Friday, March 25, 2005

Does Intelligent Design Leave a Genetic Signature?

I haven't posted anything of substance in a while, and I thought I should explain why -- as if anyone cares. I've been busy putting together presentations for two meetings: the Northeast Ecology and Evolution Conference (NEEC) and the Drosophila Research Conference (Fly Meetings).

I gave a talk at NEEC on patterns of gene duplication in my study species, Drosophila pseudoobscura. Gene duplication provides new genes on which natural selection and other evolutionary forces can act. It is thought to be evolutionarily important as it allows for increased organismal complexity. It's also worth pointing out that Michael Behe conveniently ignores the role of gene duplication in biological systems when he claims that certain mechanisms are "irreducibly complex." I brought this up at a seminar of his that I attended, and he never really got around to addressing it directly.

I also just finished putting together a poster for the Fly Meetings on a specific type of gene duplication. This one gets a bit more technical, and the amount of jargon I begin to spew when discussing it makes it totally un-bloggable. I'd also like to mention that this meeting is in San Diego, which should be a welcome respite from a snowy spring in the northeast.

So, what's with the title of this entry? I spend a lot of time looking at genome sequence data. I'm taking a break from it right now to give my eyes a rest, so I figured I'd post something. I found this title in my unposted blog entries and noticed there was no text. I said to myself, "Let's see what I can write on this," and then went entirely off topic. I'll now try to address the title (briefly).

Evolutionary geneticists have developed a lot of statistical tests for natural selection using DNA sequences. I blogged about one such test before, but it's a bad example and I was extremely critical of it. There are many other tests that have withstood skeptical judgment from the research community and they can be found in numerous publications. I use some of these tests for analyzing my data, and I'm trying to develop one for comparing duplicate genes. Basically, a substantial amount work goes into figuring out how to detect natural selection from genetic data.

I'd assume that if Intelligent Design were a naturally occurring process, it, too, would leave genetic signatures. It's fairly straight forward to perform a simple test for natural selection using DNA data (the hard part comes in determining when the test can be applied, what assumptions are made, and coming up with more complex analyses) because genetic data is less convoluted than phenotypic or behavioral data. Instead of searching for ID in "irreducibly complex" biological systems, why don't IDists mine the many genome sequences freely available for evidence of a designer? I have an idea of what they may find -- or rather NOT find.

That is all for now.


At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give us layfolk a hand: What questions should we ask of ID advocates about their search, or lack of search, for genetic signatures? How can we tell if they answer honestly?

At 4:52 PM, Blogger RPM said...

Ask them how they can look at a gene from two closely or distantly related species (or related genes in the same species) and detect intelligent design? We can detect natural selection using these approaches, so if intelligent design is a real evolutionary force it should be detectable in the same manner.


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