A Grass Called Wheat and the Bread of Life

A Grass Called Wheat and the Bread of Life

The cultivation of a grass called wheat (Triticum aestivum) reaches far back into history. That grass became one of the first domesticated food crops and has been a primary staple food for people ever since. Today, wheat is grown on more land area than any other commercial crop and continues to be an essential food grain source for people. As a result, world trade in wheat is higher than for all other crops combined.

Although small, a wheat kernel has three main parts that enable it to feed the world. The source of white flour comes from the endosperm, which makes up about 83% of the kernel. Bran is the outer coat of the kernel, making up about 14%, and provides an excellent source of fiber. The smallest part of the kernel is the germ. It makes up only about 2.5% of the kernel and stores the embryo. People who mill flour separate the germ from other parts of the wheat kernel because it contains fat that limits flour’s shelf-life.

The endosperm of the wheat kernel contains a protein called gluten. It allows bread dough to rise by trapping minute bubbles of carbon dioxide when fermentation occurs in the leavened dough. Unfortunately, a small segment of the world’s population has to avoid eating gluten because of gluten sensitivity or a more serious autoimmune disorder known as coeliac disease. However, wheat is the most nourishing of the cereal grains, containing vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fats to make a highly nutritious combination.

The grass called wheat is mentioned many times in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus referred to wheat in His parables and used it to illustrate principles in other ways. For example, people use wheat to make bread, and Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life. For thousands of years, wheat has been a vital part of the human diet, and the need for it only becomes greater as the population grows. Likewise, people worldwide need Jesus, the Bread of Life, who can teach us how to live in peace, give us meaning and purpose in life, and bring us into a relationship with God.

— Roland Earnst © 2023

Mangroves Are Essential for Many Reasons

Mangroves Are Essential for Many Reasons
Mangrove Forest

We have mentioned before the value of mangroves and barrier islands for protecting areas prone to hurricanes. Mangroves are essential for many reasons, including solving today’s freshwater and climate change issues.

Mangroves grow in brackish waters that are a mixture of saltwater and fresh. For that reason, they grow in delta areas where rivers enter the sea or in coastal areas with massive amounts of rain. Mangroves can filter out 90% of the salt in seawater that enters their roots, and the mangrove root systems provide a place where marine organisms lay eggs and raise their young. Recent research has shown that mangrove forests store up to five times more carbon than any other land-based forests, storing 87% of that carbon in the soil beneath their roots.

Mangroves are essential for many reasons. They stop shore erosion, sequester carbon, provide a barrier to storm surges, and make a place for marine organisms to lay eggs and raise their young. They also offer a home in coastal areas for bees to build their hives and birds to build their nests. As a result, the honey industry gets much of its wild honey from mangrove forests. In addition, bird watchers have identified many bird species that depend on mangroves for secure nesting areas.

God gave us all kinds of plants to provide for our needs. From the desert cactus to the evergreens in cold weather areas to the seaweed in the oceans to the land trees we use for wood, plants are essential creations of God. Unfortunately, research shows that humans have eradicated 50% of the mangroves in the last 50 years, and we will pay a heavy price for the loss. We must learn to use these incredible resources wisely.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “Family Trees” in World Wildlife magazine winter 2022

Global Biomass and Human Responsibility

Global Biomass and Human Responsibility

You may be surprised to know that the total biomass of bacteria in the ground is 1000 times more than the mass of humans. Mass is the total number of molecules present, and we usually measure it by weight, which is the pull of gravity on the molecules. For example, the mass of living things in the ocean equals 100 times the mass of all humans on planet Earth. In other words, if you totaled the quantity of matter in whales, fish, corals, clams, etc., you would have 100 times more molecules than in all living humans. If you counted the number of individual life forms in the oceans, the ratio would be even greater than 100-to-one, but that is quantity, and we are talking about global biomass.

Not only is the mass of underground bacteria greater than that of humans, but even worms have three times our mass. Even more surprising, the mass of viruses on Earth exceeds human mass by more than three times, and the global biomass of all bacteria is more than 1100 times that of all humans. There are some important messages in these numbers. One is that we must understand that we can’t eliminate viruses or bacteria in the world. Furthermore, we wouldn’t want to. Bacteria and viruses are essential in sustaining all other forms of life.

