Did Electricity-Conducting Bacteria Evolve in the Lab?

What if there were not a fast or effective way to get rid of sewage waste? The world would be a pretty disgusting place.

Thankfully, the earth is equipped with a host of organisms that survive on sewage. New research shows that when certain bacteria break down waste in oxygen-deprived environments, they employ a high-tech transfer of electrons through specialized partnerships. The researchers who studied the bacteria credited "natural selection" for developing this function, but the data provide better support for an intelligent and benevolent Creator.

Until now, some bacteria were suspected of transferring electrons singly and directly to neighboring cells. By transferring electrons, vital metabolism is accelerated. This way, the cells become partners in sharing resources so that animal and human waste becomes a quick meal for the bacteria. This partnership is called "syntrophic electron exchange."1

Research published in the December 3 issue of Science found that in the presence of oxygen, these bacteria live independently among a mix of many others. But when oxygen is in short supply and organic molecules are not, certain species partnered up in a unique way. Millions of cells clump together into what become visible bacteria balls, with each cell connected to the next.

During the experiments, some of the bacteria experienced a genetic change that enhanced their ability to transfer electrons between cells. This new function was interpreted as "laboratory evolution of a coculture," but the details show that Darwinian evolution had nothing to do with it.1

Researchers observed the deletion of a single base pair on a particular regulatory gene. This regulates another gene named OmcS, which codes for a protein used to build pili, the bacteria's tiny electron transfer bridges. This single deletion had a dramatic effect: It shut down the repressive activity of the regulatory gene, enabling freer and fuller expression of the OmcS pili protein.

Although the study's authors referred to this gene change as a mutation, did it really happen randomly, as mutations are often portrayed as occurring? There are many examples of DNA changes that are not accidental mutations, but designed program changes―including how human antibodies are made,2 and how certain dog traits are generated.3 Remarkably, one study found that most DNA changes in the well-studied bacteria E. coli are not random, but part of an orchestrated variation-inducing scheme.4

Revealingly, the single-deletion "mutation" occurred in the exact same place in all nine replicated experiments, enabling all the cultures to do the same thing―that is, more effectively metabolize their organic food source. The bacteria had to have the OmcS gene to build their cooperative partnerships, and no mutations to OmcS were reported.

Therefore, it appears that not only were these bacteria designed to rid the world of waste, even when there is a lack of oxygen, but they also were designed to undergo specific alterations to their DNA that enhance their ability to fulfill this task.

The researchers wrote, "These results show that OmcS is essential for effective syntrophic electron exchange and that selective pressure for syntrophic growth selected for a mutation that enhanced OmcS production."1

However, the authors' claim that enhanced OmcS (and, therefore, electron-conducting pili) resulted from a mutation that nature "selected" was not justified by the data. Rather, this claim was a product of a way of thinking in which all data must be made to fit into an evolutionary framework.

In fact, the "selection" of a random mutation explanation flies in the face of the evidence reported in the very same paper―that all nine cultures underwent just the right changes to enhance their growth in a specified environment. In other words, the changes were non-random, and nature no more selected the changed bacteria than the solution to any other problem has been selected merely by the need to solve it.

It is inconceivable that unguided nature came up with this specified bacterial arrangement on its own, but it is no surprise in the context of a brilliant Designer who cares about keeping earth's environments clean and habitable.


  1. Summers, Z. M. et al. 2010. Direct Exchange of Electrons Within Aggregates of an Evolved Syntrophic Coculture of Anaerobic Bacteria. Science. 330 (6009): 1413.
  2. 2. Thomas, B. Antibody Variation is Not Evolution. ICR News. Posted on icr.org January 21, 2009, accessed December 7, 2010.
  3. 3. "Finally, the striking non-random pattern of VNTR mutations, all in lengths
    divisible by three, when there is no known selection that could produce this non-random pattern, strongly suggests that in some instances there are designed mechanisms driving mutations." Lightner, J. K. 2009. Karyotypic and allelic diversity within the canid baramin (Canidae). The Journal of Creation. 23 (1): 97.
  4. 4. Maki, H. 2002. Origins of Spontaneous Mutations: Specificity and Directionality of Base-Substitution, Frameshift, and Sequence-Substitution Mutagenesis. Annual Review of Genetics. 39: 297-303.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on December 15, 2010.

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