"Creationist critics get their comeuppance"
A couple of weeks ago we reported on the work of Richard Lenski, who has spent much of the last 20 years maintaining cultures of E. coli to see how they evolve. His paper describes how one of his populations evolved the ability to metabolise citrate, something E. coli cannot do by definition.
It's one of the most dramatic examples of evolution in action ever seen, and because Lenski freezes samples of the population every 500 generations, it is possible to go back and track how the ability developed. Lenski and his team are now doing so, and hope to have a detailed history of the ability developing, mutation by mutation.
All in all we thought it was a pretty excellent piece of research, and plenty of other sites agreed: Pharyngula, for instance, devoted a lengthy post to it. However, such an unambiguous example of evolution in action was always going to bring the kooks out of the woodwork.
First up was Michael Behe, the intelligent design proponent and biochemist, who argued in his Amazon blog that Lenski's work was in fact excellent evidence for intelligent design. His argument is a variant on the usual "it's just so improbable" line: the ability to metabolise citrate required several different mutations (true), which each have a low chance of happening in a given time (true), and it may even have been necessary for them to happen in a particular order (true), therefore Darwinian evolution can't explain it. Er, no, it just means it would take evolution a little while to manage it. 20 years, as it turned out.
However, a far more amusing response came from Andrew Schlafly, the boss of Conservapedia. This, you may recall, is an alternative version of Wikipedia that aims to "correct the biases" of the original site - it has, for example, a young-Earth creationist viewpoint on evolution.
Schlafly wrote a brusque open letter to Lenski, expressing "skepticism" about his claims and demanding to see the data.
Well, the researchers still have not answered simple, basic questions about the paper, so who cares about the data?
Labels: Citrate-eating E. coli