Another thing we need to consider is that humans keep (as livestock, poultry, and pets) a third of all mammal biomass on the planet and two-thirds of all bird mass. In Genesis 1:28, God gave humans the responsibility of managing all living things. We are now beginning to understand the importance of the conservation and management of life on our planet.

The global biomass of plants is another area where we have had a poor understanding. The mass of all plants is 7500 times greater than human mass, and like bacteria and viruses, plants are essential to life on our planet. Human destruction of forests worldwide and the replacement of vegetation with concrete are major factors in pollution and climate change.

The Genesis account says, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth, and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:29-30). Earth’s design is no accident. The role of plants, bacteria, worms, viruses, and all life is a product of an infinitely intelligent and understanding mind.

The dictionary definition of “science” is “knowledge,” and it can never conflict with the mind that created all we see and are. When God challenges us to consider the wisdom in the creation, the human response is like Job’s, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). We know a lot more than Job did, but, like him, there is much we don’t know.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “The Biomass Distribution on Earth” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) May 21, 2018

Orphan Crops to Provide Food

Orphan Crops to Provide Food - Groundcherries
Groundcherry Open

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), more than 34 million people in the United States do not have enough food to eat. The NSF is funding research into orphan crops to provide food.

The groundcherry is a member of the nightshade family of flowering plants that includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers. Although its relatives are important crop plants, groundcherries are called “orphan crops” because they grow wild and have no agricultural value. Groundcherries are common all over America, are easy to grow, and can be modified genetically. They have a papery, balloon-like husk or inflated calyx surrounding the berries.

Using the CRISPR genome editing tool, researchers funded by the NSF are working to modify groundcherries and other orphan crops to provide food. Zachary Lippman and Jia He of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory feel that the groundcherry has a significant untapped potential to make it useful as a food for humans. They hope their research will lead to new food sources from various plants to build and advance a bioeconomy that will eliminate hunger on our planet.

Understanding the design of a plant that might have been considered unusable or even toxic in the past can lead to a new food source. In the distant past, people thought tomatoes to be toxic. We may find ways to use other orphan crops to provide food. Many familiar plants may have the potential to strengthen food supplies.

God gave us plants to directly or indirectly provide food for all of us. However, we have much to learn about God’s design in the plant kingdom, and we have only scratched the surface.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: National Science Foundation Research News for November 30, 2022.

Survival Requires Change

Survival Requires Change - Giant Panda

We are entering an interesting time of change for living plants and animals on planet Earth. We are in a period of rapid climate change, and for many living things, survival requires change. However, for some life forms, this is not an issue. For example, omnivores, animals that eat a wide variety of foods, can change their diet to whatever is available. For example, bears in Alaska eat salmon, but if that is not available, they eat insects, nuts, plants, rodents, and marine shore life such as clams.

For other animals, the situation is much more complicated. For example, giant pandas rely on bamboo for food. Not only is their digestive system designed to eat only bamboo, but even their hands and fingers are designed to modify the bamboo so they can eat it. Polar bears rely on ice flows to get the seals that make up most of their diet. With much of the ice in polar areas melting, the bears cannot secure food, and starvation threatens many of them.

Survival requires change, and for some animals, that means migrating to a different place where they can find their dietary needs. As the oceans warm, cold-water fish migrate to northern areas. Some corals are establishing new colonies in different places as conditions where they have lived for centuries no longer meet their needs. On the other hand, animals with specialized equipment, such as pandas, will face extinction. Humans can step in with temporary solutions, but eventually, some forms of life will cease to exist. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

The fossil record shows us that survival requires change. A significant change in the climate caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, that eventually provided a climate and atmosphere where humans and the animals we depend on could thrive. Asteroid material did not directly destroy the dinosaurs, but the asteroid collision changed the climate. That change produced an environment in which dinosaurs could not survive, but it led to the formation of a climate ideal for humans.

