Food Sources God Has Given Us

Food Sources God Has Given Us
Nature’s Fynd Dairy-Free Cream Cheese made from Fusarium flavolapis

One of the significant challenges today is controlling the collateral damage from growing enough food for our world’s population. This issue is especially true with livestock which create a large carbon footprint and require two-thirds of land devoted to agriculture in the United States. That includes the land dedicated to raising feed for the livestock, which requires massive amounts of water and creates water contamination by polluted runoff and soil erosion. We need to make better use of the food sources God has given us.

A National Science Foundation research program in Yellowstone National Park led to the discovery of a fungus named Fusarium flavolapis, which has amazing abilities. It can ferment sugar to produce a protein that mimics the taste and texture of meat and dairy products. A company called Nature’s Fynd is already making meatless breakfast patties and dairy-free cream cheese and marketing it in California, New York City, and Chicago. They grow this product in trays without soil or sunlight using just sugar, water, and nutrients.

Another food of the future is mycelium, which is the root structure of mushrooms. It grows incredibly fast and has fibers that mimic chicken or steak. A startup company called Meati Foods is now growing enough mycelium in a small facility to equal the meat of a cow in about four days. They are building a much larger plant in Colorado, with expected production to start there in 2022.

Imagine a future where we can grow food in controlled conditions inside a building and where there is no need for massive amounts of water or large areas of land. Also, pesticides or herbicides would not be needed. As a result, hunger could be eliminated from planet Earth, and there would be no shortage of water or release of greenhouse gases.

These products are not a fantasy but another case where humans are finally using food sources God has given us. Fusarium flavolapis grows in hot water springs in the natural world. Growing mushrooms produce mycelium. The big issue is getting people to accept these products in their diet, replacing the ones they have been accustomed to.

–John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation website

The Question of Euthanasia

The Question of Euthanasia

Technological advances bring new issues for society to face. Near the top of the list is the question of euthanasia. Medical advances now allow people to live a very long time with health issues that would have resulted in early death in the past.

On January 7, 2022, Victor Escobar became the first person in Colombia without a terminal illness to legally end his life by injection. The country removed the penalty for euthanasia in 1997, but only for people considered to have less than six months to live. In Escobar’s case, he had several physical problems, including two strokes, obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes, and pain. However, he was not considered terminal by the medical profession.

Escobar’s case was the first in Latin America, and it got attention because the Catholic Church issued a statement. The church said that “any action or omission with the intention of provoking death to overcome pain constitutes homicide.”

The question of euthanasia is fundamental to Christians. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, we read that the body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 make it clear that the body has a special relationship to God’s Spirit. The other issue involved in euthanasia is what constitutes justification for killing a person. Is mental or spiritual pain a valid justification? There is a “slippery slope” concern in euthanasia where a correctable or temporary mental problem can be used to justify taking a life.

Many states in the U.S. have legalized so-called “death with dignity,” and organizations are working to make it nationwide. Several other countries have enacted such laws, and in a few cases, a physician has euthanized a patient without their permission.

While we can understand Escobar’s situation and the growing push to make euthanasia an accepted part of life’s journey, human life is not the same as animal life. Euthanizing a dog is not the same as killing a human. I have known Christians with chronic conditions who used their pain to minister to others, heal old emotional wounds, bring peace, and correct previous mistakes.

Rather than treating humans as highly evolved animals with no more value than a frog, we need to work to relieve all pain. The same technology that allows people to live despite a chronic illness should also be able to ease the pain caused by the condition. In addition, we can provide alternatives to ending life by caring for all people on their spiritual journey. The question of euthanasia should lead us toward allowing God to determine when the end of life should be.

— John N. Clayton © 2022


The Whole Earth Sings

The Whole Earth Sings, even mountains like the Matterhorn.
The Matterhorn

One of the fun units in physics is the study of vibrations and resonance. A simple demonstration of sympathetic vibration is an apparatus that consists of a tuning fork mounted on a wooden box. If you place near it a second box with a tuning fork of the same frequency, you can hear the effect called “resonance” or “sympathetic vibration.” Striking the tuning fork on one box will cause the tuning fork on the second box to start “singing” without being touched. A second tuning fork with a different vibration frequency will not respond. The amazing thing is that the whole earth sings.

