Posted tagged ‘epigenetics’

Eugenie Scott, Villain of Science Education?

September 26, 2013
Rather than promote good science in Texas textbooks, the so-called Texas Freedom Network throws dinosaur costume parties instead. While they party on, an entire generation of Texas students will be left in the dark regarding 21st Century Science.

Rather than promote good science in Texas textbooks, the so-called Texas Freedom Network throws dinosaur costume parties instead. While they party on, an entire generation of Texas students will be left in the dark regarding 21st Century Science.

The Anti-Science League of America

Pretending to be the new superheroes of science, the National Center for Science misEducation (NCSE) and their “Science League of America” are really the superheros of anti-science, and Eugenie Scott is their leader. Working together with the so-called Texas Freedom Network, they disguise themselves in dinosaur costumes while doing virtually nothing to promote science or its language, mathematics. In an amazing display of anti-science heroism, Dr. Scott recently blogged that the scientific concept called epigenetics “isn’t a topic for beginning biology learners.” But that’s not true!

Epigenetics is easy for children to learn!

A 5 year-old can understand that a ship needs a captain, and that is a great way to understand the interplay between genetics (the ship) and epigenetics (the captain). The genome is your DNA, which each cell has an identical copy of. The epigenome is the set of biological information that directs the DNA, causing it to turn on and off at different times and locations. Even Volume VII of Jonathan Park, a creation adventure audio series for children, talks about epigenetics! Only villains of science education would make the ridiculous claims Dr. Scott makes.

Right now, Texas is deciding on content for new biology textbooks. This content will influence the next generation of students not just in Texas, but all over America. During public testimony last week (Sep. 17), I encouraged the board to make sure the subject of epigenetics is properly presented in the new textbooks.  Unfortunately, the science education villains were out in force. NCSE’s Josh Rosenau was in attendance, and echoed the same false claims of Eugenie Scott, that epigenetics was “too hard.”

Epigenetics most certainly is part of the TEKS

Another false claim of Eugenie Scott’s is that epigenetics is not part of Texas standards for biology, called TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). Actually, any place genetics is discussed, epigenetics really needs discussion as well. Not only that, several TEKS specifically mention “gene expression”. What does Dr. Scott think causes genes to be expressed? Well, it’s the information in the epigenome!

Epigenetics is the reason why humans can start as one fertilized egg cell that develops into over 200 different cell types! And all these cell types have identical DNA, yet radically different epigenomes. It is the reason why recent speculations that most of our DNA is “junk” were so entirely wrong, as the ENCODE project has revealed. Epigenetics is also another mechanism of inheritance, and is the reason why the health of parents can effect their offspring, even if no genetic mutations occur.  It can also cause big heritable differences in physical traits, with no change to the DNA. As I outlined in my testimony, TEKS 4-7, and specifically 6D, 7F and 7G, are all basically saying epigenetics is mandatory content for a 21st Century high school biology textbook.

In superhero stories, the villains always lose

These days, it is actually quite easy to spot science education villains, because, like Eugenie Scott, they make their anti-science agenda so obvious. As dogmatic Darwinists, they, like Darwin, insist on a simple cell filled with one-dimensional (linear) DNA that randomly mutates to somehow generate new information. But 21st Century science reveals that the cell is anything but simple, and DNA actually works in 3-dimensions (4 if you include time), not one!

Unlike Charles Darwin, the science villains express no doubts about their version of history, dogmatically asserting Darwinism, even at the expense of giving an entire generation of students an intellectual handicap.

Is there any good news in this? Of course! For creationists like myself, real science and “creation science” are the same thing. By God’s grace, and in spite of the science villains, we will teach students about 21st Century Science, including epigenetics. And if you’ve seen any recent superhero movies, like The Avengers, Man of Steel, or Iron Man 3, you know the evolutionists are always portrayed as the villains. And what always happens to the villains? Eventually, they lose. But since we know they will lose, it’s all the more reason to apply some salt now and expose their foolish thinking, while at the same time being prepared to extend grace and mercy (Colossians 4:5-6).

Texas Law Bans the Mention of Evolution in Textbooks

September 18, 2013


It’s a typo, and a funny one at that! But wait, some are saying this might not be such a bad idea : “Imagine. What if all theories about changes in life forms over time advanced in textbooks had to go by content-based names like genetic drift, horizontal gene transfer, symbiosis, and natural selection? The explanations would have to make way more sense, thus be open to evidence-based objections in given cases.”

