Sunday, May 23, 2004

Somebody Up There Likes Pus

The 14 May issue of SCIENCE summarizes a piece of research recently published in the journal Cell by You et. al. Certain papilloma viruses that maintain a latent infection have developed a protein tether that attaches the viral genome the chromosomes of their hosts so that the virus will be shared out between daughter cells during mitosis. It all sounds very clever, though it is hardly the most elaborate biochemical trick played by parasites, some of whom manipulate the behavior of their hosts or promote their own survival by altering the sex ratios of their host’s offspring. All of which raises a question in my mind.

The Intelligent Design folks claim that certain biological mechanisms are too complex and intricate to have developed by chance. They usually point to such examples as the bacterial flagellum and the vertebrate clotting mechanism as systems that are, in their lingo, irreducibly complex and therefore prima facie evidence of the intervention of something or somebody. If you buy into this logic, however, don’t you have to address the possibility that complex parasitical adaptations are also evidence of design? Furthermore, since the tricks of the parasites appeared very late in the history of life, doesn’t the uncanny biochemical virtuosity of tapeworms and plasmodia strongly suggest that wonders have yet to cease?

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