I worked for a number of years in research and development for a Fortune 500 company. Visits to our manufacturing facilities stand out as some of the most memorable experiences during my tenure. It was truly astounding to watch the massive assembly lines in operation, generating products I had helped develop in the lab and pilot plant.
But as impressive as these manmade plants are, they pale in comparison to the manufacturing operations taking place inside the cell. These processes build protein complexes that, in many cases, are direct analogs, structurally and functionally, to manmade machines. Over the last two weeks (see here and here), I discussed these provocative systems, which I assert renew the Watchmaker argument for God’s existence and role as life’s Creator.
The bacterial flagellum is yet another protein complex with machine-like properties. As previously pointed out, this biochemical system exemplifies the case for intelligent design not only with regard to its structure and function, but also its manufacture.
Manufacturing the Bacterial Flagellum
As I discuss in The Cell’s Design, the production of the bacterial flagellum resembles a well-orchestrated manufacturing process. The design of this assembly pathway displays an exquisite molecular logic that results in the efficient and orderly production of the bacterial flagellum with each step in the process seemingly pre-planned with subsequent steps in mind. This process ensures that the proper proteins are present at the proper time during assembly. The cell avoids wasting precious resources by making proteins only when they are needed.
No one who has observed the efficiency and orderliness of a manufacturing process would conclude that it just happened by itself. Likewise, the assembly of the bacterial flagellum shows all the telltale signs of planning and careful design. It seems irrational to conclude that undirected natural processes could explain the elegant biochemical mechanisms resulting in the flagellum production. Both the flagellum’s structure and assembly point to the work of an intelligent Designer.
Using the Manufacture of the Flagellum to Improve Industrial Operations
This conclusion seems even more reasonable in light of new work by researchers from the University of Hertfordshire.1 These investigators modeled the assembly of the bacterial flagellum with the hopes that their models would lead to improvements in industrial operations, particularly ones that rely on autonomous decision making. Their work highlights (1) the correctness of the analogy between manmade and molecular manufacturing processes, reinforcing the Watchmaker argument; and (2) the superior nature of the cell’s assembly-line operations compared to those developed by human engineers.
- Mark T. McAuley et al., “Modeling the Flagellar Motor Assembly Process to Help Improve Industrial Operations Systems Design,” pre-print, http://strc.herts.ac.uk/bio/maria/pdf/FlagellarMotorAssembly.pdf, accessed April 18, 2011.