Now, I don’t know of anyone who disagrees descendents differ somewhat from their ancestors. Change happens, and if you want to call that “evolution”, fine (I prefer “adaptation”, or “change”) but why not be more specific, as the article linked above describes?

Why not just focus on the various mechanisms of inheritance, without reference to evolution? Think about it. The “banning evolution” story by WFAA news in Dallas was published last night, and broadcast over the evening news, and nobody caught the typo! They have since discovered the blunder, and the text was edited and video taken down this morning. But how does a major news station in a major United States city miss something so obvious?

Graduating ideologues, not scholars

The problem is that people are confused, really confused, about the whole creation/evolution battle. And this confusion is evidence of a complete breakdown in not just higher education, but all education. As this fantastic Wall Street Journal article states, at today’s academic institutions, “Whatever your stance regarding the “culture wars” and the politics of higher education, it is undeniable that a great many graduating students have little idea of what genuine intellectual exploration involves. Too often, learning to think is replaced by ideological scorekeeping, and the use of adjectives replaces the use of arguments.”  

Yesterday (Sep. 17, 2013), the Texas State Board of Education heard public testimony regarding new textbooks up for adoption. Review panels are selected by board members to supposedly check for factual errors and ensure that the books are meeting state standards. Because one or two reviewers suggested teaching “creation science”, the anti-creationists went ballistic. Armed with plenty of adjectives, the ideologically driven Texas Freedom Network staged a protest. Similar to the dinosaur history protest in front of a recent Texas homeschool convention, they even brought some of the same adjective-filled signs!

For several hours, the board heard from over 50 testifiers, the majority of which parroted the same thing: keep creationism out of textbooks. From concerned parents to Univ. of Texas professors to the ACLU, over and over the board heard ideological comments laced with adjectives. If you wanted proof of the claims made in the WSJ article mentioned earlier, this was the place to be. It was a sea of anti-intellectualism, complete with people running around in dinosaur costumes!

Standing up for Science

But a few of us did show up to encourage intellectual exploration and encourage the board to approve textbooks that give students the best 21st Century Science education they could get. In my public testimony, which you can download here, I encouraged board members to reject textbooks unless they revised them to include the subject of epigenetics. I gave them all a copy of the Mysterious Epigenome, signed by the author. I also gave them a course map for the next biology standards revision. My course map included 4 big ideas, and was based off a course map for the University of Texas’ introductory biology course. I added an idea on “mechanisms of inheritance”, that does not mention evolution, but instead focuses on testable, repeatable science surrounding the various mechanisms for inheriting biological information. 

In a 21st Century biology course, you might as well not even teach it if you aren’t going to include a discussion of epigenetics. But what is epigenetics? Well, just think of your DNA (which each cell has an identical copy of) as the “ship”. A ship stays in port unless it has a captain to direct it. The “captain” is the epigenome, a set of information that switches the DNA on and off at different times and locations. Think about this, how did you go from a single cell to a human body with over 200 different cell types, all with the same DNA? The answer? Epigenetics! Or how did scientists recently produce hundreds of different varieties of plants in just a few years, all with the same DNA? Epigenetics!

Biologists with an ideological torch to wave are “nervous” about epigenetics, because it causes changes without a change in DNA, the “sacred cow” of evolutionism. Real scientists however, find it absurd to be “nervous” about epigenetics, and are pushing us farther and farther into this amazing field. In my own courses, my students are learning about epigenetics, as well as other 21st Century biology topics. My products are primarily for home-educated students, but private and public schools are certainly welcome to use them. But what will happen to public school students who are given a textbook filled with 19th and 20th Century biology concepts, many of which are just untested speculation? How far behind will these students be when they get to college and career?

Sitting Down for Science

The answer? Compared to my students and those in other countries that focus on science instead of ideology, American public school students will be way behind. And one of the main reasons they will be behind is anti-creationist ideologues who oppose anything a creationist mentions, even if it has to do with getting 21st Century Science into textbooks. Prior to TFN’s dinosaur costume party, I met up with Ron Wetherington, an anti-creationist activist and anthropology professor at SMU. Being a natural history researcher, I did not expect him to know much about epigenetics, but I asked him what he thought about getting it into textbooks. He didn’t think it was a good idea. When I tried to keep the discussion going, he was not able to give a reasonable answer and politely excused himself from the conversation.

