Good Soils Are Vital for Survival

Good Soils Are Vital for Survival

Many years ago in Alaska, I had a discussion with a biologist who was studying the Alaskan soils. His study revolved around the fact that Alaska has very little soil and what it does have is developing. The lack of soil in Alaska has limited plant growth and made the ecology dependent on migrating salmon. Soils are complex mixtures of organic matter, minerals, water, air, and billions of organisms that form over hundreds of years. Good soils are vital for survival. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.”

Research has shown that plants are designed to “call” for nutrients from the soil. A plant will release molecules called flavonoids, which cause bacteria in the soil to migrate into the plant and form nitrogen nodules on the roots. The nitrogen nodules generate food for the plant. If ample nitrogen is already available for the plant, it will not release the flavonoids.

This “hunger” by plants is vital to understand because many natural and human-caused processes can deplete the soil. Forest and brush fires, hurricanes, pollution, and climate change can deplete soils’ nitrogen content and kill plants. Studies of the giant sequoias in California have shown that the soil under them has twice as many bacteria as the soil under nearby sugar pines. We all know that bacteria influence human health, but bacteria also affect plant health and growth.

As our population increases and world climates change, it will become increasingly important to understand how soil allows us to feed our growing population. God’s design of the Earth includes providing the soils necessary to produce food. Good soils are vital for survival.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: The National Science Foundation post on October 14, 2020.

Glaciers and Treasures of the Snow

Glaciers and Treasures of the Snow
Glacier National Park

In Job 38:22, God refers to “the treasures of the snow” and “the treasures of ice.” In Job’s day, that may not have made a lot of sense. Even today, most people are not aware of the role glaciers play in our lives.

We are living in what scientists call an interglacial period when changes in Earth’s orbit have caused glaciers to melt. This interglacial period has been going on for some 12,000 years and is unrelated to any human-induced climate change. When scientists find evidence of forests, other life-forms, and human remains under the ocean’s surface, we can be sure that the sea level has been very different in the past.

Water molecules are designed in a way that allows glaciers to exist. A glacier is not a block of ice. When water is frozen and put under pressure, it behaves like a fluid. When I was teaching physics, we had a demonstration in which we froze a metal container of water and then used a piston to put it under pressure. The metal container had holes, and the ice would shoot out through the holes in a cylindrical form, just as any liquid or gas would do. Snow falls on the ground in a cold place and piles up, putting pressure on the snow on the bottom. The pressure changes the snow, and it begins to flow like toothpaste. Those gorgeous blue ice flows, the treasures of the snow, are glaciers.

So why is this a good thing for you and me? First, it locks up water, so it is available year-round. The amount of land area available to humans would drop radically if we lost all the glacial ice on the planet. As the ice melts, it does so gradually. Many areas of the world have water year-round only because slow-melting glaciers supply water in a controlled manner.

Many plants and animals depend on glaciers for their survival. Glacial algae get their water by producing dark pigments, which absorb enough sunlight to melt glacial ice. In that way, plants can grow in places like Greenland. The algae provide food for fish and other marine organisms in northern latitudes. Without the glaciers to supply drinking water for the bottom of the food chain, life couldn’t exist in northern marine environments.

Glaciers are also one of the strongest erosional agents in existence. Because of that, mountainous areas have u-shaped valleys with numerous cirque lakes and moraines. Glaciers have allowed a whole biosphere to exist in those mountainous areas. Human habitation in much of the Rocky Mountains is only possible because of the work of glaciers. Here in Michigan, we see and enjoy a continental glacial area where a vast ice sheet shaped the land and created thousands of lakes.

Job could not comprehend the full meaning of the words God spoke to him. Today, people who live where the glaciers have worked and are working can be thankful for God’s design of the “treasures of the snow.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Discover Magazine December 2020, page 66.

The Forgotten Virus – HIV

The Forgotten Virus - HIV

With so much concern about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, the forgotten virus is Human Immunodeficiency Virus, causing AIDS.

In 1981, the Center For Disease Control established the term “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome” or AIDS. The disease was initially found among gay men and had been transferred to humans from monkeys. AIDS spread rapidly and caused many deaths. In 1885, Dr. Mathilde Krim and the National AIDS Research Foundation merged to form amfAR to battle AIDS. In 1995 the FDA approved a protease inhibiter, a new class of drugs that reduced the AIDS fatalities. By 2006 mother to child HIV transmission in the United States had declined to less than 2%. All that is progress, but not a cure.

