Checking Out the “Minimal Cell”

Here’s a short article from Discover packed with plenty of tidbits to ponder.

Question: what’s the fewest number of genes necessary for a living, self-replicating cell? Well, it really depends on a number of factors, but for now scientists at the Venter Institute have come up with a minimum of 473 genes after synthesizing the bacteria Mycoplasma mycoides. This bacterium is already considered to have the smallest genome known to science, but its components were reduced to a bare-minimum over a four-year period, removing any gene that wasn’t essential.

Creation scientists have long been interested in the simplest, most basic forms of life because they know life is extremely complex, making it essentially impossible for life to form spontaneously via natural processes. Instead we believe life was created intentionally by God, and this belief is supported by observational evidence, such as Syn3.0 (as the cell has been nicknamed, and short for JCVI-Syn3.0). Something as amazing and complex as the simplest form of life could only arise from an intelligent being on purpose, not blind chance. So this article gives us a closer look into our limited understanding of life.

Geneticist J. Craig Venter points out that, even though nearly half the genome of M. mycoides was removed, 31 percent of the remaining minimal genome is still a mystery, and he explains how this demonstrates how little scientists really know about the fundamental building blocks of life. He said, “Knowing that we’re missing a third of our fundamental knowledge, I think, is a very key finding, even if there’s no other uses for this organism. I think we’re showing how complex life is even in the simplest of organisms, if we don’t understand the functions of a third of those genes.”

Some scientists would have us believe life isn’t all that complex- that it only boils down to a matter of time and chance; further, they claim it’s unacceptable to invoke a supernatural creator as the author of life. Only naturalistic explanations may be proposed.

Nonetheless, despite all the time and hard work scientists have put into understanding the genome, they’re amazed at how little they know. Venter went on to say, “You can see that we only understand two-thirds of the most fundamental cell that we can compile right now, we’re probably at about the 1 percent level in understanding the human genome.”

Adam Arkin, another researcher, said, “One of the great findings but also the great caveats of this work is that it allowed them to discover how much we don’t know, even about the core sections of the genome.”

I think that’s an important point because the cell’s design screams of a creator. At what point would a secular scientist look at a cell and say, “Whoa, that’s so complex that, in all probability, time and chance could never account for the spontaneous generation of life”? That rarely happens. Secular scientists are already convinced- by faith- that life can and did form spontaneously. Yet they fail to consider the absurdity of it, despite the insurmountable odds.

Another key point in the article is that scientists have failed to predict the correct number of bare-minimum genes. We’re told that good science is based on the ability to predict, but in this case scientists predicted the smallest genome to be between 256 and 300 genes. So if the ability to make accurate predictions is a core staple of science, then this has to be considered a loss for evolution because evolutionists need something that isn’t complex for the spontaneous generation of life. Without a simple life-form, there’s no life to evolve into something else.

But Venter makes it clear that Syn3.0 represents a minimum, not the minimum a cell can be reduced to. He points out that “every genome is context-specific, so it totally depends on the chemicals in the environment that it has available to it.” In other words, a different bacterium could be reduced to a smaller number once all things are considered.

But therein lies another problem. Most of the bacterial candidates used to create a “minimum cell” are parasites; this means they can’t live outside their host because they’ve already been stripped of many non-essential genes, such as metabolism, which is provided for by the host. And that’s why Venter mentioned there aren’t any other uses for this bacterium… it simply couldn’t survive outside the lab.

Creation scientists have long argued this point, claiming these types of bacteria couldn’t survive on their own. Venter further admits that Syn3.0 contains “substantial defects.” Therefore, even if Syn3.0 could spontaneously form via naturalistic processes, it likely wouldn’t survive long enough to reproduce- let alone evolve the necessary genes to survive outside a host organism.

As a Creationist, it’s natural to observe the complexity of life and marvel at God’s grand design. Even the most-simplest life-forms are complex, as would be expected if life were designed. Something like Syn3.0 could never self-assemble by chance. In fact one of the most fundamental laws of the universe is that life only comes from life. No one has ever observed a violation of this law, so those who reject a supernatural creation must believe by faith that the spontaneous generation of life had to have happened at least once in the past. But I’d argue that it’s far easier to believe that God is real, and that he created life and the universe just as he said.

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One thought on “Checking Out the “Minimal Cell”

  1. Pingback: Things I have read on the internet – 26 | clydeherrin

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