Next, University of Texas molecular biologist Dr. Arturo De Lozanne spoke during the protest, proclaiming students deserve the best science education based on the latest research. Afterwards, I spoke with him about getting the latest research, which would include epigenetics, into textbooks. I told him I was a creationist, which immediately stoked the anti-intellectual fires in this otherwise intelligent man. Amazingly, Dr. Lozanne was not in favor of teaching something as fundamental as epigenetics to high school students! But minutes before he said he was for teaching the latest research. This irrational response could only be because, to agree with me would mean that he agreed with a creationist, which would be politically incorrect and an ideological blunder.

Dr. Lozanne was holding a sign that said “Kids deserve a future”, so I asked him if he thought ALL kids deserve a future, include unborn children. He said that wasn’t relevant to the discussion. To an ideologue, it’s irrelevant, but to a moral, scientifically minded person, it is 100% relevant. You see, science has confirmed life begins at conception, so if you are against protecting a human, just because they are developing inside rather than outside their mother, then you are anti-science. I was able to show Dr. Lozanne that his lack of desire to care for all kids was anti-science, at which point he was not able to give me a reasonable answer and made up a reason to excuse himself from the discussion.

I also talked to anti-creationist Zack Kopplin, who, like Dr. Lozanne, is a nice person. Zack is a history major from Rice University, which does seem appropriate considering the creation/evolution battle is primarily about interpreting history. Anyways, I tried to get his thoughts on teaching the fundamentals of epigenetics. I told him I was teaching it to my students, and that our company has higher standards for math and science than any state in the nation. Even so, he was not in favor of including epigenetics in the Texas textbooks. He was also unable to give me a reasonable answer and made up a reason to excuse himself.

Next up was Aron Ra, the self-proclaimed “YouTube Atheist”. Unfortunately, Aron is so intolerant of those who disagree with him that he would not even shake my hand. I tried to ask him  multiple times what he thought about including epigenetics in Texas biology texts, but he kept diverting the discussion to natural history, claiming that he could prove, without a time machine, common descent. When I kept pressing him to talk about scientific things instead of historic things, he was not able to give me a reasonable answer and conveniently excused himself.

During public testimony, I was able to talk to a couple of ideologues, including Josh Rosenau of the so-called National Center for Science Education. Josh was “tweeting” about every person who came up to testify, and I “tweeted” back appropriate responses on several occasions. Before he went up to testify, I spoke with him, joked about our “Twitter battle”, and then asked him what he thought about my testimony and including epigenetics. A friendly young man, Josh’s response was just more of the same, claiming that epigenetics was “too hard” for high school students to learn. This is an incredibly lame excuse, because, as I mentioned earlier, you can refer to the epigenome as the “captain” and the genome (DNA) as the “ship”. A 5-year old could understand that! Josh knows I’m a creationist, and I encouraged him that he doesn’t have to oppose everything creationists say.

Last up was Kathy Miller, President of the Texas Freedom Network. I also encouraged her to think harder about all of this. Kathy is not a scientist, and stated that on matters of science, she consults with her experts, nodding at Josh Rosenau of NCSE (who is actually not a scientist or a science teacher). I told her that I am a scientist, and a science teacher, and I could probably help her if she wanted a different opinion. To her credit, she did accept my gift of a copy of Mysterious Epigenome, and I encouraged her to let her children read it. I also told her she didn’t have to agree with everything in the book, but I assured her there would be many things she would agree with.

So what did I learn from these exchanges? Well, there are a lot of nice people out there who reject science and reason to support their ideology. And that is a huge part of the problem, if not THE problem with the whole creation/evolution battle in America. Some people, mostly liberals, have become so blinded by their “ideaological scorekeeping”, that they think it is impossible to agree with “them” about ANYTHING. Instead of a desire to engage in “genuine intellectual exploration”, we have otherwise intelligent people engaged in rampant anti-intellectualism, denying the very science they claim to be standing up for.