Doctors are still treating AIDS cases with medicines that are a means of control. The disease continues to be a worldwide pandemic. In 2019, 1.7 million people became newly infected with HIV. Today, 38 million people are living with HIV. There were 770,000 deaths due to AIDS in 2019, and HIV rates are rising. Stem-cell transplant is making strides toward a cure, but research is slow and expensive. The organization amfAR has invested $550 million in programs aiming for a cure.

The story of AIDS is very similar to the story of COVID-19. Both were contracted initially as a result of human activity with animals. A virus may be inactive in an animal and very active in a human. Lifestyle is a major issue in both HIV and COVID-19. If humans would follow the instructions God has given us in His Word, neither of these viruses would be active in human populations. In both cases, a total cure is unlikely, especially for those of us with limited incomes.

The forgotten virus, HIV, doesn’t make headlines in the media, but it continues to be an issue for millions of people. That fact should send a message that applies to the world we live in today. We should learn from our previous mistakes and understand that. We should not have to go through one pandemic after another before realizing that God’s rules for relationships of all kinds have a purpose. We should recognize the truth of Jeremiah’s prayer: “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from amfAR letter of 10/20.

Ants Adapting Tool Use

Ants Adapting Tool Use
Picture Credit: Dr. Aiming Zhou and Dr. Jian Chen

Scientists are always studying the methods animals use to obtain food. Foraging often involves more than finding food in the open or running it down. Sometimes it requires the use of tools and adapting the way they use tools. Crows can use a tool to pry the lid off a milk bottle, and seagulls can crack open clam shells by dropping them on rocks from high elevations. In a recent study, biologists observed ants adapting tool use to obtain food.

Researchers found that black imported fire ants (Solenopsis richteri) can use sand to adapt their method of reaching a food source. Researchers filled small containers with sugar water, a favorite food for the ants. This species of ants have hydrophobic exoskeletons, which allow them to float on the water to reach the food. However, when the scientists added a surfactant to reduce the surface tension, the ants sank and drowned.

That was the point where the scientists saw the ants adapting tool use. The researchers provided the ants with sand in various grain sizes. They allowed the ants to choose a way to reduce their drowning risk. One of the study authors, Dr. Aiming Zhou, said, “We found the ants used sand to build a structure that could effectively draw sugar water out of the container to then be collected.” Dr. Jian Chen, another author of the research, said, “We knew some ant species are able to use tools, particularly in collecting liquid food; however, we were surprised by such remarkable tool use displayed by black imported fire ants.”

It is difficult to believe that the ants have a brain that could reason this out, and they did not display trial and error behavior. The response was immediate and indicated that built into the ant’s DNA is something that enables them to secure food. Entomologist Jian Chen wrote, “Our findings suggest that ants and other social insects may have considerable high cognitive capabilities for unique foraging strategies.” Previously cognitive sophistication has been observed in primates and birds, but scientists had thought the behavior was “hard wired” in invertebrates. These ants adapting tool use seems to defy that understanding. According to Dr. Chen, “Our study is the first to touch on this interesting topic.”

We would suggest that the ants’ Creator designed them to live in a wide variety of environments and built the tools into their genetics that would allow them to do that.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: britishecologicalsociety.org

How We Use Our Money

How We Use Our Money - $32-million To buy a T. rex fossil?

One of the interesting things going on in the world today is how we use our money. The sale of a T. rex fossil is one example. The skeleton of a massive dinosaur can bring huge profits to the owner. Recently a 13-foot tall Tyrannosaurus rex fossil known as “Stan” was sold at Christie’s Auction House for $32,000,000. Most of us would wonder why anyone would spend that kind of money on a fossil? Sarah Rose Sharp gave a possible answer in Hyperallergic.com:

“And honestly, can we find a more contemporary symbol than a tyrant king who stomps on all other living things with no regard for propriety, before witnessing the extinction of his species based on natural science beyond his control?”

Daily we see reports of leaders in politics, media, and technology raking in vast amounts of money no matter who gets hurt in the process. Jesus dealt with this mindset in His day. The parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-21 is a picture of what is happening today. We should heed His follow-up teaching in verses 22-34. The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21 tell us what we should hold as important. Luke 18:10-14 demonstrates the attitude we should have.

