The Step – Evolution
(The Step that Evolution couldn’t take)
By Graham Dull
A fundamental principle of evolution is that there is a common ancestor to all life which now exists on earth. Therefore humans, gorillas, monkeys, lemurs, banana plants, orange trees, cabbages, viruses, and bacteria all share a common ancestor.
We know that humans and bananas do have genetic code in common. Bananas in fact, share some 50% of their genetic code with us. (Does eating a banana then make you a cannibal?)
Here are the percentages of genetic code which some of our other relatives have in common with us.
Fruit Fly: 60%
First Common Ancestor
Evolution states that we all descended from a common ancestor. What’s more, it is surprising just how much we can know about this first life-form.
1) It is the ancestor of all life on earth
2) It arose in a lifeless world
3) It was able to gain sustenance
4) It was able to reproduce
5) Its genetic code was complex enough for self-replicating variations to evolve
6) Its offspring are still alive today
Some 3,500,000,000 (3.5 billion) years ago this world was totally different than we see it today. There was simply no life or living matter whatsoever, from end-to-end the earth was lifeless. There wasn’t even the hint of anything that had lived and was now dead — not a single dead fish on which bacteria could survive, not even a dead virus. All of these came later because they descended from that first ancestor. As far as living, reproducing organisms were concerned, this world was totally devoid of life.
We need to turn our mind back to a time prior to evolution. Back to a time when there was no DNA, before there was a genetic code, before there was a means of reproduction, before there was biological evolution. Elements of reproduction did not exist in the world prior to the arrival of living organisms. The ability to reproduce exists only within organisms descended from our first common ancestor. Life begets life. Only living organisms are able to reproduce, each organism according to its own kind.
The arrival of that first life is not evolution. It is pre-evolution. Evolution describes the ability of a living organism to mutate, and for the resultant mutation to become a viable form of life.
We define a viable form of life as one which is able to gain sustenance in its immediate environment, and reproduce itself. It must be capable of — and manage to produce — fertile offspring. If it does not achieve these basic criteria it dies leaving no offspring. Evolution demands that an organism leaves offspring or it becomes a dead limb on the evolutionary tree.
We arrive back in time to an event that should not have happened — indeed it did not happen; the pre-evolutionary arrival of our first ancestor.
The sole evidence for it is that we are here today. So we need to accept that life came from somewhere.
One Billion Years of Missing Evidence
The first 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) years of evolution left no compelling fossil record; this is the period from 3,500,000,000 years ago to 2,500,000,000 (3.5 — 2.5 billion) years ago.
The reasons for the lack of evidence are simple. Firstly, going back a couple of billion years is a long time, and we know that the face of the earth has undergone huge upheavals and changes since that time, and it is these events which have either destroyed or hidden the necessary evidence. Secondly, the majority of the life-forms existing throughout this time were microscopic, and therefore they were not likely to leave convincing evidence anyway.
Despite their small size, they no doubt were huge in population. The earth, sea, and sky would have been seething with microscopic life. But of this we have no evidence.
So we find that 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) years of evidence is missing, or misplaced. Therefore, the next sentence simply states the obvious. Missing too is any record of that very first organism which had developed the uncanny ability to reproduce.
Despite this, it is surprising the degree of knowledge we can have of our first ancestor.
What We Do Know
It is life’s common ancestor
It is the ancestor of all life on earth. It arose some 3,500,000,000 (3.5 billion) years ago.
It arose pre-evolution
It arose in a sterile world. As it was the first life-form on this earth. It did not evolve from a parent. It is the parent — the very first parent. It is not created by evolution — it is the beginning of evolution, all life evolved from it.
It could gain sustenance
It was able to gain sustenance.
Whether we call it sustenance, nourishment, nutrition, or food; every organism has certain requirements in order to survive. No matter how big or small the organism, each one has minimum basic requirements. As far as the process of evolution is concerned, the organism needs sustenance for at least long enough so that it can reproduce, then it may die, for then its work is done.
Obviously, the first requirement is for an immediate environment where all sustenance it requires is within its reach. The second requirement is for a method of transfer from the environment to the organism for all sustenance it needs.