Solving the problem of rampant anti-intellectualism

What can we do to release the irrational and anti-intellectual stranglehold on America? First, pray, because it is God who changes hearts, and it is God who is Author of all knowledge and reason. Second, engage others. Be salt and light. Expose their foolishness while showing genuine care for them and for others. MAKE THEM THINK. For unbelievers, it is important to realize that by rejecting God, they reject reason (Psalm 14:1), so you can’t expect to have a rational conversation with them. Don’t let that frustrate you, and don’t push too hard to “prove God” or “win” the argument. God doesn’t need us to prove that He exists, everybody knows it already (Romans 1:20). And third? Well, if you have children, homeschool them!

Will Texas textbooks include fundamental topics that give students a 21st Century Science education, or will homeschoolers continue leading the way in American science and math education? Time will tell. Final textbook approval is in November.

wfaa mistake, bans evolution

Will TFN Stand Up for Science?

September 12, 2013

TFN range rider dino photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Probably not.  Next Tuesday (Sep. 17, 2013), the Texas State Board of Education will hear public testimony regarding new textbooks for Texas’ state-run schools. Unfortunately for some, promoting quality science materials for all children will take a back seat to TFN-sponsored anti-creationism and global warming hysteria. TFN will lead the charge, with yet another irrational dinosaur history protest scheduled for noon outside the William B. Travis building in Austin, TX.

Anti-creationism hysteria

Many people do not know that a basic principle of the scientific method is repeatability. If you can verify a claim through repeated experimentation, then it is a scientific claim. But think about the “battles”. The creation/evolution battle is not over scientifically verifiable claims, it is a battle over how to interpret unrecorded history. The last time I checked, most thinking people define the study of the past as history, not science! People have different interpretations of the past, but so what? Why do we need to protest that? Can’t we just discuss it? All indications are that TFN and their allies are not interested in standing up for science, they are interested in defending their dogmatic interpretation of history, at all costs. How irrational and misleading!

Global warming hysteria

And think about global warming hysteria. Meteorologists can still barely produce a decent 10-day weather forecast, yet many have been suckered into “believing” long-term climate models that are not easily verifiable. Global warming hysteria is really fueled more by “futurology” than anything scientific. Fortunately, now that the hysteria has been around for a while, we have real observations to compare to speculative models. The verdict is in: the models overwhelmingly predicted higher-than-actual temperatures over the last 30 years.

A disregard for real science

But what about testable repeatable science? What about the study of epigenetics, a field that is revolutionizing all of the biological sciences? If you think of the genome (set of all your DNA) as the “ship”, it doesn’t do anything without a captain. And what is the “captain”? It’s the epigenome, a separate set of information stored in a variety of forms inside cells. Epigenetics has implications for everything from cancer to the effects of diet on human health.

Recently, I reviewed some of the Texas biology textbooks up for adoption. Amazingly, not one of the textbooks I reviewed contained information on epigenetics! In 2011, when I reviewed online materials for Texas schools, I had to go against my entire review team just to get one lousy paragraph on the epigenome into the curriculum!

Why the disregard for teaching 21st Century Science? Well, it doesn’t come from scientists, but from dinosaur history protesters. You see, epigenetics has been proposed as “an outright counterpoint to purely Mendelian inheritance” and as “the study of heritable changes in cellular phenotype, or gene expression that is initiated by factors other than changes in the DNA sequence.” (from The Epigenetic Landsape, an article in the Spring 2012 issue of In Vivo, published by the University of Texas Department of Biological Sciences). For close-minded Darwinists, “change” comes from DNA mutations alone, which is why epigenetics “raises hackles” for the irrational, unscientific horde.

Will 21st Century science be suppressed in Texas textbooks? Time will tell. All scientists would agree that 21st Century biology students should learn about epigenetics. But what about political activists, shouldn’t they agree, too? Yesterday, I called and emailed Texas Freedom Network (TFN), asking them to support teaching epigenetics in Texas textbooks. I have not heard back from them, and am not too optimistic that I will. I think they would rather spend time photoshopping dinosaurs riding horseback than pushing for better math and science education in Texas.

Pray for TFN and their allies, that they would see their folly and turn from it.  Pray that they would repent and promote liberty through Christ alone, the Author of all knowledge, and the #1 Advocate of good education for all children!

Do we need the Endangered Species Act?

