Sunday, June 16, 2024

Genotype v. Phenotype

 Animals and plants have genetic characteristics not visible to observers. DNA is the molecule in the nucleus of almost every body cell. It is responsible for the entire heredity of animals or plants. We speak of the DNA code—the ‘language of life.’ Genotype refers to this invisible ‘language of life.’ 

In contrast, phenotype refers to the traits of a living thing resulting from the genotype. These traits include morphology, the physical form or outward appearance, as well as behavioral characteristics of the living entity. The 17-year periodical cicada possesses a unique phenotype—appearing above ground every 17 years. In addition, it is a beautifully designed animal notwithstanding the fear and dislike they engender among the public.


Periodical cicadas, unique insects frequently highlighted in current news broadcasts and printed articles, are approaching the end of their lives above ground for this calendar year. Noted for their unique behavior, they emerge from underground every 13 or 17 years. We refer, therefore, to their unique phenotype. Brood XIII, inhabiting large portions of the Midwest, will not be seen again until 2041 after tunneling underground for the next 17 years. Its life cycle is the longest of any insect on Planet Earth. In second place is the 13 year periodical cicada.


Scientists and non-scientists alike study the behavior of these insects and also the behavior of all living things. Is their time-keeping behavior programmed by the Creator of All Things? Or is their behavior a result of an evolutionary process? This question is a relevant one in view of the ubiquitous citations of evolution in our society. Genetically hardwired traits include unusual behavioral abilities of many living things inhabiting our personal neighborhoods. Scientific researchers have speculated that evolutionary processes provide optimal survival strategies. We may ask if the process of evolution is responsible for the beauty and functionality of our environment and its inhabitants? Or should we credit the omnipotent skills of the divine Creator?


During our residency in Galena, Illinois, we were able to observe many traits of animals manifesting diverse behavioral phenotypes. We explained these fascinating behaviors to our grandchildren. “God had great ideas” was a statement we used many times.


Following is a list of several of the most interesting behavioral phenotypes we observed during our residence in northwest Illinois:


Cicada killer wasps: These large wasps primarily feed on dog-day cicadas present every summer. Our grandchildren were able to watch a wasp dragging a cicada across a field on its way to provision its underground lair with an anesthetized cicada to feed its larvae: https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2021/08/bugged-by-cicada-killers.html


Digger wasps: Small wasps which feed mostly on grasshoppers and katydids. They anesthetize their prey and transport them to a previously constructed underground tunnel, replete with underground side tunnels. Their prey receives an egg which hatches into the wasp larva. YouTubes capture digging events in living color and high fidelity. Our blog link: https://jasscience.blogspot.com/search?q=digger+wasps


Monarch butterflies: This animal is remarkable for its ability to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to a specific forest in Mexico after producing several generations of Monarchs in North America over the summer. Its ability to pinpoint a tiny location on Planet Earth and undertake a perilous journey to that location is one of the outstanding miracles of the insect world: https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2018/10/monarchs-migrating-and-non-migrating.html


Barn spiders (orb-weavers): The ability of barn spiders to construct a web of intricate beauty using incredible engineering skills also ranks at the top of the list of remarkable insect capabilities: https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2018/09/wonders-of-orb-weavers.html 


Indigo Bunting: This remarkable migratory bird is also skilled in direction finding. We have evidence that the same bird returned to the same tree on our property several years running. The following post highlights several startling facts about the remarkable indigo bunting: https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2011/07/avian-ownership_23.html


Science professionals present several conceptual pillars on which evolutionary theory is anchored. They state evolution is powered by natural selection and mutation which has merged with many theorized supporting concepts. It is a complex theory which supporters have termed a “brilliant theory.” In sharp contrast, creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) have been pronounced “unscientific” or “pseudo-scientific.” In response to this opinion, we quote from a devotional in Our Daily Bread  from 6-12-24: 


  “Although neuroscience has made great progress in understanding how the brain  works, scientists admit they are still in the early stages of understanding it. They understand brain architecture, some aspects of its function, and regions that respond to environment, activate our senses, generate movements, and contain emotions. But they still can’t figure out how all these interactions contribute to behavior, perception, and memory….”