Here I give an example of Cobalt (Co) deficiency in sheep and cattle. These animals don’t live for long without adequate cobalt in their diet. Cobalt is required for the production of vitamin B12 within the rumen of these animals. Vitamin B12 is synthesized in the rumen by microbes utilizing cobalt in the diet.
Cobalt comes from the grass, or the fodder which they eat, or in the soil which they ingest while eating. If cobalt is lacking in the soil, or it is tied up because of an interaction with another mineral; it is not available in the first instance to the plant, and neither is it available to the animal. Soils containing manganese oxide minerals strongly bind free soil cobalt to the surfaces rendering it unavailable to plants. Also, superphosphate added to soil decreases the availability of cobalt.
Cobalt deficiency causes un-thriftiness, and severe and prolonged deficiency eventually leads to death. Simply put, no cobalt means there is no vitamin B12, and no vitamin B12 means there is no life for these animals.
Human beings also require Cobalt (Co). For humans, cobalt is a vital part of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 stimulates numerous enzymes; helps build red blood cells, and is required for iron absorption.
Yet if we humans eat grass or ingest soil, it will do us no good. We cannot utilize mineral cobalt because we do not have the means to synthesize vitamin B12 in our body. Humans need to eat vitamin B12 which already contains the cobalt atom within its structure. Dietary sources of B12 include milk and meat from animals.
Simply put, eating cobalt does not benefit humans. We need vitamin B12; and no vitamin B12 means there is no life for humans.
What points can we glean from this illustration and apply to our present study. Firstly I’d like to point out that I am not, at this point, suggesting that the very first organism needed cobalt — maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. We do know though that the first organism did have wide-ranging and unequivocal nutritional needs.
Whatever sustenance the first organism required
1) It must be present. It needs to be present within the organism’s immediate environment (Illustration above — such as Cobalt in the soil)
2) It must be accessible. It needs to be readily available and not tightly bound up in an interaction with another mineral, from which it cannot be released (Illustration above — such as Manganese Oxide in the soil)
3) It must be in a form which is useful. (Illustration above — It is pointless for a human to ingest Cobalt like a cow does. We must ingest the Cobalt atom as prearranged within the Vitamin B12 structure)
Specific needs for elements
The first organism had meticulous needs regarding elements. I outline here five distinct areas that were important concerning the arrival and survival of our first ancestor. If even one of these five requirements were missing, mankind would not be here today. Luckily for us, all needs were supplied.
Of the organism’s need for elements — three relate specifically to its own structure, the other two relate to its surrounding environment.
The organism itself
The first organism would have required elements selected principally from the following inventory (See below). These elements would have been arranged with great variety within the body of the organism to do three principal things; (1) provide the structure of the organism, (2) provide a means for the absorption of nutrients, and (3) provide for the reproduction of the organism.
The other two requirements are equally important, and these concern the organism’s immediate environment. It is necessary (4) that all elements required for the organism’s nourishment are present, and (5) that these elements are available in forms which can be utilized by the organism.
Here is the inventory. These are elements which are found within tissues, cells, and organisms. Living creatures are built of this stuff.
Boron (B), Calcium (Ca), Carbon (C), Chlorine (Cl), Chromium (Cr), Cobalt (Co), Copper (Cu), Germanium (Ge), Hydrogen (H), Iodine (I), Iron (Fe), Magnesium (Mg), Manganese (Mn), Nitrogen (N), Oxygen (O), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Selenium (Se), Silica (Si), Sodium (Na), Sulphur (S), Zinc (Zn)
My mother is now 89 years old (2011). She lives on her own, in most respects she takes care of herself, she works in her garden, and she has a passion for jigsaw puzzles. She will generally do puzzles in the order of a 1,000 pieces.
All the pieces of a jigsaw fit together in a unique way to complete the puzzle.
Now this is remarkable
It is truly remarkable that the first organism spontaneously arose without intelligent assistance, and immediately set about reproducing itself, it gained from its environment all the elements necessary for itself and its offspring, and it had the wherewithal and ability to synthesize those elements into a replica of itself. Again, this is most remarkable.
A jigsaw that assembles itself while my mother sleeps is a far simpler proposition. She awakes in the morning to find the puzzle complete. Not likely.
Yet our first living ancestor arose in this way.
Consider the following.
