Grasses and Genetics

Did you ever wonder why and how unwanted grasses are often able to spread rapidly across your perfectly manicured front lawn, and why they resist all your best efforts to try to get rid of them? Turns out the answer may be genetic.  Researchers from the University of Sheffield in England recently published a paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claiming that at least some members of the grass family can gain new, functional genes from nearby members of the same family.  This process the researchers called an “evolutionary short-cut”. But has any evolution really occurred? Let’s dive in.

The process these grasses used to acquire the new genes is called lateral gene transfer. This is a similar process to what bacteria use to gain DNA from other bacteria.  Unlike normal DNA transfer, no reproduction is required. In this instance, the genes are purportedly exchanged during contact between two members of the grass family.  Horizontal gene transfer is a real thing and happens regularly in bacteria. However, it is rare in plants, if it exists at all, with only a few previously reported instances in the literature, and each one is suspect.   However, this is far from the onlyissue with this proposal.

The primary issue with this article is that the proposed lateral gene transfer has not been observed. Instead, the researchers assumed that genes evolved over the course of millions of years, and, using a genetic phylogenetic tree,  inferred that at least nine different grasses had “donated” genes to the particular species of grass they were studying. I have written previously about the disaster that cladistics and phylogeny are previously in multiple articles, but I will briefly point out that cladistics assumes evolution is true, then attempts to provide proof evolution is true, a clear example of circular reasoning.  This is not sufficient proof that horizontal gene transfer is going on in this instance.  It is quite possible this particular version of the grasses simply inherited those genes from the original member of the grass kind. Creation baraminology studies have previously grouped all the grasses together, though this was with the less than ideal statistical baraminology. Since species are not real, this group of grasses, this mixta may simply have gotten the genes from the founding members of their kinds.   Thus simple inheritance could be involved here, rather than the complicated horizontal gene transfer.

However, even supposing we grant that horizontal gene transfer did occur, there would be no evolution occurring. The information would be added to the genome of this grass species. However, that information would have already been available to the grass kind.  The information being added would not produce a totally new function or trait. Instead, what we have here is grass remaining grass.  The new genes may have given the grass a competitive advantage over other, nearby plants, but it did not change them into angiosperms. A competitive advantage is not evolution.  A wild tiger has a competitive advantage over a white tiger in the wild because it is much better camouflaged. Yet normal tigers have not evolved beyond being cats.  Competitive advantage does influence the frequency of a trait in a population, hence why white tigers are very rare in the wild, but they do not cause evolution.

This idea of horizontal gene transfer in grasses is intriguing certainly and would be interesting to consider if it can be demonstrated. If horizontal gene transfer does occur in grasses, or perhaps even plants as a whole, then a whole new mechanism for variation within the created kinds of plants becomes available to creation baraminologists. it certainly could help explain the vast variation found within certain plant kinds. If horizontal gene transfer does occur within plants, then I’m going to predict that it will only occur within the created kinds. There will be no transfer of genes between members of two different kinds.  I could be wrong, but I suspect that horizontal gene transfer is not actually occurring in plants. Instead, it is being inferred based on evolutionary assumptions.  Even if it does occur, it is not evolution. Gene transfer between species is not evolution, particularly when the transfer occurs within the originally created kind.  This is not an “evolutionary shortcut”. Instead, if it even happens, it is simply a previously unknown mechanism to create variation within the created kind.



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