Archive for the ‘Evolution’ Category

A picture that should be in every biology textbook

April 9, 2011

Homologous chromosomes of (left to right) humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.

Evidence from Blood

December 22, 2010

My contribution to an online chat, slightly edited:

I can share something REALLY neat from my shelf BTW… I have a copy of a small textbook (1926 printing; originally copyright 1917) called “THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION” with subtitle “WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE EVIDENCE UPON WHICH IT IS FOUNDED” (caps in original) by William Berryman Scott.

Now, it’s full of the usual stuff (comparative anatomy, embryology, geographical distribution, etc.) BUT starting on page 73 I read about something I had never heard about before: “EVIDENCE FROM BLOOD TESTS” (caps in original)

It references work by a “Dr. George H. F. Nuttall of the University of Cambridge” (I actually found a pre-WWI copy of Nuttall’s book at the University of Saskatchewan library)

What is done is you take a blood sample from a species (e.g. Human) and let it sit for a few minutes in a dish; the cells will coagulate, but the nearly-clear serum remains. Then you inject the serum into a rabbit over the course of a few days to produce antibodies. Let the rabbit live for a few more days, kill it and then extract its blood and separate out the serum. If you injected human serum into the rabbit, the rabbit’s serum is now “anti-human” serum.

Apparently the antibodies in the anti-human serum are EXTREMELY specific to human blood; if you take even a small amount of blood (fresh, dried as a stain or even “putrid”) and make a dilute solution of it and then add the anti-human serum, it will give a white precipitate if it was human blood, but NOT if it was from other species.

They mention how it was useful in forensics: “In some countries, notably in Germany and Austria, this test has already been adopted by the courts of justice and has been found extremely useful in the detection of crime.”

But here’s where it gets AWESOME…

It was noticed that the precipitation was obtained, though “weaker and slower” in very closely related species (horse and donkey is the example given). Nuttall’s insight: “By using stronger solutions and allowing more time, quite distant relationships may be brought out.”

Nuttall and his fellow researchers did thousands of blood serum tests; the ref given for the publication is “Blood Immunity and Blood Relationship” published 1904.

Update: I just found that has two copies scanned!

‎Anyway, getting back to Scott, he says that the blood serum test results (while “highly interesting and important”), give few surprises since it confirms conclusions drawn from other methods (independent confirmation is always good news in science :)

Nuttall marvels “that a common property has persisted in the bloods of certain groups of animals throughout the ages which have elapsed during their evolution from a common ancestor, and this in spite of differences of food and habits of life.”

My analysis: He is probably seeing reactions to proteins like serum albumin; the exact makeup of these proteins will vary from species to species because of genetic differences… so a century ago they discovered a way to indirectly compare the similarity of genes across distant species! :D

Scott condenses Nuttall’s results into 11 points, which I will further summarize ;)

(1) if you use strong enough solutions and enough time, you can get reactions from any mammal/anti-mammal pairing.

(2) In decreasing reactivity to anti-human serum:
* “Man-like Apes” (so, the great and lesser apes; chimps, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons)
* Old World Monkeys
* New World Monkeys and Marmosets
* Lemurs gave basically no reaction.

Point 2 reminds me of specifically this: “In 1977, researcher J. Michael Bedford discovered that human sperm could penetrate the protective outer membranes of a gibbon egg. Bedford’s paper also stated that human spermatozoa would not even attach to the zona surface of non-hominoid primates (baboon, rhesus monkey, and squirrel monkey), concluding that although the specificity of human spermatozoa is not confined to man alone, it probably is restricted to the Hominoidea.”

Oh, also in relation to point 2, see one of the best (and sadly mostly unknown, which is why I put a copy on my personal site) illustrations of how closely humans are related to the great apes: A paper from 1982 showing comparisons of stained chromosomes…

‎(3) anti-carnivore serums react strongly among carnivores, but weakly with non-carnivores; among carnivores the strongest reactions are “amongst the more closely related forms in the sense of descriptive zoology.”

