Reasons to Believe

Explosive Genetic Expansion 3.3 to 2.8 Billion Years Ago Provides New Evidence for Intelligent Design

My birthday is in a few days. Instead of celebrating, however, I plan on spending the day bemoaning my own mortality. But I’m sure as the day comes and goes, I’ll stop feeling sorry for myself.

When it comes to new scientific discoveries, however, it’s not death that has been on my mind but life—specifically its origin. Last week, I described some exciting recent work that supports the notion that metabolically complex, microbial life appeared early in Earth’s history, around 3.8 billion years ago. 

These discoveries help to validate RTB’s origin of life model by satisfying two key predictions: (1) life appeared on Earth soon after the planet’s formation; and (2) first life possesses intrinsic complexity.

While the recognition that biochemical life appeared early on Earth affirms the RTB model, it is unanticipated from an evolutionary perspective. For example, paleontologist J. William Schopf marveled that “no one had foreseen that the beginning of life occurred so astonishingly early.”1

It is not just the first appearance of life on Earth that raises questions about an evolutionary explanation for life’s origin. Life’s entire history also casts doubts over evolution, as new research attests.2

For the most part, evolutionary biologists expect that once life appeared, any increase in metabolic complexity would have happened gradually. This doesn’t appear to be the case. Viewing life’s history from an evolutionary perspective, scientists from MIT have discovered what seems to be a rapid and explosive genetic expansion that took place at 3.3 billion years ago and accounts for about 27 percent of modern gene families appearing for the first time. This expansion appears to have continued until around 2.85 billion years ago.

This short burst of extensive genetic innovation generated protein-encoding genes, making a number of key metabolic processes possible such as:

  1. electron transport;
  2. respiration;
  3. use of transition metals (such as molybdenum and copper);
  4. nitrate-binding; and
  5. oxygenic photosynthesis.

While explosive innovation contradicts the evolutionary paradigm, it’s predicted by RTB’s creation model. According to our theory, if a Creator has been involved in orchestrating life’s history then there should be evidence for the sudden emergence of new biological capabilities, such as the rapid expansion of gene families between 3.3 and 2.8 billion years ago.

It is intriguing that the new metabolic capabilities that arose from this dramatic genetic expansion made it possible for life to thrive in an oxygen-rich environment (as a consequence of increased oxygen levels, molybdenum, copper, and nitrate became available in the environment). When oxygen levels increased, it was critical for life to be able to handle this corrosive compound. The metabolic capabilities that appeared between 3.3 to 2.8 billion years ago not only provided protection from oxygen, they actually allowed life to exploit this compound to its advantage when oxygen-levels on Earth increased around 2.5 billion years ago.

So, it looks as if the explosive increase in biochemical capabilities happened in anticipation of changes that were to take place in the environment, in this case increases in the oxygen level. This apparent foresight adds further credence to the idea that a Creator is responsible for life’s origin and history. On the other hand, blind, undirected evolutionary processes are incapable of anticipating the changes to come in the Earth’s environment.

The more we learn about the origin of life, the more it appears as if the evolutionary paradigm’s “days are numbered.”

Subjects: First Life on Earth

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana

Endnotes:

1. J. William Schopf, Cradle of Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 3.

2. Lawrence A. David and Eric J Alm, “Rapid Evolutionary Innovation during an Archaean Genetic Expansion,” Nature 469 (January 6, 2011): 93–96.