbes and viruses continue to be researched as their original, very good designs are being explored. Creation biology is giving us a glimpse into the biological affects of the historical Fall and Flood events. More awaits to be discovered.