April 30, 2012

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A complex story about trout and people

My first experience catching cutthroat trout was in 1989 while fishing in Grand Teton National Park.

Snake River Finespotted Cutthroat trout, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1989. Note the golden color, typical of cutthroats, along with the lack of spots in the middle (medial region), but increasing towards the tail (caudal region).

Since then, I’ve been blessed with opportunities to fish for trout as far away as Eastern Russia, and as close to home as our family’s pond.

Hatchery rainbow trout from Crystal Lake Fisheries in Ava Missouri, stocked in my pond in Texas for the winter of 2006-07. These are “Emerson strain” rainbow trout, registered with the National Trout Registry. Note the more concentrated spots in the caudal region, similar to the finespotted cutthroat pictured above.

Because trout are both fun to catch and good to eat, they are pursued with passion in the United States and elsewhere.  So much passion in fact, that over the last 150+ years, populations of native species, particularly  the so-called “subspecies” of cutthroat trout (referred to after this as “native” trout), suffered major declines and even extinction. The decline of cutthroats native to certain regions of the western and eastern slopes of the Rockies has been a classic example of the “tragedy of the commons”, where demand for a thing greatly exceeds what nature can supply.

In an effort to meet the demand for trout-filled streams and lakes at the turn of the 20th century, private, state, and federal agencies started building fish hatcheries. Today, virtually everywhere in the United States with trout habitat, you will find a hatchery nearby, ready to add more fish to streams and lakes on a “put and take” basis.

So native trout populations in the American West were first reduced primarily through overfishing, but also from habitat destruction. Today, the major threat to native trout populations comes from stocking nonnative trout, primarily brown trout and brook trout which tend to drive out the cutts, but also rainbow trout, with which cutts readily hybridize.

Brown trout from the Jemez River, New Mexico, 2012. The Jemez River is former habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout, which now occupy only about 10% of their historic range. Eastern Russia’s lenok trout (see photo below) lack the red spots of the brown trout, and brown trout lack the “cut”, but the two species do share similarities in color and shape with each other and with many other trout populations across Eurasia.

State and federal fisheries managers want to satisfy the great economic incentive of having trout-filled streams and lakes. For example, the value of trout stockings by the Leadville Fish Hatchery in Colorado is estimated at $2.75 million annually. And while many Rocky Mountain hatcheries are moving towards production of native trout, they also feel compelled to satisfy the desire of folks to just catch a trout, especially the highly esteemed (overesteemed?) rainbow. Originally from the McCloud River, a tributary of California’s Sacramento River, rainbow trout have probably been introduced to more places worldwide than any other fish species. They have misplaced and reduced native species time and again. And about the same time Hitler and his army of fools were applying social Darwinism, miles and miles of American streams were being poisoned to remove “inferior” species, replacing them with the “superior” rainbow. An excellent account of the history of rainbow trout stocking can be found in Anders Halverson’s An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World.

Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Leadville National Fish Hatchery, Colorado, 2010. Note the bright pink-red patch over the gill and along the side, similar to the Alaskan rainbows(see photos below). The Leadville Hatchery stocks rainbow trout, as well as Snake River and Greenback cutthroat trout.

So while native populations are making a comeback in places, their progress is stymied when government agencies set tight regulations and catch limits on nonnative trout, in effect protecting something that maybe doesn’t need so much protection. But in America, governments are designed to be run by the citizens, so if we want our government to change the regulations, we need to change our thinking about what we want. Do we want to simply catch a trout and have a successful trip and a tasty meal? Or do we want to have a fishing experience unique to a particular area’s natural history and culture? We should want both, but it is obvious enough that we could do more regarding the latter. Communities should work harder to patiently remove nonnative trout and reestablish native trout species. This can be done in a way that also satisfies the desire to simply catch and eat trout, regardless of species.

What is a species?

But what in the world is a “species” anyways? According to the1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA), the term ‘‘endangered species’’ means any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. And the term ‘‘species’’ includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature. All species classifications are ultimately based on human decisions, driven by our desire to group things using a system that organizes first by kingdoms, then phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. Species are often broken down into subspecies, as is the case with cutthroats.

