NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Part 2 of last month’s Olasky Interview.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: In November we brought you excerpts of WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky’s conversation with Ann Gauger. She’s a scientist with the Discovery Institute.
That interview was so well received that we’re bringing you more of it today.
EICHER: Yes, it was well received, but there’s another reason we want to bring you more: And it’s that scientific arguments aren’t made in soundbites. So there was lots of good stuff we did not have room for the first time around.
MARVIN OLASKY: One of the interesting things about Discovery, and I know some of you are familiar with Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis… And they very much base their understanding on Genesis, on the Bible, and then they do scientific research to back that up.
Discovery, in a sense, proceeds the other way. Discovery is science-based. A lot of the people who work with there are Christian believers but others are not. But it’s science-based and so let’s get into the science a little bit and some of the research that you’ve done.
At lunch, you were telling us about nylonase, which it’s interesting—I worked at DuPont Company a long time ago where DuPont invented nylon in the 1930s, and thus this is new material and bacteria that feed off particular byproducts of nylon might be said to have suddenly emerged out of nowhere. But tell us about your research in nylonase.
ANN GAUGER: It was triggered by claims made by Dennis Venema in his book, “Adam and the Genome,” where he said that nylonase proved it was easy to get a new protein from random sequence.
And the reason he said that is because, uh, a theory that was proposed by a very famous Japanese scientist that there had been a gene that did one thing, and there’d been a frame shift, an insertion of a nucleotide, that shifted the reading frame for the protein which made a new sequence, a new coding sequence, new protein, and that protein was able to digest nylon.
Now, any of you who know anything about biology know that a frame shift is a radical change, and the idea that you could get a new protein from a string of previously useless DNA is remarkable, to say the least. So but everybody took that, “Oh, look. Evolution can do magic overnight.”
OLASKY: In other words, this new thing did not have to be intelligently designed. It just arose.
GAUGER: Just arose, sequence suddenly was able to perform a function. So I thought I would go look at the story and see how strong it was, and I discovered there was a whole body of literature by some other Japanese workers. They had taken the plasma… the circular piece of DNA on which the gene for nylon sat and analyzed extensively and discovered that an existing enzyme with two specific mutations in it could suddenly digest nylonase, and that there were other copies of that gene that lack the mutations. And they had residual beginning, a very slight ability to digest nylonase.
So two specific mutations and you’ve got a protein that can digest nylonase. Instead of having a frame shift, you just needed two mutations.
OLASKY: Now, when you say frame shift, explain what that means.
GAUGER: A gene is composed of nucleotides but the code that translates that gene into protein is a triplet codon, so three bases mean one amino acid. So a particular sequence of bases means lysine, or glutamine, or histidine, etc. So if you read in one frame starting here, one, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. You’re going to get one sequence of amino acids. If you shift the frame over by one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, you’re going to get a different sequence. A different amino acid is going to be specified. So a single nucleotide insertion can change the frame.
There was no evidence that there had ever been such a frame shift because the current sequence was as it was. The inference that there had been was because it was possible to get a frame shift and have it still code for protein. Most of the time, when you insert a nucleotide and shift the frame, you end up with a sequence with lots of stop codons and the protein gets truncated. It’s useless, broken into pieces. In this case, the DNA is such that two out of three frames have no stop codons. It’s an unusual sequence.
OLASKY: You then presented your research.
GAUGER: I wrote it up on Evolution News, three or four different pieces going through the whole story. Dennis Venema saw it and elected to change the subject. He didn’t respond.
OLASKY: So in other words, when initially this seemed to perhaps say you don’t need an intelligent designer, you don’t need God, and that got a lot of attention. They publicized it highly. Then what’s supposed to happen in science, you come out with a theory, other people do research, maybe they prove it, maybe they disprove it, and so forth. You basically disproved that, and rather than the next step happening of, “Oh, okay. This is important. Now we’re going to look,” and there’d be more attention and more discussion, change the subject.
GAUGER: Yeah. In fact, it’s still the case that most places on the internet that I’ve looked don’t have a clue that nylonase is not… the story of frame shift is false.
But other intelligent design scientists have extended the story. John Sandford and Salvador Cordova just published a paper where they took what I wrote and then analyzed further to see if there was any place anywhere in the protein universe where they could find a protein coming from the sequence before the “frame shift.” They can’t find anything like it anywhere.
OLASKY: Do you think there’ll be any reaction to that, or will it still be change the subject because it’s not working for us, so let’s not talk about it?
GAUGER: Just ignore it.
OLASKY: Just ignore it.