(IOW the testing supports the monophyly of Carnivora and morphology-based phylogenies within it)

‎(4) In decreasing reactivity to anti-pig serum:
* Family Suidae (pigs, boars, warthogs, etc.)
* ruminants and camels
* whales
Also, anti-llama serum reacts “moderately” to camel blood and the deer family (Cervidae) show “close relationship” with “the great host of antelopes, sheep, goats and oxen” (family Bovidae)

Now, let me say that when I read that mention about whales, I was *floored*. It wasn’t until almost a *century* later that we got strong genetic evidence for whales being related like that; see Figure 5 and related text on

‎(5) anti-whale serums only strongly reacts with other whales; slight reaction to pigs and ruminants.

[I really should go back and check to see if they did whale-hippo tests; if they didn’t, they were SO close to making a major discovery…]

Also, regarding whales again:

‎(6) a close relationship between all marsupials “with the exception of the Thylacine or so-called Tasmanian Wolf”

sad sad ;_;

‎(7) strong anti-turtle serum reacts most only with the bloods of turtles and crocodiles; lizard and snake reactions are “almost negative.” Also, “with the egg-albumins of reptiles and birds a moderate reaction is given.”

‎(8) anti-lizard serum reacts most with the blood of lizards “and reacts well” with the blood of snakes.

‎(9) based on 7+8 we get:

[lizards+snakes] [[turtle+crocodile]+bird]

“results for which palaeontogical studies had already prepared us.”

I note with great interest regarding turtles that there is *still* controversy regarding the exact position of turtles and only in recent years do we see support for a phylogeny similar to the above instead of turtles distant from all the other groups…

When I was at University I was taught that turtles were only distantly related to the diapsids! 1904 science FTW! :D

(10) Crazy amount of lab work: “Tests were made by means of anti-sera for the fowl and ostrich upon 792 and 649 bloods respectively.” The result was that bird/anti-bird reactions were much stronger than mammal/anti-mammal ones; no specific bird group relationships could be drawn.

(This is quite interesting; it is very much in line with the fact that mammals as a group are older than birds…)

‎(11) The horseshoe crab is “problematical”; while aquatic like crustaceans, embryological evidence links to the terrestrial spiders and scorpions. The blood tests support the latter.


The rest of the section talks about how we can’t determine exactly how closely related two species are based on the relative precipitation rates (e.g. ostrich and parrot react more than wolf and hyena) “Like all other anatomical and physiological characters, the chemical composition of the blood is subject to change in the course of evolution and these developmental changes do not keep equal pace in all parts of the organism. It is the rule rather than the exception to find that one part of the structure advances much more rapidly than other parts” but even if we keep this firmly in mind, “these tests are very remarkable.”

The last paragraph is like a time capsule to be opened this century when we finally can fully sequence genomes and directly compare them:

‎”The blood tests have brought very strong confirmation to the theory of evolution and from an entirely unexpected quarter; they come as near to giving a definite demonstration of the theory as we are likely to find, until experimental zoology and botany shall have been improved and perfected far beyond their present state.”

Update Aug. 4, 2011: Shared antigenicity between the polar filaments of myxosporeans and other Cnidaria. Using a rabbit antiserum, a link between Cnidaria and Myxozoa is further suspected…

Reckless and incompetent expounders

March 31, 2008

After I wrote the ‘paradise‘ post, I had a look at what other posts were marked with the “atheism” tag in WordPress and I came across a post, “A Brief Creation Apologetics Survey” which has a link to a 90 minute MP3 of a lecture by a Daniel Slavin containing “juicy nuggets about flaws in evolution theory”.  Actually just a denial of evolution parroting Hovind.

Slavin claims that if your children go to secular colleges, there’s a high probability they will lose their faith.  But after listening to this recording I can tell you exactly why: he’s spouting anti-science BS as ‘proof’ that his religion is right.  Anyone who has taken university-level (or half-decent high-school level) science courses should pick up on a lot of the errors he made and realize that if his faith requires denial of good science, maybe his faith isn’t right either.  And don’t think that its going to convince anyone who isn’t a Christian, e.g. me ;)  To quote Augustine from over a millennium and a half ago:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

For Slavin, a visit to is highly recommended as remedial science.

My notes below the fold… (more…)

Darwin Day 2008!