Clumpers versus splitters

One problem with the ESA’s definition of species is that it pretty-much ignores the idea of Biblical kinds, while introducing the false concept of “fixity of species”, first introduced by Aristotle. The Biblical kinds, also known as “baramins”, are actually a better, yet still imperfect, way to think about living organisms. Populations that readily hybridize, especially naturally, suggest (but do not prove) common ancestry, while those that don’t readily hybridize may be from different baramins. Thinking of life’s diversity in terms of baramins allows us to account for unity while acknowledging that some genetic and epigentic changes are inevitable as time passes.

Taxonomists are usually either “clumpers” or “splitters”. Clumpers think more in terms of baramins, while splitters think more along the lines of how the ESA defines a species. Sometimes “clumpers rule”, while other times it’s the splitters. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, taxonomists had convinced themselves that over 80 sub-species of grizzly bear (Ursos arctos) existed. Today, there are only 2 subspecies, so as far as grizzly taxonomy is concerned, “clumpers rule” (NOTE: Grizzlies hybridize with polar bears, forming “pizzly” bears!)

It is unfortunate that, regarding the ESA, “splitters rule”. By defining a species as a “distinct population segment”, ESA listings slap a false fixity on populations.  But populations are not designed to stay “distinct” forever, so the ESA is actually promoting an impossible dream rather than anything that resembles reality. And for evolutionists who believe there are almost no limits to how much a thing can change, the logical conclusion for them is that all current populations are in danger of extinction!

Of course, neither the ESA’s “splitter” definition of species, or the evolutionist’s reasoning about life’s diversity, are helpful in describing reality. The reality is that organisms are designed to adapt and diversify, within limits, by naturally aquiring some genetic and epigenetic changes over time. This is what both Scripture and science confirm. 

Cutthroats are a prime example of how slight genetic and epigenetic changes over time can result in visibly distinct populations. Scientists have found that of the 16 so-called subspecies of cutts, their genetic diversity suggests they are virtually all identical, with westslope cutthroat populations sharing more in common with rainbow trout than with other cutts (Allendorf and Leary, 1988). In spite of their incredible similarities, 3 are currently listed as “threatened” under the ESA, one may make the list in 2014 (Rio Grande cutt), and the rest are either extinct (two subspecies) or considered to be of conservation concern (Pritchard et al, 2007).

How can this be? If genetics is the key to distinguishing between species, then it says these are all basically the same “kind”, with differences occurring at a few DNA base pairs here and there. To make matters even more confusing, Pritchard et al found that Rio Grande cutts in headwater streams above natural barriers were statistically less genetically diverse than their downstream cousins. So for “splitters”, not only do we have subspecies, we have sub-subspecies! Where will it end? The genetic tools we have for identifying differences in populations are truly amazing, but the information acquired can potentially make things much more complex than necessary, especially if you’re a “splitter” and feel compelled to classify cutthroats as sub-species, and then some.

Genetic drift happens

Salmonids are known to rapidly diversify, in less than 10 generations, into reproductively isolated populations. Applying this fact to the ESA’s species definition of “distinct population segments”, in 50 years or less, and assuming “splitters rule”, we could have dozens and dozens of new candidates for the ESA, possibly resulting in more and more restrictions on habitat use by humans. And then what will we do to maintain partitioning of these new and “distinct population segments”, create manmade barriers to prevent them from interbreeding with other segments? I would hope not! As far as trout diversity is concerned, it would be wise to get back to letting the “clumpers rule”, lest we end up overwhelming ourselves with more classifications, regulations, restrictions, and taxes to pay for the mess we’ve made.

No biologist, whether they are creationists or evolutionists, believe in fixity of species, but here we have the ESA anyways, trying desperately to prevent the natural fact that genetic drift happens.

Prior to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, fisheries managers across the West sacrificed diversity for the sake of unity, stocking the “superior” rainbow everywhere. But now with the ESA, we have a complete reversal, with unity (trout are one big family) sacrificed for diversity ( “subspecies” and “distinct population segments”). There has to be a better way.

Imagine no ESA

So do we need the ESA? No. What Americans need to do instead is stop waiting for handouts from the federal government via ESA listings, and instead encourage communities to responsibly restore and preserve the natural history in their region. And in the case of native trout, we need to work towards stocking them more and nonnative trout less.

