When talking about strange evolution, choose your words carefully!

We mentioned this yesterday in passing in the Leftovers but posted today is a piece by Carl Zimmer that got me thinking that anti-evolutionists might take this as evidence for their position. It’s not. The genome of the sea gooseberry has been analyzed and it’s weird. Strange Findings on Comb Jellies Uproot Animal Family Tree.

A close look at the nervous system of the gorgeously iridescent animal known as the comb jelly has led a team of scientists to propose a new evolutionary history: one for the comb jelly, and one for everybody else. “It’s a paradox,” said Leonid Moroz, a neurobiologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville and lead author of a paper in today’s Nature about the biology of the comb jelly nervous system. “These are animals with a complex nervous system, but they basically use a completely different chemical language” from every other animal. “You have to explain it one way or another.” The way Moroz explains it is with an evolutionary scenario—one that’s at odds with traditional accounts of animal evolution.

Moroz also says: “This paper proves, on a genomic basis, they’re truly aliens,” via ‘Aliens of Sea’ Provide New Insight Into Evolution – ABC News. These cases of unfortunate wording WILL be misconstrued. It does not mean that evolution is disproven or they are alien life. But for some, that is what they will read. Ctenophores (comb jellys) are among the most oldest forms of complex animal life – tracing back 550 million years. The findings show that the comb jelly are remarkably different in their genetic structure. But not COMPLETELY foreign. That is, the DNA building blocks are still there. It’s not like they don’t have DNA or a have an unexplanable genetic structure. The explanation still fits into the framework of evolution but it adds an interesting twist. It shows that parallel evolution occurred. (Evolution, descent with modification, STILL happened. We know this is how life on earth works. There is no doubt about it.) So, this find makes things more interesting but in no way is a threat to evolution or is evidence that some entity created life. It’s nature at work doing what it does best. Adapting. When speaking of evolution in this scientific sense, we are talking about the details of how the overall mechanism of decent is working. Creationists have already keyed into weird animals like the Sea Gooseberry (p 76) as examples of why evolution is not to be believed. I do wish scientists would be cognizant that the average reader does not have a solid understanding of biology and would choose their words more carefully. I don’t see any anti-science posts on it yet but I expect to. Jelly genome mystery : Nature News & Comment. sea-gooseberry

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  9 comments for “When talking about strange evolution, choose your words carefully!

  1. Indrid Cole
    May 23, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    Hey Sharon,
    I don’t know if you’ve ever covered it in the past but I happened upon this weird story.

    http://circa71.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/the-mysterious-coffins-of-arthurs-seat/

  2. Haldurson
    May 23, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    All it proves is that life on earth is a lot more varied than we sometimes suspect it is. We may not know everything there is to know about evolution and the origin of life, but unlike creationists, we admit that we don’t know all the answers, so we keep on looking.

    You can never learn anything new if you think you already know everything.

  3. Lagaya1
    May 23, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    I’ve often wondered about this. If life started forming once, why not twice or many times? It makes sense that some similar forms would have evolved, as well; since similar environments would have “encouraged” certain traits. I see no conflict with evolution, here, just an exciting new arena for possibilities.

    • MrAptronym
      May 23, 2014 at 4:46 PM

      Well life didn’t start anew with these jellies, so much as it branched long ago.

      I believe the theory is that if life did start in several different lines, their mutual incompatibility drove out the less populous lines. (Though I think completely separate lines are what scientists sometimes look for in deep caves and other isolated areas. Opposing chirality, different bases or even something like an arsenic based molecule)

      I am no biologist though, so take what I say with a larger than average portion of salt.

      • Lagaya1
        May 23, 2014 at 4:52 PM

        Thanks for the explanation. I can’t wait to hear more about this subject in the future.

        • Mark Heil
          May 24, 2014 at 8:37 AM

          There is a possibility that the precursors to mitochondria and/or chloroplasts could have been a separate biogenesis event since their DNA coding is slightly different than regular nuclear DNA.

  4. Matthew Baker
    May 23, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    Genie Scott address this very issue in this lecture a few years ago. Most science writing in the popular press could use some help. http://youtu.be/VOIAIMpqEkE

  5. roger
    May 23, 2014 at 9:45 PM

    My blue pencil wants you to remember the “s” in “descent.” I really appreciate your point. The religious anti-science folks don’t really need an excuse to misconstrue things, though. I’m not sure it’s very much the fault of the science press if their ideas are twisted. Even the most elegant statement of the idea would be mined for counter arguments, however strained.

    Isn’t that critter beautiful?

  6. ApexDisorder
    May 24, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    We know everything about evolution.
    Evolution is change over a period of time.
    Very simple.

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