Sunday, November 11, 2007

Is the Evolution of HIV different from Malaria?

In my last post, I provided a brief description of the battle between man and malaria. Malaria is the best studied example of evolution for a simple reason: numbers. With so many people infected and up to 1 trillion malaria cells in an infected person, science has learned much about fighting malaria. But malaria is still winning the battle, still killing 1 million people each year. And the best drug that has been developed is Chloroquine. But malaria has found a way to counter even Chloroquine – with the odds of developing resistance to Chloroquine roughly one in a hundred billion billion. Written in shorthand this is 1 in 10²⁰. But perhaps the study of HIV has revealed something more or different.

HIV is a virus attacking cells of a person’s immune system, while the P. falciparum / malaria is a eukaryotic cell, which typically has a cell nucleus with DNA in the nucleus. With HIV being the simplest form of life, a virus, this means that it is much less complicated than the malaria cell. While malaria has thousands of genes, HIV has only 9 genes, and only 1/1000th of the DNA information. But HIV is a mutational freak: it has a mutation rate 10,000 times faster than malaria. This is an enormous tragedy throughout the world where millions have been killed by it. So does the simplicity of HIV (being only a virus) along with a very high mutation rate mean that evolution will work more powerfully in HIV? Again, as with malaria the answer is a clear: NO.

So what do we see from the large amounts of scientific research spent on studying HIV? Yes, because of the high mutation rate, it is even more able to resist the drugs used against it. This is why a drug cocktail is used to fight HIV – so as to raise the chance against HIV’s high mutation rate. But this is similar to what scientists discovered in their research about malaria. But otherwise, HIV is “a complete stick-in-the-mud”, the only changes are “biochemically trivial”. There have been no biochemical changes in the virus at all.

While HIV has huge population numbers and intense selective pressure (because of man’s use of drugs against it), evolution works in single and double (and because of the high mutation rate, even more) point mutations, but there are no new useful protein-protein interactions,, and no new molecular machines. HIV has not discovered a way to enter different kinds of cells, beside the immune cells it attacks. It has not developed any new way to interact with other proteins, and nothing has happened at the molecular level: no new machinery, no new gene duplications that could lead to a new function. BOTTOM LINE: While Darwinists loudly celebrate studies of finch beaks, showing the most modest of changes over time as the finches’ food supply changes. But here we have genetic studies over thousands upon thousands of generations, of trillions upon trillions of organisms, with nothing of biochemical significance being shown.

Again, I am using Prof. Michael Behe’s Edge of Evolution book as my source. Next time, I will try and draw some conclusions and tie together what this impressive amount of scientific evidence shows.


Edward Oleander said...

One thought occurs immediately: We need to keep in mind what the difference between evolution and adaptation is. I have heard them roughly equated to macro vs micro evolution, but I like the older terms better as they show the boundries better.

Just because evolution CAN happen, doesn't mean it MUST happen. Evolution is the process by which life persists. Some animals are essentially unchanged after millions of years because they fill their current niche in the ecology just fine and don't need to change. Horseshoe crabs, some sharks, as well as several turtles and reptiles have changed very little since they do fine as they are.

Evolution does not predict that EVERY form of life will go through evolutionary shifts. Instead, evolution is the very soul of the two popular phrases "Git 'er done!" and "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I'll have some more comments specific to the malaria/HIV argument, but I have to spend some time in the library first...


tom wolff said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for your comments. It was also nice seeing you earlier today, thanks for the visit! I enjoyed your helping me to better understand the concept of life arising out of non-living materials. I'm sorry I went back to my old insulting ways, and I am going to do my best to stay away from that kind of attitude in the future.

Say, it seems you have a pretty good background in chemistry. Did you have any college coarses in chemistry?