Consider the Rio Grande cutthroat, for example. Organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity proudly exclaim that their work resulted in Rio Grande cutts being eligible for the Endangered Species list in 2014. But all this really means is more regulations, taxes, and “takings” of property by the federal government to protect a population that apparently already has many “distinct population segments”, and may have dozens more in 100 years. Instead of waiting around for an Endangered Species listing, what if instead local private and public groups made an effort to remove nonnative trout while also propagating Rio Grande cutts for reintroduction? This could be done slowly and patiently, one stream at a time, all without the help of the ESA.

We also know that all cutthroat subspecies will hybridize with each other, as well as with rainbow trout. And since rainbow trout are so genetically similar to cutts, we shouldn’t get too worked up about them interbreeding and waste tax dollars with over-hyped eradication programs. We just need to adjust the rules and get Rocky Mountain fishermen educated and involved in harvesting more rainbows, plus browns and brookies, while simultaneously restocking with native trout.  And for those interested in catching native rainbows, they should head to Alaska, Canada, or Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, where native ‘bows are plentiful.

Native Rainbow Trout from Lake Creek, Alaska, 2005. Note the reddish-pink patch on its gill cover, typical of lower Lake Creek Rainbows.

Native Rainbow Trout, American Creek, Alaska. 2007. Note the bright red-pink cheek and side, similar to the Lake Creek Rainbow, but also similar to the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Sometimes, these rainbows have a faint “cut” under their lower jaw, similar to other cutthroat trout.

And speaking of Russia, all the way across the Pacific, near Vladivostok, I have caught lenok trout that display a distinctive “cut” on their throat, and in a way seem similar to both brown and cutthroat trout. It seems that trout really are just one big family, or baramin, containing both unity and diversity.

Closeup of the Lenok trout’s “cut”. Although not as bright as the cut found on many cutthroats, it is a cut nevertheless, and a key identifying trait of all cutthroats.

Lenok trout from stream near Vladivostok, Russia, 2010. Note the golden coloration and large spots, similar to patterns on many cutthroat sub-species.

What is a gene?

Trout were first classified based on phenotype (what they look like on the outside). But now that we also know their genotypes (what their genes look like), we can more readily discern whether a population of cutts has hybridized with rainbows, even if we cannot tell by phenotype alone. But for the people who are most interested in their preservation and restoration, namely fishermen, there is little interest in how much or how little they differ at a few microsatellites (small pieces of DNA a few base pairs in length that are used to distinguish between populations). So now that species and subspecies are being determined by genetic markers, the question of “what is a species?” should be followed with “what is a gene?”

Not surprisingly, scientists are having an equally hard time answering that question, as new information about cell complexity continues to gush forth like water over Yellowstone Falls. Long gone is the simplistic view of genes as neatly arranged beads on a string of DNA. So too is the “one gene makes one protein” idea, as we now know that one gene can code for tens, and in some cases hundreds of different proteins. Not only that, scientists are learning more about epigenetics and things like methyl tags that turn genes on and off. In The Mysterious Epigenome, Woodward and Gills provide a helpful analogy, describing the genes as ships and epigenetics as the captains. Without the captain’s direction, the ship does nothing. But the question remains, from where did the captain get his orders? The self-evident answer is that a Designer gave the orders (Romans 1:20).

And so it seems, the more we learn about cell complexity and epigenetics, the more difficult it becomes to truly define separate trout species based on genetic markers. Genetic markers alone do not tell the whole story of the unity and diversity we see in the trout family. Oncorhynchus mykiss (rainbow trout) and Oncorhynchus clarkii (cutthroat trout) are classified as different species based on pre-Civil War observations of phenotype alone. Today though, 21st Century genetics research and observations of natural hybridization tell us the two are nearly identical. With each passing day, the Biblical idea of a “trout baramin” becomes more appealing. While science can change with time, truth does not.

Trout live in worlds of extremes, of swift currents and lazy pools, flooding spring meltwaters and drought-like autumns, miniscule headwater streams and deep, wide rivers. It is obvious trout were designed to rapidly adapt, as opposed to the neo-Darwinian idea that they were sitting around for millions of years hoping for a gene with a novel function to randomly appear to advance them down the road of evolutionary progress. It seems instead that like other baramins, the trout baramin came pre-programmed with what they need to survive and adapt.