The sale of a dinosaur fossil for massive amounts of money is just one more illustration of how we use our money and where we place our priorities.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Purple Dye and the Bible

Purple Dye and the Bible

The November/December 2020, issue of Archaeology, the journal of the Archaeological Institute of America, carried an interesting article titled “The Price of Purple.” It tells about an archaeological site known as Tel Shikmonan in northern Israel, where there is a very long history of securing purple dye for coloring textiles.

Textiles colored with purple dye were listed along with precious metals in trade and tax records indicating prestige and royal status. In Jesus’ time, Roman high officials wore distinctive purple togas. In Mark 15:17, Jesus was clothed in purple when the Romans wanted to portray Him as king of the Jews. In Luke 16:19, the rich man in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus was clothed in purple to indicate his status.

In the New Testament, we read the story of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Paul had arrived in Philippi, which was a “chief city” of that part of Macedonia. There he met Lydia, who came from Thyatira, which was a city near Philippi. Lydia was a “seller of purple” (verse 14). Verse 15 tells us that she owned a house and other people lived in the house with her. Selling purple dye was a high scale business. A woman owning a home and having a household indicated wealth and prestige in the Roman culture. Verse 40 tells us that the Church was meeting in Lydia’s house.

Skeptics have attempted to deny this account, but excavation at Tel Shikmona has strongly supported the Bible. Tel Shikmona is located on the coast at the foot of Mount Carmel near the present-day port city of Haifa, Israel. The ocean is shallow and rocky at Tel Shikmona, and there are large populations of murex snails in those waters. Liquid extracted from the hypobranchial glands of murex sea snails formed the purple dye when treated with light or oxygen. The sea snails at Tel Shikmona can produce large quantities of the purple dye that stains textiles like no other known dye. People had ground up lapis lazuli, which we rock hounds know is a blue color, but it fades and was not as unique as the murex purple.

Joseph Elgavish excavated Tel Shikmona in the 1960s and found thousands of artifacts. Later excavations convinced archaeologists that this was an industrial site focused on the purple dye industry. Roman rulers starting with Julius Caesar (46-44 BC) and continuing through Nero (AD 54 – 68) had laws to fine anyone wearing murex purple without permission. So Lydia was indeed a special woman with connections and clout with people at the top of the social structure. These facts strongly support her ability to use her status to help Paul in his work at Philippi.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Embryonic Communication and What It Means

Embryonic Communication in Yellow-Legged Gull Eggs
Yellow-legged Gull Eggs

It is well understood that unborn human babies have a great awareness of conditions outside the womb during the last several months of their development. One question that remains unanswered is how much unborn babies understand about what is going on in the outside world. Is the awareness of the outside world present in all embryos, and is there such a thing as embryonic communication?

Researchers at Spain’s University of Vigo writing in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution have an interesting report on bird embryos. While inside their eggs, they seem to perceive signals from and generate signals to the outside world. The studies involve yellow-legged gulls receiving warning signals from adult birds. Not only do the unhatched birds receive the signals, but they produce strong egg vibrations transferring the information from the adult birds to other embryos. Scientists are still studying what the unhatched birds do with this information. It may relate to when the baby birds peck their way out of the egg.

Ecologist and co-author of the study, Jose Noguera, says he is confident that this phenomenon is present in other bird species. We suggest that it is likely to be true of other forms of life. Some species have synchronous births where many young are born at the same time to reduce the efficiency of predators. Could embryonic communication control that to some extent? Are human babies aware of a pending abortion, and if so, at what stage of the pregnancy?

There are many questions involved in this field of study, and they do have relevance to today’s moral issues.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: National Wildlife, June/July 2020, page 8.

Benefits of Honey and the Bible

Benefits of Honey and the Bible

The Bible refers to the benefits of honey. In the Old Testament, the ideal place to live was “the land of milk and honey.” Proverbs 24:13 finds Solomon telling his son, “You should eat honey because it is good.” John the Baptist’s diet consisted of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). It is important to note we are talking about natural, wild honey, not the processed honey with nutrients removed that you might find in your grocery store.