February 12, 2008
Charles Darwin was born 199 years ago today! Some fun! Google news.
Update 2/14: some Valentine’s Day fun! ;)

Dolphin with hind limbs caught alive in Japan!

November 6, 2006

Source: MSNBC

Predictably, the fundies deny this has anything to do with evolution. See also this post for some particularly tortured logic on how this “does not necessarily support the idea of macro-evolution” 8-)

See also the 5 min video (RM or QT) linked from the PBS series Evolution site’s page about whale evolution.

Quick update: I didn’t notice until now; on the same page I linked earlier in this post there’s a picture of a dolphin embryo clearly showing hind limb buds! (“h”, below) Normally however they “degenerate before birth”.  Not in this case it seems :)

Imagine PBS on Crack…

August 28, 2006

…that’s what it was like to watch “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy” 8-)

They talked about science, religion, history, had a couple pledge drives and even specifically mentioned “viewers like you”. But this was more like what PBS would be if the Republicans had their way: an infomercial for fundamentalist christinsanity. Ann Coulter was an ‘authority’, making jokes about how evilutionists believed man was less highly evolved than porpoises because we don’t recycle or some loopy nonsense (she thought she was funny). Every strawman against evolution was trotted out, including the ‘747‘ argument. Evolution is a “purely random physical process”. Darwin’s “Deadly Legacy” was Racism (BTW, “the biblical view is that racism is wrong” just in case you might have thought otherwise), Nazism (the english translation (there’s just one?) of Mein Kampf was *wrong*; where it says “development” it should really read “evolution”! Gasp!), Communism, Columbine (they took prayer out of the schools you know) and Planned Parenthood. There was lots of stock footage of Hitler, Nazis and Concentration Camps. Halfway into the film, D. James Kennedy informs us that its as simple as “No Darwin, No Hitler” (or maybe that was a subtle play on words? Know Darwin, Know Hitler vs say something like Know Jesus, Know Peace?)

One of the best quotes was when the host described what evilutionists teach children they are: “trousered apes”. Let me repeat:


Take a moment to chuckle at the mental image :)

During the second half of the program they brought out the dim bulbs shining stars of the creation science intelligent design movement. Behe and Wells were there. Ann Coulter claimed that teachers in public schools could get fired for mentioning the “Cambrian Explosion“. No mention of pre-Cambrian fossils though ;) DJK lets us know that “Darwin’s Theory has indeed broken down” and that as per some unnamed french scientist, evolution is a “fairy tale for adults”. Then its time to bring out a bogeyman: the ACLU. Boo! ACLU. Hiss! ;) DJK tells us that not presenting ‘both sides’ in schools is BRAINWASHING.

Then in rapid sequence are a set of images that show you all of the horrors evolution has brought; things like two guys kissing and Hitler.

Wait, WTF?!? They just showed two guys kissing. Where did that come from? There’s no mention of homosexuality in this whole show but there’s a quick shot of two guys kissing. Is this supposed to be a result of ‘moral relativism’ or something? Does DJK find it both disgusting and secretly erotic? Who can say…

In conclusion, we are informed that:

– “The facts of science are on the side of those who believe in a creator.”

– “Darwin’s Legacy has been deadly indeed”

– “Evolution is a bad idea” and should be “discarded”

Oh and send in $35 for a copy of the movie (on DVD or VHS) and the companion book.

Like I said, PBS on Crack 8-)

Update: Dennis James Kennedy died on September 5, 2007.

The “feeble-minded” and other “defectives”

August 21, 2006

Looks like the fundies are after Darwin again. Evolution is ‘wrong’ not just scientifically apparently, but ‘wrong’ morally because they can connect the dots from it to Hitler, the Columbine school shooting and, perhaps worst of all, Planned Parenthood! :-O

Ah, but what’s this? (near the end of the page) For some reason I am suddenly thinking bad thoughts O:)

Eugenics took root in America in the early twentieth century—
some 33 states adopted forced sterilization programs to prevent
the “feeble-minded” and other “defectives” from reproducing.

Its Darwin Day!

February 12, 2006

Charles Darwin was born 197 years ago today!

What are you doing to celebrate? :)