Microscopic — Compared in size to the pieces of a jigsaw, the separate elements of the first organism were extremely small. They were microscopic in size.
Numerous — Compared in number to the pieces of a jigsaw, the individual components comprising the first organism were extremely numerous.
Complex — Compared in complexity to a jigsaw, the structure of the first organism was exceptionally complex.
Our first ancestor may have been microscopic from our point of view, but he, she, or it (whatever it was) was an incredibly complex creature.
The ancestor of all life (as we know it), arose only once in a specific place, at a specific time, in a specific sterile environment.
Did this organism arise through spontaneous generation, or through intelligent intervention?
Spontaneous generation refers to a theory regarding the appearance of life that was discredited way back about 1860. Do we now in 2011 propose that spontaneous generation happened just once and thereby produced all life on earth?
We have judged this earlier view of spontaneous generation, and rejected it. But when we compare the scientific knowledge available before 1860 with that of today; we acknowledge that we now have a far more majestic view of just how intricate and complex all life is, including microscopic life. We have judged them, I wonder if they were to have an opportunity to judge our view of spontaneous generation, how would we stand?
Should we believe that spontaneous generation produced our first ancestor?
On the other hand, when we talk of intelligent intervention, it implies a supernatural force in the universe. Should we believe in God?
If we do believe in God, shouldn’t we believe God’s own account of His creation as recorded in the first chapter of Genesis?
Seers of Abiogenesis
When the Seers of Abiogenesis* finally get to reconstruct the first organism, they will be dismayed on two fronts.
Firstly, the organism they have structured will be too complex to have arisen spontaneously from the substances which existed prior to the existence of life.
The pre-evolutionary step is just too large. The genetic code of the first organism may perhaps be short when compared to the genes of anything living today, but in order to be functional in reproduction it needs to be complex. It has no other option than to be complex.
Secondly, although the organism’s genetic strand is complex in structure, it is nonetheless simplistic in its capability of reproduction. This limitation will not enable it to mutate into any form of viable life other than itself. Any reasonable, or even far-fetched variation of its complex but short genetic code will fail to recreate a living, reproducing substance in a different form. That first evolutionary step will be too large, seeing the organism’s genetics are too simplistic; therefore evolution will not even get a chance to commence.
Note, there are two separate points made immediately above. And we need to be quite clear in distinguishing between them.
(1) The first living, reproducing organism to arise from nonliving material will need to be incredibly complex to function, so its appearance is more akin to intelligent creation than for it to arise spontaneously without any intelligent input.
(2) This second point, though touched on here, is not the subject of this article. It is briefly considered here because it is the important first step for the organism. This is its first evolutionary step. The organism now has a means of reproducing itself, therefore evolution now has a mechanism to enable it to function, and thus evolution can begin. Believing it did arise spontaneously without any intelligent input, it is hard to see how it could be simplistic enough so as to arise in the first place, yet complex enough to spawn ever more variations of life.
The above points relate to two different sciences. Point (1) relates to the Science of Abiogenesis, and point (2) relates to the Science of Biogenesis.
* Abiogenesis literally means ‘not by Biogenesis.’ Abiogenesis describes the science of how life comes into being from nonliving material. The Seers of Abiogenesis are those who have studied, and have gained knowledge on how the first living organism arose from nonliving material. Biogenesis, in contrast, describes the reproduction of living organisms — how life begets life.
A little girl was to give a talk at school about the life of Abraham Lincoln. She began her talk with this sentence. She said, “Abraham Lincoln was born at an early age in a cabin he built with his ‘own’ hands.”
Her view of Abraham Lincoln was certainly larger than life. Abraham Lincoln could not have built the cabin before he was born.
Likewise, the first organism was not responsible for its own creation, it arose spontaneously. The first work of the organism was to find sustenance in its environment, and then reproduce offspring. Thus evolution commenced at this point. We now have the arrival of a living, reproducing organism, but it would be a further miraculous step for this organism to vary such a limited set of genes to produce a ‘viable variation’ of itself.
There are two problems facing the Seers of Abiogenesis. The first is the massive complexity of the first living organism. Secondly, despite its massive complexity, how much more complex does its gene pool need to be if it is to produce offspring with variations to itself. If it was simple enough to arrive in the first instance, one would suspect that it could multiply, and replicate itself after its own kind and fill the world with a monoculture of itself.