The same devotional booklet quoted Psalm 139 concerning God’s action in creating living things, especially humanity. This powerful psalm is a clear citation of God’s role in creating man, and by extension, ALL living things mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis. As we study the genotypes and phenotypes of all living things, our intuition tells us that action of the divine Creator of All Things rather than evolution more effectively explains the traits of life on our planet.  





   



     

Friday, May 31, 2024

Cicada Mania

 Newspapers and other media around the US recently have been filled with discussions of an exceptional insect—cicadas. Broods or groups of some cicadas are called periodical cicadas. Their unique life cycles occur only in the Eastern United States in various geographic regions even though 3000 species of cicadas occur worldwide. Entomologists have determined that the US broods are composed of seven different species, morphologically similar but not identical. Each brood lives underground for exactly 13 years or exactly 17 years. When one or the other brood completes its life cycle, they break out of the ground to serenade citizens with a cacophonous din for a few weeks before depositing eggs on tiny tree twigs. After the eggs drop to the ground tiny nymphs at once begin their underground life, burrowing underground for either 13 or 17 years. It is clear this trait is genetically programmed in the insects, but scientists cannot explain how genetics produces their precisely timed behavior. How do these cicadas time their behavior so precisely?

This year two broods in Illinois are emerging at the same time. This event is termed a co-emergence. They have been named brood XIX, 13-year cicadas, and brood XIII, 17-year cicadas. Geographically brood XIX is found in southern Illinois and brood XIII is primarily located in northern Illinois. Entomologists predicted this year’s co-emergence for many years. The two specific broods geographically meet each other similar to pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, mostly in the state of Illinois. The 13 year and 17 year broods have not emerged in the same year in Illinois since 1803. This has generated considerable interest and excitement.


When my wife and I lived in Galena, IL, we experienced the din of Brood XIII cicadas in 2007. I recall many tiny dime-size holes in paths in our woods after they emerged from their underground lair after 17 years of subterranean feeding on sap from tree roots. Brood XIII cicadas are emerging once again in many Illinois localities in 2024.  As we write, brood XIII is noisily emerging in eastern IL at the home of our daughter and her family. Dying 17 year insects and their spent exoskeletons are everywhere. These insects are members of brood XIII.


My personal experience with periodical cicadas reverts to 1962 when our family lived in New Jersey. Brood II, a 17-year species, was prevalent in New Jersey and several adjacent states. I recall transporting a group of young Sunday School students from their class picnic to experience the loud singing of cicadas in a nearby wooded area. In 1979, 17 years later, our 3-year old son was frightened when several cicadas alighted on him during a family outing at a nearby park. In 1996 Brad returned from college during the next appearance of Brood II. Together, we journeyed over to the same park to experience the loud singing of the same brood.


As a young person I also had experience with a different species of cicada called “dog day” cicadas, so-called because they emerged every summer during hot days known as “dog days.” These cicadas were similar in their structure but somewhat larger than periodical cicadas. They have greenish or olive colored bodies with large, black eyes. In contrast, periodical cicadas have delicate orange wing veins, dark bodies, and brilliant red eyes. Dog day cicadas do not create the loud noise of periodical cicadas. They sing individually instead of in a collective buzzing. Young and old alike may suffer from entomophobia until they subjectively perceive the physical beauty and behavioral uniqueness of these animals. They may even transition to entomophiles!


There are multiple reasons to exult in the natural world. The beauty and complexity of living things ranks at the top of the list. Periodical cicadas possess the longest known insect life cycle. Our God created countless fascinating characteristics of genetically programmed traits into living things, including the behavioral ability of periodical cicadas to discern time periods of 13 or 17 years. 




  










  







 

    


Saturday, May 18, 2024

In the Wake of Natural Disasters

Media reports stress harmful outcomes of natural weather events and other powerful physical phenomena in our dynamic planetary environment. Many are related to the four fundamental forces by which our universe is governed and shaped. 