When building a guitar or violin, a craftsman has to be very careful not to allow any part of the instrument’s box to naturally vibrate at the same frequency as the strings. If it does, that frequency will be louder than all other frequencies, and the sound will be distorted.

This effect is not confined to tuning forks and musical instruments. Resonance is all around us and in us. For example, your inner ear has hairs of varying lengths and thicknesses, resulting in specific vibration frequencies. If a sound at that frequency reaches your ear, the hair will vibrate and signal the brain to identify the pitch. Not having some of those hairs produces tone-deafness.

Taking a fine glass goblet and running a moistened finger around the edge will produce a tone at a specific frequency. That is the natural frequency of the goblet. You can produce a sound at the resonant frequency of a glass that will cause it to shatter, but probably not with any human voice.

Amazingly, researchers have found that everything in the natural world has a resonant frequency. For example, recent research on the Matterhorn near Zermatt, Switzerland, shows that it vibrates with a resonant frequency. The mountain actually vibrates about once every two seconds (.42 cycles per second.). Our ears hear sound frequencies between about 20 and 20,000 cycles per second, so we need instruments to detect the Matterhorn’s frequency.

You could say that the whole earth sings. Interestingly, the Bible refers to mountains, and even stars, singing. (See Isaiah 44:23, 49:13 and Job 38:7). Isaiah and Job certainly didn’t understand their statements to refer to mountain resonance. However, our understanding of what happens in nature gives new meaning to this poetry describing how the whole earth sings praise to God.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation research report for January 19, 2022

Tiny Frogs and Large Tarantulas

Tiny Frogs and Large Tarantulas
Columbian lesserblack tarantula

Researchers constantly find things in the natural world that show special arrangements, allowing life to exist. For example, tiny frogs called dotted humming frogs (Chiasmocleis ventrimaculata) share a home with large tarantulas in a mutualistic relationship.

Large tarantulas eat frogs, but these tiny frogs have toxins in their skin that make them unpalatable to the tarantulas. Scientists studying this arrangement have seen young spiders pick up a dotted humming frog, taste it, and then quickly put it back down. However, these frogs have a symbiotic relationship with large tarantulas known as Columbian lesserblacks (Xenesthis immanis). The tarantulas share their burrows with the frogs. As a result, the spider protects the frog and its eggs from predators, while the frog protects the spider’s eggs from ants and other insects by eating them.

As biologists study the natural world, they find many cases where an animal lives in a symbiotic relationship with another animal or plant. For example, having a burrow to shield from exposure to the Sun and large tarantulas as bodyguards for protection from predators is an ideal situation for the tiny frogs and an example of the wisdom and design built into the natural world.

Life that endures requires thinking and planning, and everywhere we look, we see wisdom at work, allowing our planet to teem with living things. Proverbs 8 finds Wisdom challenging us to understand: “Does not wisdom cry out and understanding put forth her voice? … Unto you O men I call… Oh, you simple ones, understand wisdom, and you foolish ones have an understanding heart…” We can learn from the animals as we find ways to protect our food supply rather than saturating our world with toxic chemicals.

— John N. Clayton 2022

References: Popular Science Newsletter (January 19, 2022) and Wikipedia

Hudsonian Godwit Migrations

Hudsonian Godwit

One of the great mysteries of the natural world is the way various shorebirds make their incredible migrations. One of the most studied shorebirds gets part of its name from Canada’s Hudson Bay, where it was first identified. The second part of its name comes from its two-syllable cry of “god-wiiit.” The Hudsonian godwit (Limosa haemastica) is a bird with remarkable migrations.

Hudsonian godwits lay their eggs in Alaska and northern Canada in the spring. Then, in June or July, they leave their hatchlings to fly 4000 miles to the northern Amazon. After that, they make another 2000 mile flight to Chiloé Island off the coast of Chile. Then, the following spring, they fly 6000 miles from Chile to the northern areas where they lay their eggs and repeat the cycle. 