Genesis 1:2 is an interesting passage. A possible translation of the verse is, “And the earth became wasted and emptied, and darkness was upon the face of the deep place.” That would indicate a change in Earth’s condition. God has used such changes to accomplish His will. The flood of Noah was not primarily an environmental act but a response by God to the sinfulness of humans at that time. Climatic change is another tool God has used in the past. In geologic time, there have been periods of hot and cold, and survival requires change. The current change in Earth’s climate is not solely caused by humans. We may contribute to the process, but humans are not the sole cause.

God’s creative processes don’t involve “magic tricks.” Instead, God uses natural methods to shape and mold planet Earth. Some animals, such as dinosaurs, have played essential roles in contributing to the resources that humans would need. When they had completed their mission, a change brought about their extinction. The Bible doesn’t tell us how God did what He did, but the more we study the creation, the more we understand some of His processes. Climate change has been one of them and may be so again.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

The Appearance of Design

The Appearance of Design
In the final days of 2022, we are looking back at some of the major topics we have previously covered.

Look around, and you will see amazing things in the natural world that give the appearance of design. Atheist evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has said that biology is the study of things that give the appearance of having been designed. But, of course, he does not believe they were designed because he does not believe in a designer. Is he correct, or is there a better explanation for the appearance of design? Here are some links to past articles in which we have dealt with that topic:

Those are just a few of the past articles on design that show evidence for a Designer. We believe that God has given us two revelations of Himself. One is His creation, and the other is His written word. The authority of the Bible is another subject we have dealt with often. Tomorrow, we will share some links from past articles on that topic.

Slime in the Natural World

Slime in the Natural World and Slime as a Toy
Slime as a Toy

If you are around kids, you may be familiar with a toy called slime. The slime toy is a messy, oozy material that is sticky but doesn’t leave residue on your fingers. It’s slippery but has a texture that allows kids to mold it into various shapes. However, slime is more than a toy. We see different forms of slime in the natural world.

The slugs in your garden and most mollusks use slime, and the nasal mucus of a variety of animals is slime. The idea for the toy that kids love to play with originated from observing slime in the natural world. Slugs use mucus slime to lubricate their path and to stick to walls. Mollusks use slime in several ways, including making pearls. Natural slime is a highly designed material that allows animals and humans to function.

The saliva that keeps your mouth wet is one form of slime, but other forms of slime or mucus produced by your body are essential for survival. Slime in the form of mucus lubricates your esophagus so that food can go down your throat. The slime that lines your stomach protects it from acids. Slime in the natural world contains proteins called mucins. Chemists have found that animals produce mucins by adding a designed chain of amino acids to an existing protein, making it much longer.

A study into the chemistry of slime in the natural world has found some potential new uses for this material. For example, Omer Gokcumen, director of the study at the University of Buffalo, says that it may lead to new ways to treat cancer and other illnesses in the mouth and throat.

God is an incredible chemist. We see unique forms of chemistry in our bodies and the biological world around us. Gokcumen’s work focused on saliva, our first defense against pathogens, allowing us to eat various foods. Food chemistry is highly complex, and understanding how the body can handle new forms of food is becoming increasingly important. Around the world, people eat very different things than what we find in the typical American diet. Thanks to God’s design, the chemistry of slime makes it possible to feed every human on the planet.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation Research Reports for December 2022.

Tale of The Lonesome Pine

Tale of The Lonesome Pine

Don Betts is at it again as he gives us the Tale of the Lonesome Pine.
As usual, it reflects God’s design in living things.

The tall pine lived for ages, reaching for the sky,
But as time turned the pages, it was destined to die.
Green needles are long gone, no whistling in the wind.
Bark missing here and there, declaring a final end.
The role of the tree, though its beauty is diminished,
Has time yet to see its usefulness unfinished.
Standing upright still, in a mode of decay
It serves as host to others, nature’s facets on display.
Just one observation that I’ve made recently.
Was a reservation made for a home up in that tree?
A pileated woodpecker with a mind for finding grubs
Loosened rotting bark, revealing all kinds of bugs.
The staccato of its pecking and call so clamorous
Reached a pair of feathered cousins; (amorous).
The Red Bellies pecked, and a hole was soon begun.
A western orientation had them toiling in the sun.
Working with elation, they gave it their best,
And a few days later, they prepared a nest.
Falling moss, bark, and twigs evidence the continuum.
How long will they enjoy their pine tree condominium?
A final effort to be useful will find it lying inert
Still a home for worms, God’s way of turning it to dirt.

