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Egregious Misrepresentation of Lenski’s E. Coli Experiment

What do you do when a scientist runs a long-term experiment where E. coli bacteria evolve a new metabolic pathway in the lab thus completely refuting the creationist claim that evolution can’t add new information? You lie of course. Well, you get a friend of yours to make a video for you where he lies for you. That’s just what Ken Ham did during his recent debate with Bill Nye.

Richard Lenski’s lab has been running a long term evolution experiment with E. coli for the last 25 years. During the course of the experiment the bacteria evolved the ability to metabolize citrate. This is a direct and deadly blow to creationist claims that evolution can’t create “new information,” like new metabolic pathways.

The thing to realize is the researchers still have the strains frozen and available to work with, in addition to having “snapshot” samples taken every so often during the experiment. Because of this they are able to sequence the genomes of the relevant strains. From doing so they know this is definitely not a case of an existing ability that was suddenly “turned on.”

The link below includes commentary by one of the experimenters involved.

Source: Zachary Blount on “Ham on Nye” Debate, Follow-up #3 | Telliamed Revisited

Of course, this attention has also been a bit troubling because it has led to repeated disparagement, dismissal, distortion, and misrepresentation of my work by both professional and amateur creationists. These creationists often get entirely wrong the work my colleagues and I toiled long and hard to do, likely because they haven’t bothered to read our papers, learn the details and methods, or think much about the results. (I suspect some duplicity is in there, too.) Reflexive, unthinking dismissal bothers me – maybe because my parents and devoutly Southern Baptist Granny told me when I was a child that this is something that civilized folk simply should not do.

The second argument was more direct. Both Ham and Fabich asserted that the Cit+ function did not evolve because using citrate did not involve “any kind of new information … it’s just a switch that gets turned on and off.” (Fabich went on to state that this “switch” is what we reported. That is emphatically not true. It beggars belief that anyone, much less a trained microbiologist, could actually read our 2012 paper, where we reported the genetic basis of Cit+, and come away thinking this.) Variations on that wording are often used by creationists who discuss the citrate work because it implies that Cit+ arose because of a pre-existing regulatory switch and involved no evolution at all. But that simply is not the case – that wording, dare I say it, is a lie.

Regular E. coli cells have no existing genetic regulatory circuitry that “flips a switch” to allow them to start growing on citrate in the presence of oxygen.

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