A mystery is how the young Hudsonian godwits make their journey without adult instruction about where to go. Since these birds live ten to twelve years, they will make the journey as many as 24 times. Hudsonian godwits weigh less than an ounce when they hatch, but in a couple of hours, they are running around catching mosquitoes and flies. Then, before starting their journey south, they bulk themselves up to more than 12 times their original weight. 

Another mystery about the birds is their anatomical preparation for the flights. A typical Hudsonian godwit will have blood sugar concentrations that would be in the diabetic range for humans. Before their migration, the birds’ pectoral muscles double or triple in size, as do their hearts and lungs. To balance this increase, their gizzards, livers, and kidneys shrink. When they arrive at their destination, all of their organs readjust to the normal range. 

As the birds fly their long journeys, one side of their brain will sleep while the other side stays awake and alert, and later the sides will switch. It is called uni-hemispheric slow-wave sleep, and it allows them to fly day and night. In addition, their respiratory systems are highly efficient, allowing flight at high altitudes with less oxygen. That is essential since they fly over the Andes Mountains. 

Also mysterious is the ability of Hudsonian godwits to navigate their journey. Researchers say the birds know and understand weather systems, including wind and rain. They navigate with their vision using stars and landforms, and even smells seem to guide them. But that still does not explain it all. They also sense Earth’s magnetism, but scientists are not sure how. One hypothesis is that their vision is linked to Earth’s magnetic lines of force by “quantum entanglement,” a phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” 

The journey of Hudsonian godwits allows them to secure food at random locations, and their diet of mosquitoes, insects, and worms benefits the environment as much as the birds. The design of Hudsonian godwits speaks of wisdom, planning, and highly sophisticated applications of physics. It would seem that understanding these birds should inspire wonder in a thinking person about the source of such abilities. Truly “we can know there is a God through the things He has made (Romans 1:20.) 

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “The Wonder Bird” in Smithsonian magazine January/February 2022.

Biological Pest Control and Valencia Oranges

Biological Pest Control and Oranges

There are huge concerns about the use of chemicals in controlling agricultural pests that destroy crops. Nearly every crop you can think of has a worm, fungus, or bug that eats it and can wipe out a significant food source for humans. Since World War II, this problem is usually addressed by using chemicals to kill the offending pest. The problem is the collateral damage of agricultural chemicals, and the solution is biological pest control which actually predates industrial pesticides.

We know now that many of these chemicals cause cancer in human beings. We have also seen the terrible effects of chemicals on wildlife. In past years, the use of DDT on various crops resulted in the death of massive numbers of birds. Fish populations in fresh and seawater have been decimated by runoff from fields sprayed with pesticides. The real tragedy is that the use of chemicals is almost unnecessary. God has provided solutions to the problem of agricultural pests, but humans refuse or neglect to use those solutions.

More than a century ago, the first instance of modern biological pest control was the decimation of citrus groves by a bug named Icerya. The Icerya probably came to America from their native Australia by hitchhiking with careless travelers. In California, some 600,000 orange trees produced Valencia oranges in 1890 until Iceryas invaded and decimated them, reducing orange production by 80%.

Growers tried every method they could think of, including spraying the remaining trees with chemicals, setting off explosions, and burning infected trees. Finally, entomologists went to Australia and discovered a ladybug known as Novius that eats Icerya. When growers released the ladybugs in the California citrus groves, they wiped out the Icerya and rescued the American orange crop.

Citrus growers still depend on Novius ladybugs and pay up to a dollar per ladybug when they have Icerya infestations in their trees. God’s natural biological pest control works with no cancer risk and minimum cost. Unfortunately, human impatience with God’s answers has caused cancer, pollution, and enormous environmental damage.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Smithsonian magazine January/February 2022 pages 22 – 25.

Electron Orbitals of Oxygen and Nitrogen

Ice Covered Lake and Electron Orbitals of Oxygen and Nitrogen
Ice floats because it is lighter than water, and that is because of electron orbits.