© Don Betts ~ August 4, 2022

Observing Fibonacci Day

Observing Fibonacci Day

Humans look for ways to celebrate certain days. We laugh at Groundhog Day and use Valentine’s Day for special human relationships. Some days have extensive significance, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Veteran’s Day. We are now observing Fibonacci Day on November 23. Fibonacci Day is an unusual celebration of a remarkable mathematical sequence.

Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who noticed in the year 1202 some interesting oddities about a particular sequence of numbers: 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55, 89,144, 233. Notice that when you add any two sequential numbers, you get the next number. For example 5 + 8 = 13; 8 + 13 = 21; etc. If you divide two sequential numbers, you get .618034, which some mathematicians have called the “golden mean.”

Applying this Fibonacci sequence to architecture, you get a practical application. A rectangle using any two sequential numbers is aesthetically pleasing to human eyes. If you cut a square off any of these rectangles, you get another rectangle with the Fibonacci sequence. If you connect the corners of the squares in a series of Fibonacci rectangles, you get a spiral (see sketch).

An amazing thing about this is that there are an unlimited number of examples of Fibonacci spirals in the natural world. A small sampling includes:
*The spiral arms of galaxies curl in a Fibonacci spiral.
*The curl of a wave in the ocean fits the Fibonacci spiral.
*The snail shells curl in a Fibonacci curve.
*Elephant tusks curve in a Fibonacci spiral.
*The roots of human teeth curve in a Fibonacci spiral.
*Spider webs fit the Fibonacci spiral
*Keys on the piano are 5 black and 8 white, 13 in all, fitting the ratio.

*Musical chords producing pleasing sounds have the Fibonacci ratio.
*Bacteria growth curves fit the Fibonacci ratio.

There is no natural or evolutionary reason for the Fibonacci sequence. Notice it isn’t just in one discipline but in widely separated areas of study.

The Fibonacci Association publishes a magazine called the Fibonacci Quarterly, and people have written several books about the Fibonacci ratio. If you are observing Fibonacci Day, realize that this demonstrates God’s design in the creation. Chance does not produce a pattern across multiple disciplines like this.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

For more on this, go to DoesGodExist.tv and watch program number 5.

Designing a Planet to Support Life

Designing a Planet to Support Life
Agarwood (Aquilaria sinensis )

An interesting electronic game is one where you have access to a reservoir of materials to design a life-sustaining planet. Once you choose your materials and processes, the game computes how long life could survive on your planet. All the choices end up sterile, but the player with the longest survival time is the winner. Unfortunately, the limited number of variables causes all the options to eventually result in a lifeless globe because designing a planet to support life is a complex process. 

As scientists examine systems that support life on Earth, they find multiple complex systems with some surprising agents that allow life to exist over the long haul. For example, we have written before about how many bird and mammal species spread seeds. Also, ants spread the seeds of more than 11,000 plant species. Without ants, the existence and abundance of many plant species could be impossible. A recent study has shown that other insects also spread seeds, allowing the enormous number of plant species on Earth. 

Most plants have a compound called “herbivore induced plant volatiles” (HIPVs for short). A plant releases these HIPVs when caterpillars start eating its leaves. The HIPVs attract hungry predators that eat caterpillars. A recent study showed that agarwood (Aquilaria sinensis ), which is native to China, depends on hornets to spread its seeds.

Agarwood fruit produces HIPVs even though it is not assaulted by caterpillars. The agarwood HIPVs attract hornets which rush to capture the plant’s seeds. The hornets carry the seeds to their nests, where they eat the fleshy nutrient-rich structures called elaiosomes attached to the seeds. The hornets discard the seeds on the ground near their shaded nests. The seeds would dry out and die in the sun, but they germinate to produce new agarwood plants in the shade.

The Chinese people use agarwood for various purposes. However, the plant is listed as “vulnerable” because of habitat loss and the fact that local people eat the hornet larvae. Designing a planet to support life is a complex and challenging goal only God can do. Unfortunately, humans lack the wisdom to protect the life-sustaining system God has created for us.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Helpful HornetsScientific American, October 2022, page 18.