Trout come in many flavors

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout from Cascade Creek in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 2012.

So what is going on with trout? What scientists are finding is that very slight genetic and epigenetic changes in isolated populations have led to amazing and beautiful differences in phenotype, giving each region a particular “flavor” of trout. One conclusion is that the adaptive radiation we see in trout is partly a result of changes in climate and topography that occurred in the recent past. We’ve already discussed how rainbows readily hybridize with cutts, but by continuing the stocking of rainbows outside their normal range, we are, in essence, driving the formation of new breeds of trout. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but just because it is not inherently wrong, it doesn’t mean it is the best thing to do either. Restoring native trout to their historic ranges is a good idea, but we shouldn’t be “trout racists” either by overreacting to introduced populations. They’re all one big family anyways, right?

Preserving trout’s many flavors

Restoring historic ranges of native trout does not require the Endangered Species Act. In fact, the ESA could be repealed, or simply ignored, and reintroduction efforts could still move along beautifully. As mentioned earlier, the ESA is unhelpful because it promotes a false idea of species fixity, sacrificing unity for the sake of diversity. The best solution is one that seeks both unity (trout are one big family) and diversity (restoring native trout to their historic ranges). Instead of wasting time with the ESA, local communities should do the work needed to restore and preserve the natural history around them, while also managing it in a way that maximizes people’s enjoyment and use of available resources. Restoration can advance through level-headed efforts aimed at removing nonnative trout, while simultaneously restocking with native breeds.

We are learning more about how to maintain genetic diversity in hatchery brood stocks, and this information can be applied to propagate a breed that is unique to a given area, thereby preserving some of the natural history. In Appendix 51: Westslope Cutthroat Trout Hatchery Brood Stock Histories, a procedure is described where, in order to incorporate genetic diversity into the hatchery brood stock, fish are collected from a number of streams.

The native hatchery fish should probably be stocked in areas downstream of natural barriers.This would aid in preventing at least some intermingling with upstream populations, thereby encouraging genetic diversity. Fishing on stretches of headwater streams should be more restricted than on higher order streams, where primary productivity is usually greater and trout populations are naturally higher.

As we work toward better management of native American trout populations, we must realize that genetic drift is inevitable. And regardless of the level of human involvement, the so-called subspecies of cutthroats of 2112 may not look like the cutthroats of 2012, but that’s okay!

Managing natural resources

Human beings are not just part of nature, we are nature’s managers (Genesis 1:26-28). This also means we are part of  the story of natural history. And 100 years from now, I hope my great-great grandchildren will be able to look back and see that our efforts to manage nature paid off in a way that celebrates the unity and diversity He so obviously put into His creation. And I pray that future leaders will not try to discourage unity and diversity through the ESA and its adherence to the fallacy of species fixity, but will instead get local communities involved with restoring and preserving native trout to their historic ranges.

Perhaps in the future, instead of going to New Mexico to fish for rainbows and browns, Colorado to fish for rainbows and browns, Wyoming to fish for rainbows and browns, etc., future generations will live in a world filled with trout that are unique to each region, while understanding the native forms are part of a bigger trout family, just as the evidence from His word and works confirms.

Adaptation

October 13, 2011

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Life does not evolve, it adapts. Watch my YouTube video, Adaptation, and learn more about what 21st Century science is revealing regarding epigenetics, and what God’s word and works have always revealed. The only reason evolutionism exists is because some people think God is a liar. I say let God be true, and every man a liar (Romans 3:4)!

One thing I mention in Adaptation is that genetic mutations have never been observed to create new information. In this article by Dr. Rob Carter, he states that our increased understanding of cell complexity means “We have to make a distinction between mutation and ‘designed variation’.” Dr. Carter understands cell complexity better than most (including me!), and he argues that our genomes contain some ability to generate “new” information via genetic change. In other words, there is some built-in variation via genetic change that may seem to create “new” information to us, but in reality God designed it in. In my book, Exchange of Truth, I use the word “genoversity” to describe the diversity within a genome. When God said He created different kinds of things, he meant it, and now more than ever our understanding of cell complexity is revealing to us the limited flexibility He programmed into each genome for each original created kind. Diversity within a created kind is an attribute of God (Romans 12:4-5), allowing organisms to adapt, within limits, as their environments change.