Last week (January 13-15), we talked about the electron structures of oxygen and nitrogen and the importance of those elements for life. One additional design feature is the electron orbitals of oxygen and nitrogen, which is the shape of the electron paths around the nucleus.

Electrons do not revolve around the nucleus in simple circles but rather in geometric paths. For example, the oxygen atom has two electrons that orbit the nucleus in a circular pattern. A little further out and at a higher energy level, two more electrons move in a circular path. Oxygen has eight electrons, and the four electrons in the last energy shell, the valence shell, have a different orbital.

In the third energy level, the orbitals of the four electrons have figure-eight paths at right angles to each other. This figure-eight pattern has two electrons isolated from the other two and each at right angles to the other. That arrangement enables the oxygen atom to form an essential polar molecule.

When an oxygen atom combines with two hydrogen atoms by covalent bonding, they form a molecule of water, H2O. The water molecule has the two hydrogen atoms positioned at one end, making it positive, while the other end of the water molecule is negative. This polar structure gives water its unique properties. For example, water expands as it freezes, causing ice to be lighter than the liquid form. Because of that, ice floats on the surface of a lake instead of sinking to the bottom and freezing the entire lake, killing all marine life. The polar nature of water also allows it to dissolve minerals.

With its seven electrons, nitrogen has five valence electrons moving at right angles to each other, allowing it to form critical organic compounds. For example, nitrogen bonds covalently with three hydrogen atoms to form ammonia which has properties very different from water. Nitrogen’s ability to form three bonds makes possible the structure of the DNA in our cells.

This very simplified description of the atomic design of chemistry gives a small glimpse of the wisdom of design God put into the electron orbitals of oxygen and nitrogen. The Master Chemist designed the structures of atoms to allow life to exist in an incredible number of forms and thrive in a wide range of environments.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Oxygen and Nitrogen Levels in the Atmosphere

Oxygen and Nitrogen Levels in the Atmosphere

Oxygen and nitrogen are two of a handful of elemental superstars of life. Without them, life would not be possible. In some ways, these two elements are very similar, but they are also very different.

Oxygen and nitrogen atoms differ in only one proton and one electron. In chemical reactions, the important subatomic particle is the electron, and oxygen has eight while nitrogen has seven. In the last two days, we talked about the difference that one electron makes. Oxygen and nitrogen make up about 99% of our atmosphere, with nitrogen composing nearly three-quarters of our air. So why is nitrogen’s percentage so high compared to oxygen?

As we said previously, the triple bond of a nitrogen molecule requires more than twice as much energy to break as the double bond of an oxygen molecule. The oxygen bond can be broken to allow combustion oxidation and energize our bodies. On the other hand, the nitrogen bond is not easy to break, but plants require nitrogen for photosynthesis and growth. What is the solution?

Lightning breaks the nitrogen bond allowing rain to wash nitrogen to the ground. Plants such as beans, peas, and alfalfa, which we call legumes, have microorganisms on their roots that extract nitrogen from the air. That enriches the soil with nitrogen while providing for the legumes. More than a century ago, scientists found a way to extract nitrogen from the air to produce ammonia. That process enabled fertilizer production, which today allows farmers to produce enough food for the world’s population.

It is not easy to break the nitrogen bond so it can combine with other elements, but with 78% of the atmosphere being nitrogen, there is no shortage. So why is our atmosphere mostly nitrogen? Since it is only about 21% oxygen, wouldn’t it be better to have more oxygen so we could breathe easier? The answer is that nitrogen stability is essential for our safety. Wildfires have been a significant problem in recent years. If the atmosphere consisted of a very high percentage of oxygen, fires would be more common and dangerous. If the atmosphere consisted of 100% oxygen, all it would take is one lightning strike to set the whole planet on fire.

