What’s the good of half an eye?

A common argument, among those who wish to debunk evolution, is the argument from irreducibly complexity. The idea is that, if there is a complex organ – like an eye – and that there is no value in having a slightly less complex version of the same organ, then it cannot have evolved and must have been designed. The eye is the most often quoted organ, partly because Darwin himself, in The Origin of the Species, said

…to suppose that the eye… could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree…

But most critics, when they quote that line, forget to read the rest of the chapter where he describes in detail how the eye could have evolved. If anyone is still wondering what use an extremely primitive eye might have, consider this recent experiment from the science journal Nature via the excellent Neurophilosophy blog.

In today’s issue of Nature, former collaborators of Boyden report on a similar method, based on another photosensitive protein, called NpHR. The authors cloned the NpHR gene from N. pharaonis. The gene product is a protein called NpHR, which works in the same way as ChR2 – it is also a light-activated chloride channel. Photoactivation opens the channel, allowing an influx of chloride ions into the cell. Like ChR2, it can be used to knock out single action potentials in cultured cells. But the authors of the new study also describe experiments in which they expressed the protein in living nematode worms (Caenhorhabditis elegans), and used it to control the worms’ behaviour.

This film clip shows the use of the system to control swimming behaviour in a nematode worm. When a pulse of light is directed at the worm, it activates the NhPR protein; this hyperpolarizes the motor neurons and inhibits their activity. The swimming movements cease about 600 milliseconds of illumination. Switching off the light pulse inactivates the protein, so that the motor neurons resume sending action potentials to the muscles. Illumination with yellow light is indicated by a yellow dot

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

3 thoughts on “What’s the good of half an eye?”

  1. Ah! So our half an eye was probably used to play a primitive form of “Red Light. Green Light”! I wonder if they’ll discover the “Mother May I?” mutation.

  2. I know I’d much rather mate with something that wiggled when exposed to yellow light, while I’d never eat something that did that, so this clearly is has survival value and I can see how this ends the ID debate.

    >A construct consisiting of the NpHR gene fused to a muscle-specific promoter and a gene encoding a fluorescent protein was created, and a lentivirus vector was used to deliver the construct to cholinergic motor neurons in the nerve cord of the worm

    It’s amazingly fortunate for scientists to see this irreducibly complex bridge jumped my three serendipitous random mutations in their petri dish – right before their eyes! You’d think that’d be practically impossible!

    This does seem to validate that some things can be intelligently designed, but there seems to be plenty Prior Art (capitalization intended for mock formality, rather than divine implications) on that topic (see also: watches).

    My rear-view mirror auto-dims when there are lots of headlights behind me, and I recognized that it also evolved randomly from plain-old-rear-view mirrors, and that since then, plain-old mirrors couldn’t get any action and have thus died out….

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