This monoculture would at best resemble some kind of sludge. This sludge could cover the earth wherever it found sustenance. Possibly it started that way, and along the way another miraculous event took place which gave the organism a massive injection of meaningful genes to take the impossible step. This step is now known as the first evolutionary step. After that happened, evolution was easy because the organism now had obtained huge strands of meaningful DNA so that random mutations caused unimaginable variations. Over time the sludge just got up and walked, when it saw that it could walk, it got up and flew. When it walked, it talked, and when it talked it thought, and on it went, it dreamed dreams, it put its dreams into practice, it looked into space, it went to the moon. We as human beings are the epiphany of that very long walk of the first organism.
How simple was the first organism? (Remember, it was simple enough to arise spontaneously without intelligent input.)
How complex was the first organism? (Remember, it was complex enough not only to reproduce itself, but also have within its genes the ability to produce positive variations.)
As a part of your answer, give a description that includes
1. the possible length and general structure of meaningful DNA/RNA of the first organism (Remember, too short a strand, or simply meaningless code will not accomplish anything useful)
2. calculate the minimum number of individual atoms required to be properly assembled to produce the useful DNA/RNA (as in 1. above)
3. describe the minimum elements required to create and sustain the organism, that is, whether it required, silica, oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, etc (Give a detailed minimum list, and explain why each one is necessary.)
4. calculate the minimum number of individual atoms required — in a properly assembled manner — to produce the complete organism (Include all parts of the organism, including whatever structure may have bound it together and kept it intact, whatever part that was responsible for gaining sustenance from its environment, and its genetic means of reproduction which we have already calculated above in Point 2.)
5. compare your description — which you’ve based on the above — with the simplest organism known today (How do they compare in both simplicity and complexity?)
6. compare your description — which you’ve based on the above — with the HIV virus (how do they compare?)
7. consider the possibility of your version of the first ancestor being able to evolve into a vast array of living forms, including organisms developing consciousness and self-awareness (How long would the process take, what would be its chances of success, and what would be its main limitations?)
8. consider the possibility of the HIV virus being able to evolve into a vast array of living forms, including descendants of the HIV virus developing consciousness and self-awareness (How long would the process take, what would be its chances of success, and what would be its main limitations?)
9. in the light of the above, redefine (tweak) your version of life’s first ancestor if you need to, to give it the skills to accomplish its task
Answering even some of the above questions will give science a huge leap forward in understanding where we came from.
Do you believe we descended from a simple organism which
1) is the ancestor of all life on earth
2) arose in a sterile world
3) was able to gain sustenance
4) was able to reproduce
5) had a genetic code complex enough for self-replicating variations to evolve
6) has offspring still alive today
Here are some links to excellent information
(These will open in separate windows.)
To view a stylized short strand of DNA click on the link above.
When viewing this animation, remember this very complex diagram depicts the complexity of only a very, very small fragment of the structure of a useful, meaningful DNA. Also, what is depicted in this diagram is indescribably simple when compared to the first living, reproducing organism.
View images of Nucleotides in DNA — click on the link above.
(If the link is unsuccessful, search online for Nucleotides in DNA and click on Images for Nucleotides in DNA.)
What is the smallest set of genetic material necessary to sustain life?
The Minimal Genome Project set out to discover the answer. The small genome of Mycoplasma genitalium made it the organism of choice in the Project. Click on the link above.
See a description of the Nucleoid — click on the link above.
Ask yourself the question, “How small is small?”
To help with your answer, see this quote in the second paragraph on the previous link above . “A genophore can be as small as 580,073 base pairs (Mycoplasma genitalium).”
Mycoplasma genitalium is the smallest known genome that can constitute a cell.
Mycoplasma genitalium was originally isolated in 1980 from two male patients. The genome of Mycoplasma genitalium consists of 521 genes (482 protein encoding genes) in one circular chromosome of 582,970 base pairs.
Small but not Simple
Does small mean simple?
Some organisms may be small, but they’re not simple. For microscopic life (like every living thing) is complex.
We ask again the age-old question. Life — from accident or design — whence comest thou?
May God bless you