Remarkably, we have the correct percentage of elements in our atmosphere. We have the right amount of oxygen to allow respiration to power our bodies and combustion to power our vehicles and industry and heat our homes. At the same time, we have the right amount of nitrogen to prevent uncontrolled combustion leading to the destruction of life. We have just a small amount of carbon dioxide, which plants need for photosynthesis. Plants use CO2 and generate oxygen to keep the gases in balance. The balance is amazingly precise as long as humans don’t generate enough carbon dioxide to mess it up.

During the dinosaur age, the oxygen level was higher, on the order of around one-third of the atmosphere. That allowed the enormous animals to prepare the Earth for humans. Now we have the precise balance to sustain human life and advanced society. The question is, did the features of oxygen and nitrogen and the balance between them happen by accident, or was it part of an intelligent plan? We think the best explanation is that an intelligent Planner of life created it.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

One-Electron Difference Between Oxygen and Nitrogen

One-Electron Difference Between Oxygen and Nitrogen

How does a one-electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen allow life to exist on our planet? Why does the correct mix between those two elements in our atmosphere make it possible for us to be here?

Yesterday, we talked about covalent bonding in oxygen and nitrogen. We said that an oxygen atom needs to share two electrons with another oxygen atom to make a stable oxygen molecule. However, nitrogen needs to share three electrons with another nitrogen atom to complete the valence shell and create stability. So how can a single electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen be a big deal?

For oxygen or nitrogen to combine with other elements to form new compounds essential for life, the covalent bond between them must be broken. It takes about double the energy to break the triple bond between two nitrogen atoms as to break the double bond between two oxygen atoms. That means oxygen can be released to form other compounds much more easily.

What does it take to break the oxygen bond and combine it with another element?
Apply some heat to combustible material, and you will find out. You will get fire, which is a chemical reaction involving rapid oxidation of the burning material. Much slower oxidation occurs when oxygen in your blood combines with nutrients in your body, giving you energy and generating body heat. Another slow form of oxidation is when iron combines with oxygen to form iron oxide, or rust.

If it were not possible to release oxygen from its molecular bond with relative ease, we would not have combustion to heat our homes, run our vehicles, or energize our bodies. Life would not be possible. However, nitrogen bonds are much harder to break, and nitrogen is also essential for life. Tomorrow we will look at how the one-electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen enables life on planet Earth.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

The Atmosphere Is Fine-Tuned for Life

The Atmosphere Is Fine-Tuned for Life

Nitrogen and oxygen together make up about 99% of the air we breathe. The vast majority of our atmosphere is nitrogen. Oxygen is ten times as abundant as nitrogen in the universe, but it makes up only about 21 percent of our atmosphere. So, the less common element is the most abundant in our atmosphere. What does that mean to us? The bottom line is that the atmosphere is fine-tuned for life. Let’s examine that more carefully.

An atom of oxygen and an atom of nitrogen differ by only one proton and one electron. That may not seem like much, but it makes a world of difference. Both of those elements form diatomic molecules, meaning that two atoms bond together to make one molecule of oxygen or nitrogen.

Covalent bonding is the chemical bonding of atoms by equal sharing of electrons. That bond gives atoms stability in their outer, or valence, electron shells. Atomic stability requires eight valence electrons. The only elements with that number are the so-called “noble gases”–helium, neon, argon, krypton, and radon. For that reason, they are inert, refusing to combine with other elements. All other elements need electrons to complete the octet in their valence shells.

An oxygen atom has six electrons in its valence shell, so it needs to share two electrons to become stable. When an oxygen atom shares two electrons with another oxygen atom, they both become stable. Nitrogen, on the other hand, has only five valence electrons. Therefore, by forming a covalent bond with another nitrogen atom, sharing three electrons, both atoms complete their outer shell. In this way, our atmosphere is made up of stable diatomic oxygen and nitrogen molecules.

However, not all molecules are equally stable. That is where we see the atmosphere is fine-tuned for life. For example, oxygen molecules have a double bond sharing two electrons, but nitrogen atoms have a triple bond sharing three electrons for more stability. That difference may seem insignificant, but it is essential to make life possible. Come back tomorrow when we will explain what a difference it makes.

— Roland Earnst © 2022