“The four fundamental forces act upon us every day, whether we realize it or not. From playing basketball, to launching a rocket into space, to sticking a magnet on your refrigerator - all the forces that all of us experience every day can be whittled down to a critical quartet: Gravity, the weak force, electromagnetism, and the strong force. These forces govern everything that happens in the universe.” (Ben Biggs and Jeremy Rehm…”The Four Fundamental Forces of Nature,” space.com, 12/23/21)


Modern news commentators report on disastrous forces of tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, blizzards, thunderstorms, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches, and forest fires. The public desires news concerning unusual and spectacular incidents, as well as destructive and tragic events. Reports about serene and pleasant physical events often do not inspire the same degree of public attention. A physical scientist may be fascinated by information about fundamental forces, but laypeople are more concerned about tragic effects triggered by those forces. However, there is a side effect to many so-called weather and natural disasters—a beneficial side effect.


As this post is being composed Planet Earth is in the throes of a solar storm event. We are being affected by solar flares—magnetic storms on our life-giving sun. They are called coronal mass ejections (CME) of hot magnetic gas. Such storms are not physically harmful to Earth residents because our planet’s atmosphere shields us from harmful effects but our GPS technology and other modes of communication may be adversely affected. The benefit of this solar magnetic storm may be our ability to see aurora borealis—northern lights. We are able to see the beauty of divine creation in a unique manner.


Returning to other commonly observed weather events mentioned earlier, we do not minimize the possibility of tragedy from a natural event. The OT Book of Job records a poignant example of environmental hazards on Planet Earth. Job Ch. 1 describes a great wind, probably a tornado, which took the lives of his ten children. Christians must acknowledge the existence of suffering, not only from environmental hazards, but also for the undeserved suffering of Jesus Christ as He gave His life to redeem humanity.


There are several side effects to consider concerning undesirable physical events.        

Hurricanes redistribute heat and moisture, sometimes providing relief from drought. Some storms move sediment from bays to marshes, revitalizing nutrients. Periodic wet/dry cycles may be more beneficial than changeless, pleasant weather. Blizzards with heavy snow cover may prevent deep freezing of soil and provide insulation from severe cold damage to roots and bulbs. Soil moisture even in winter must be conserved. 


Thunderstorms, however frightening, provide beneficial moisture and provide nitrogen fixation in the atmosphere. Nitrogen is a diatomic element consisting of two atoms chemically bonded. In this state, atmospheric nitrogen is not useful to plants. Lightning in thunderstorms breaks diatomic nitrogen apart so it may join with oxygen to form nitrogen oxides (N2O). Nitrates (NO3) form when nitrogen oxide dissolves in water droplets. This process is known as atmospheric nitrogen fixation. Plants need nitrogen as a nutrient for healthy growth. Veggies, fruits, and meats are proteins rich in nitrogen. We encourage readers to thank God for lightning which ultimately helps fertilize life-sustaining plants. We also caution residents to stay safe during the storm! Eight million lightning bolts strike our planet each day producing 13,000 tons of nitrate fertilizer. 


Volcanoes may result in tragedy, but volcanoes give warnings of future eruptions. Geologically, volcanic material on Earth’s surface provide rich soil nutrients. Eighty percent of Earth’s surface originated in volcanic events. Hawaii’s rich volcanic soil is geologically very recent.


Earthquakes may cause horrific damage but government mandated building codes minimize earthquake damage to a significant degree. A study of earthquakes in terms of their long-term causes and effects, convection currents and mineral recycling, may highlight the truth of divinely created fine-tuning and intelligent design.


We have endeavored to highlight positive effects of several dynamic planetary events most often perceived as tragic. When God created all things (the heavens and the earth) in the beginning (Genesis 1:1), he also created an “operating system” for our habitable planet. Scientists have recognized laws of nature, physical laws which govern how our Earth’s physical system operates. The physical laws obey a suite of physical constants such as  the law of gravitation, the constant speed of light, and the mass of subatomic particles. Many other physical constants have been identified. The subject of physical constants is esoteric—understandable by only a few advanced scientists. 