Skeptics will complain that honey is just sugar. Although it does have high sugar content in its 64 calories per tablespoon, wild honey is packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. The nutrients in the honey depend on where the bees gathered the nectar. The darker the color, the greater the antioxidant punch and benefits of honey. Dark honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal properties.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for the fall and winter of 2020 has the following facts about the uses of dark, wild honey:

  1. A spoonful of honey will ease a nighttime cough and is an excellent antihistamine.
  2. A spoonful of honey at bedtime will cause a rise in insulin, which triggers a release of serotonin, which is converted to melatonin, a chemical that regulates sleep.
  3. A 2001 study published by the European Journal of Medical Research revealed that a honey solution in warm water applied to itchy areas of the scalp will reduce itching and scaling. It can also reduce skin lesions and hair loss.
  4. A dressing of honey with hydrogen peroxide applied to burns, scrapes, and wounds speeds up healing.

One word of caution–the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents of children under the age of 12 months not to use honey on the child. Before their first birthday, their underdeveloped immune system cannot handle impurities that can get into the honey. 

The fact that ancient biblical characters ate honey, and even locusts, as a staple in their diet, is not a foolish error. We now know that eating some insects and honey can provide a very nutritious line of food. Only recently has modern science come to understand why the Bible references to the benefits of honey make sense.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Sponges, Skyscrapers, and Bridges

Sponges, Skyscrapers and Bridges
Venus’ Flower Basket Sponge

As we have said many times, examining design in the natural world can lead to solutions for human problems. We have mentioned that Velcro came about by studying burdock plant seeds. Spider webs have taught us how to make stronger fibers. Now there is a connection between sponges, skyscrapers, and bridges.

Researchers at Harvard University and the National Science Foundation have published the results of the study of a sponge called Venus’ Flower Basket (Euplectella aspergillum). It’s a deep water glass sponge that has a lot to teach engineers about building bridges and skyscrapers.

This sponge employs two sets of parallel diagonal skeletal struts that intersect and are fused to an underlying square grid creating a checkerboard-like pattern. Research shows that this design has a significantly higher strength-to-weight ratio than the traditional lattice designs used to construct buildings and bridges for centuries.

Matheus Fernandes, who is the first author of the research paper, says, “We found that the sponge’s diagonal reinforcement strategy achieves the highest buckling resistance for a given amount of material, which means we can build stronger and more resilient structures by rearranging existing material in the structure.”

These sponges have used this structure from the beginning of life on Earth. Peter Anderson, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Materials Research, says, “The structures of marine sponges inspire not only skyscrapers and bridges, but have the potential to accelerate the discovery and development of lightweight, porous materials with superior mechanical properties.”

Romans 1:20 speaks of being able to see God’s wisdom and design “from the creation of the world.” From burdocks and Velcro to sponges, skyscrapers, and bridges, wherever we look in nature, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: nsf.gov

Migrations and Winter Adaptations

Migrations and Winter Adaptations
Monarch Butterfly

There are many things about fall that make it an interesting time of year. It is not just the colors and the cool and pleasant temperatures that make fall special. We also see migrations and winter adaptations.

Bird migrations are amazing, with some species using unique wind patterns to make the journey across the Caribbean. Other birds that spend summers in our area, such as loons, congregate in groups in Florida in the winter.

The most amazing migrations, however, are the smaller forms of life. For example, green darner dragonflies spend the winter in Florida and the Caribbean, where they mate and produce offspring. When the average temperature warms to about 48 degrees F, these offspring fly 900 miles to the north, where they breed, lay eggs, and die. When the eggs hatch, they spend the summer in Canada or Michigan. In the fall, these third-generation individuals return to Florida flying some 900 miles (1500 km) or more over a route that they have never seen before.

When we consider migrations and winter adaptations, we can’t overlook monarch butterflies. They are the most amazing of these multi-generational migrants, with fourth-generation butterflies making a 3,000-mile (4,800 km) flight. There are also insects and amphibians with a blood protein that acts like antifreeze, allowing them to be frozen solid without damaging their cells.

There seems to be no limit to the way animals can adapt to winter, and sometimes these adaptations change. In our area, Canada geese used to all migrate to southern latitudes to spend the winter. With the advent of power plants that keep some rivers and lakes free of ice, that has changed. A sizable population of Canada geese remains in our area of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all winter long. We have had as many as 200 geese crowding open water near a power plant in the St. Joseph River during the coldest days of winter. That didn’t happen in 1959 when I moved to this area.

These patterns of migration and winter adaptations are difficult to explain as accidental. It would seem that the animals have had a designed genetic program to allow them to survive. The design is fascinating, and the Designer is even more amazing. We praise God as we watch the magic of migrations and winter adaptations.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from “On Nature” by Sheryl Myers, The Herald Bulletin, October 3, 2020 page B3.