The day after James Lake's interesting essay appeared in Nature, acknowledging that the origin of eukaryotes is one of the greatest enigmas in biology, he appeared as a co-signatory to some correspondence, attacking a paper published last year in Science. The paper maintained that hypotheses invoking genome fusion to explain the characteristic features of the eukaryote cell have failed. The authors reviewed recent data from proteomics and genome sequences and suggested that "eukaryotes are a unique primordial lineage".
The critics declared that this paper "delivered only biased opinions" and that the authors "arbitrarily pick and choose among available observations relating to sequence similarity". The end of their critique has this punchline: "Finally, and most disturbing, if contemporary eukaryotic cells are truly of "irreducible nature," as Kurland et al.'s title declares, then no stepwise evolutionary process could have possibly brought about their origin, and processes other than evolution must be invoked. Is there a hidden message in their paper?"
The authors of the paper have responded in a non-inflammatory way. They stand their ground. "Our view is that cellular and molecular biology, especially genomics, reveals signs of an ancient complexity of the eukaryotic cell." They conclude: "our primary conclusion is that there is good progress on understanding the complexity of the ancestral eukaryote cell".
The reason for drawing attention to this critique is that it provides a good example of how 'norms' are sustained within the scientific community. The critics cannot even consider the possibility of "stepwise evolutionary processes" failing to account for eukaryotes, and they have reacted with alarm. Thinking they have detected a hint of intelligent design (by the use the word "irreducible"), they declare this as "most disturbing" and talk about a "hidden message". This reaction moves the critique beyond the realm of scientific discourse into the world of ideological materialism. Those seeking to learn more about ID will do well to recognise the role played by worldviews held by those involved in the debates.
The Evolution of Eukaryotes (Letter )
William Martin, Tal Dagan, Eugene V. Koonin, Jonathan L. Dipippo, J. Peter Gogarten, James A. Lake.
Response by C. G. Kurland, Lesley J. Collins, and David Penny
Science 316, 27 April 2007: 542-543.
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