As we examine Planet Earth’s weather, climate, and geological phenomena, we are struck with awe and wonder at the divine genius of our Creator. He is the Divine Author of our predictable laws of nature. We link this past post for those who wish to study the topic of divine creativity in more depth: 


https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2013/11/naturalism-and-supernaturalism.html

   


            


 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Earthquake Experience

 Earth is a dynamic planet. The term dynamic means powerful and energetic. Physical processes have molded our planet for eons. On April 5, 2024 a 4.8 magnitude earthquake occurred in New Jersey a few miles from our former residence. This was the strongest earthquake to occur in New Jersey since 1783. This geographic area is not prone to earthquakes as are some other locations around the planet. This earthquake generated considerable anxiety for local residents. Authorities stated that no significant damage had resulted, but aftershocks, minor “readjustments” in the rock layers, did occur.

The recent northern New Jersey earthquake was an unusual phenomenon in that geographic region. By coincidence, the earth trembled just three days before the April 8 total eclipse of the sun provided totality in New York State barely 200 miles north of the earthquake locale. Earthquakes cannot be predicted in advance, but solar eclipse events are predictable with incredible accuracy many years in advance. Some residents assigned mystical significance to the conflation of two highly unusual natural events within three days of each other. 


Seismologists, scientists who specialize in the study of earthquakes, have explained detailed causes and effects of earthquakes. These earth scientists have identified forces present in Earth’s lithosphere—the outer layers of crust and upper mantle of our planet. When an earthquake occurs, reporters on television networks frequently refer to faults—breaks or cracks in the rock layers at the Earth’s surface. In the paragraphs below we offer a short primer on several types of faults and how rock breakage along faults results in earthquakes.


Earthquakes are ultimately related to heat from the interior of Planet Earth. Most planetary heat comes from the decay of radioactive elements. Unequal heating in the crust and mantle causes cyclical convection currents even in mostly solid rock layers. Over the long term, less dense material rises above more dense material. Convection currents form and cause the earth’s surface crust to break into sections called plates. 


Seismologists have enriched our knowledge of earthquakes, especially in the last century. Until the 1960s, the Continental Drift theory described the startling proposal that Earth’s continents appear to be slowly moving with respect to each other. German scientist Alfred Wegener popularized the theory. He presented evidence that continents slowly moved, but could not explain why the movements occurred.


A new theory about moving continents developed in the 1960s called Plate Tectonics theory. Great sections of Earth’s crust broke into slabs, or plates, and joined together with other plates like pieces of a giant jig-saw puzzle. Faults occurred where giant pieces of Earth’s crust met each other.


Forces in the Earth’s crust result in several types of faults. The NJ earthquake was related to the Ramapo fault, an ancient fault stretching across northern New Jersey. It is no longer an active fault zone but strong earthquakes sometimes occur in ancient fault regions. Three types of faults have been identified: (1) divergent, where plates are moving apart (2) transform, where plates are horizontally sliding past one another, and (3) convergent, where plates are moving toward each other. Faults at the boundaries of plates are more common.The edges of plates are rough. They get stuck while the rest of the plate keeps moving. Finally, when the plate has moved far enough, the edges break apart and an earthquake results. A stretched rubber band can break—an illustration of the action of divergent forces. Matter can become deformed and broken by either twisting or convergent forces. 


Earthquakes are capable of producing damage and destruction. These quakes are ultimately caused by cyclical convection currents in the lithosphere of Planet Earth. Convection currents work for the greater benefit of humanity. A website from the American Museum of Natural History states: “The processes that shape the Earth and its environment constantly cycle elements through the planet. This cycling sustains life and leads to the formation of the mineral and energy resources that are the foundation of modern technological society.”


Many natural phenomena cause destruction and damage to our planetary environment. Damage caused by earthquakes is only one example. When we research this issue, we discover that many underlying physical laws and processes governing our world ultimately work to our benefit rather than to our detriment. God has provided mandates for humanity to exercise dominion over the natural world. For example, government authorities obey these mandates when they legislate building codes to prevent damage during natural events such as earthquakes.


