A new peer-reviewed scientific study challenges a common argument for
the Darwinian theory of evolution by showing that so-called "redundant"
units in the human genome actually have highly specialized functions.
Casey Luskin, an attorney with graduate degrees in both science and law, explained in a report published at Evolution News and Views that evolutionists have generally assumed that synonymous codons - a sequence of three consecutive nucleotides that is part of the genetic code - are functionally equivalent. A nucleotide is the basic building block of nucleic acids.
Luskin is research coordinator for the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the leading proponent of the theory of intelligent design.
He explained many scientists assume the codons merely encode the same amino acid.
"Well, think again. The theory of intelligent design predicts that living organisms will be rich in information, and thus it encourages us to seek out new sources of functionally important information in the genome," he writes.
Luskin said the new paper "fulfills an ID prediction by finding that synonymous codons can lead to different rates of translation that can ultimately impact protein folding and function."
The study, published by the journal Frontiers in Genetics, was conducted by David D'Onofrio and David Abel.
Luskin points out scientists understand the codons GGU, GGC, GGA and GGG "all encode the amino acid glycine."
But the new research suggests they don't all do it identically.
"This means that DNA contains multiple languages or encoded commands occupying the same string of contiguous bases," he writes. "On the one hand, a string of nucleotide bases encodes amino acids. On the other hand, that same string contains information about the rate at which the ribosome should translate the protein so that it can properly fold into the right shape."
But there's more, the research paper reveals.
"The paper calls this 'translational pausing.' The ribosome is capable of reading both sets of commands - as they put it, 'the ribosome can be thought of as an autonomous functional processor of data that it sees at its input.' To put it another way, the genetic code is 'multidimensional,' a code within a code," he says.
"This multidimensional nature exceeds the complexity of computer codes generated by humans, which lack the kind of redundancy of the genetic code."
The research found that while codons that process the same amino have been thought to be overlapping, there is evidence the actual processing purposely is slowed or speeded up inside the ribosome.
According to the study: "Redundancy of the codon to amino acid mapping, therefore, is anything but superfluous or degenerate. Redundancy programming allows for simultaneous dual prescriptions of [Translational Pausing] and amino acid assignments without cross-talk. This allows both functions to be coincident and realizable."
Luskins picked up the explanation.
"They write that the ribosome's ability to undergo translational pausing 'reveal[s] the ribosome, among other things, to be not only a machine, but an independent computer-mediated manufacturing system.' The paper even suggests, 'Cause-and-effect physical determinism...cannot account for the programming of sequence-dependent biofunction.'"
He explains that intelligent design expects to find "new layers of information in the genome," and the paper "implicitly challenges some common evolutionary assumptions."
"The notion that shared synonymous codons are functionally irrelevant has been used to buttress arguments for Darwinian evolution," he says. "For one thing, some evolutionists claim that phylogenetic signals can be carried by the distribution of synonymous codons since they're functionally equivalent. This paper suggests otherwise."
He reasons that if codons that process the same amino "have important functional meaning, then ... hundreds of studies that used these methods to infer 'selection' during the supposed 'evolution of genes' could be wrong."
"In short, 'redundant' codons are not necessarily redundant at all. As the paper puts it: 'we show why the term "degeneracy" is completely inappropriate. The dual coding functionality of redundancy is anything but 'degenerate.' It represents, instead, far more sophistication, layers, and dimensions of formal prescription.'"
Luskin says the researchers' "conclusion about the high-information capacity of the genetic code is striking: Redundancy in the primary genetic code allows for additional independent codes."
"Coupled with the appropriate interpreters and algorithmic processors, multiple dimensions of meaning, and function can be instantiated into the same codon string," he writes.
Luskin notes that William Dembski, in his intelligent design book "No Free Lunch," says intelligent design "offers one obvious prediction, namely, that nature should be chock-full of specified complexity and therefore should contain numerous pointers to design."
"This prediction is increasingly being confirmed," Luskin says.
He says multidimensional codes and new levels of specified complexity "are exactly what [intelligent design] predicts, and they're exactly what this paper is reporting."
"It's this sort of sophisticated, information-rich control that is expected by intelligent design, in contrast to Darwinian biology, which fails to anticipate it."
Luskin earned an M.S. in Earth Sciences from the University of California-San Diego, where he studied the theory of evolution. He has lectured on intelligent design on university campuses and at conferences across the country.