Novel Information

One of the more “sophisticated” creationists misconceptions about evolution/natural selection (they often conflate the two) is that new information can never be created. This actually has no sophistication in it at all, but it sounds fancy and for that reason it helps to trick a good number of people. It’s especially a shame when it confounds those who want to learn some actual science. So here’s a simple example of “novel information” being added to a genome.

Scientists Decode Cancer Patients’ DNA

ST. LOUIS, Nov. 10 (UPI) — Scientists in St. Louis say they have decoded the complete DNA of a cancer patient and traced her disease — acute myelogenous leukemia — to its genetic roots.

The research team at the Genome Sequencing Center and the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said the first-of-its-kind achievement involved sequencing the genome of the patient — a woman in her 50s who ultimately died of her disease — and the genome of her leukemia cells, to identify genetic changes unique to her cancer.

“Our work demonstrates the power of sequencing entire genomes to discover novel cancer-related mutations,” said senior author Richard Wilson, director of Washington University’s Genome Sequencing Center. “A genome-wide understanding of cancer, which is now possible with faster, less expensive DNA sequencing technology, is the foundation for developing more effective ways to diagnose and treat cancer.”

The study appears in the journal Nature.

When a cancer occurs, it is the usually the result of the loss of cell cycle control. Instead of the cell being told to die, it continues to replicate; it may lose its contact inhibition, meaning when an area gets too crowded, cells continue to replicate – this should not happen. There are other ways cancers occur, but they aren’t important for my purposes. What is important is the fact that a change in information in a genome is what caused the cancer in this woman in question. Let’s be clear from the get-go: this is not evolution. Individuals do not evolve. But what this does show is that novel changes occur to genomes all the time.

Recently, Steve Jones said evolution in humans is coming to an end. I haven’t heard his entire presentation, so I’m guessing he thinks it’s actually just slowing down, not ending. But either way, he’s wrong. But I bring him up because the reason why he’s wrong is interesting. He says that the fewer mutations present in reproducing males are contributing to less diversity in offspring. He says this because younger men are reproducing more than older men and older men, especially 35 and older, have more mutations in their DNA. (He later refutes his point by saying survival rates are up, inherently suggesting mutation rate must be up).

So why is this important? It’s important because mutations equal “novel information”. That’s what happens when cancers occur. That’s why the research team sequenced the genome of the woman plus the genome of her cancer cells. There are differences and those differences result in markedly different things. In this case, it’s unfortunate that cancer occurred. In other cases, it’s genetic diversity.

This is a bit of a roundabout way of explaining this, but I hope the point comes across. Cancer is a change in information. It’s obviously a bad one and it doesn’t get passed on in somatic cells, but let’s focus purely on the point: it is a change in information. It is a creation of new information. Although it is bad, it is new and it results in genotypic and phenotypic changes.