The divine Creator is the author of all scientific laws in our physical world. God has intricately fine-tuned our dynamic planet during the eons-long process of creation. The Plate Tectonics theory is virtually universally accepted to account for earthquakes and continental plates moving on our planetary surface. This describes a divine transformational miracle.


For supporting information on miracles…..


https://jasscience.blogspot.com/2017/11/our-miracle-immersed-planet.html

       

  















 






   

    


Saturday, April 13, 2024

Post-eclipse Reverie

 Our country’s residents have experienced the highly anticipated 2024 total solar eclipse. Many observers of the long awaited event exuberantly pronounced it “life changing.” 31.6 million US residents live in the path of totality and millions more journeyed into the path. This was the second total solar eclipse to occur in the lower 48 in less than seven years. We must wait until 2044 for a similar astronomical spectacular when three astronomical bodies, Sun Moon, and Earth, are aligned with similar precision in relation to the North American continent.

Network television coverage often referred to the 2017 total solar eclipse and compared it with 2024. Both eclipses were mesmerizing, but there were a few more superlatives in 2024. Observers at the Earth’s surface were treated to totality which lasted about twice as long. Our lunar companion possesses a slightly elliptical orbit, resulting in increased apparent lunar size when the moon’s orbit is closer to Earth. In 2024 the moon was 4000 miles closer to Earth than in 2017. This slight difference in apparent lunar size provides for greater solar coverage and a longer time of totality. 


It is possible that the sky was darker in 2024 for a number of reasons. In 2017 we journeyed to totality in Carbondale, IL, and were somewhat surprised that totality produced deep twilight but not total darkness. In the days since 4/8/24 we discovered that people at the center of the path of totality experienced deeper darkness than people at the outer edge of the shadow. Dozens of YouTube posts recorded the thrill of the total eclipse experience for hundreds of people who experienced “an awesome few minutes” in person.


Other differences were well worth noting. The Sun’s corona, the glowing hot gas disc surrounding the Sun, is visible only during a total solar eclipse. Observers stated this corona was brighter and more beautiful than the 2017 event. This eclipse corresponded to the approach of a solar maximum when sunspots increase and the sun’s magnetic polarity reverses. This results in “dramatically more” intense auroras (northern lights) in the northern hemisphere.


Many television networks covered eclipse events as the umbral shadow raced southwest to northeast across our land. We found these broadcasts to be helpful in visualizing what we were unable to see in person. Included in the network programs were live shots of the progress of the moon as it gradually obscured the sun. When the sun was completely covered, we saw the beautiful corona and several bright spots around the circumference—solar flares we could not see in 2017. The diamond ring and Bailey’s beads phenomena were visible, however. Many observers noted a drop in temperature and changes in the behavior of animals.


Many personal reactions were offered in the dozens of YouTubes posted following the actual event. They reported how members of the public reacted to the spectacle:….an out-of-this-world experience….incredible….a surprising sense of zen….a visceral feeling….amazing….a spiritual experience….jaw-dropping….coolest thing I’ve ever seen….phenomenal….felt closer to God….my heart and soul were full….mother nature is beautiful….celestial event for the ages….we hit the jackpot….we’re still in awe.


Our personal reactions to the 2017 total eclipse we eyewitnessed in Carbondale IL and the reactions of 2024 eclipse watchers who viewed the event on a television screen at home were similar. Total eclipse events, especially those witnessed in person, inspire deep personal emotions. From our post of 8/23/2017 we gleaned the following phrases and terms:…an “Everest” experience…an incredibly ordered world…electric with excitement…reverential awe of cosmic orderliness…provided reverent wonder…experience of patient anticipation…profound and powerful personal emotions…nature displays God’s glory in meaningful ways…superlative event…we give glory and praise to God… gave glory to the God of Creation.


David, the author of Psalm 8:1 states “…You have set your glory above the heavens.” The same author declares in Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Readers of scripture and observers of the heavens may now affirm the truth of these verses in a uniquely powerful way.