Bacteria Working Together

Bacteria Working Together

Bacteria are single-cell microorganisms that we do not think of as having social behavior. However, scientists are studying Myxococcus xanthus bacteria working together. They are rod-shaped bacteria that live in the soil and organize into structures of thousands of cells to hunt food or to survive when food is not available.

Myxococcus xanthus bacteria are predators that eat other microbes. When they organize into 3-D structures, they can be visible to the naked eye. In this complex form, they swarm toward their prey in a single mass of bacteria working together in “ripples.” You can see them on the left side of the picture.

To capture their food, the swarms of Myxococcus xanthus microbes secrete enzymes that kill and digest the prey and then take in their nutrients. These predator bacteria hunt together because individually they can’t produce enough of the antibiotics to kill the prey, but together they are deadly to other microbes.

When there is a food shortage, scientists still find these bacteria working together to survive. They form a structure called “fruiting bodies” as pictured on the right. In that form, they can survive for years if necessary. As single cells, they would not survive.

Studying how these microbes work can help scientists design new antibiotics or pest-resistant seeds for agriculture. Myxococcus xanthus rods are alive and can crawl, so their movement applies the laws of physics and the biological laws that govern living things. Studying these bacteria may help materials scientists gain new ideas for constructing liquid crystal display screens in electronic devices.

We learn much by looking at what is functional in the natural world. A wonder-working hand has moved before us and gives us tools for developing new materials to improve our lives. Also, bacteria working together can serve as a lesson to remind us that humans can accomplish more when we work together.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from the National Science Foundation which is funding the research.

Planetary Atmospheric Pressure

Planetary Atmospheric Pressure

The media often overlook how many things have to be “right” for life to exist on a planet. Planetary atmospheric pressure is one factor.

By “life,” we mean the standard textbook definition of organisms that can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli, and reproduce. The problem is that many conditions make other terrestrial planets (planets with hard surfaces) unlikely to harbor life. Life is even less likely on Jovian planets that are primarily gaseous. You can postulate balloon-like living organisms in Jupiter or Saturn’s atmosphere, but radiation and electrical problems make that unlikely as well.

Planetary atmospheric pressure depends on the weight of the gases above a planet’s surface. The air pressure on Earth’s surface is 14.696 pounds per square inch a sea level. That pressure allows water to exist as a liquid, and it will enable various gases to dissolve in the water. We all know what happens when you shake a bottle of carbonated beverage and then quickly remove the cap. The sudden drop in pressure causes an explosion as the dissolved carbon dioxide escapes from the liquid. For organisms to absorb oxygen dissolved in water, which fish do, the atmospheric pressure must be high enough for the oxygen to dissolve. The atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars is .01 of the pressure on Earth. That means water on Mars would contain no oxygen or dissolved gases.

There has been discussion about finding water on the Moon or Mercury, but those atmospheric pressures are considerably lower than those on Mars. That means water would not be in a liquid state. On the other end of the pressure spectrum is Venus, where atmospheric pressure 92 times greater than on Earth. At that pressure, toxic gases would be dissolved in any water that existed on the planet.

Planetary atmospheric pressure is just one more variable that must be carefully and precisely chosen when constructing an environment that will support and sustain life. The creation is far more complicated than most of us realize. As we learn more, we must stand in awe of the God who created our planet.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Astronomy magazine, February 2021, page 10.

Why Do We Need Mountains?

Why Do We Need Mountains?

A skeptic recently complained that mountains are a mistake. “They block travel, cause avalanches, create deserts, and are just a general nuisance. If God were the creator, He wouldn’t have made these huge obstacles to human well-being.” In response to this skeptic, we consider, “Why do we need mountains?” For one thing, mountains are a very practical solution to one of humanity’s greatest needs–water.

In a basic geography or meteorology class, we learn about orographic uplift and rain shadows. As air comes across a flat area, it picks up moisture. But to make rain, there must be more than just water. Condensation requires a cool enough temperature and nuclei on which the water vapor can condense. Mountains provide both the cooler temperatures and the condensation nuclei.

As air pushes up the side of a mountain, it cools, and stirred-up dust provides condensation nuclei. For that reason, it is frequently very rainy on the windward side of the mountain. On the other side, the air is dry because all of the moisture has been removed.

Mountains can also capture and store water as ice and snow. Scientific American (January 2021) published an article with data on how many people get their water from the mountains. There are 78 regional mountain chains or “water towers” that deliver water to almost two billion people and surrounding ecosystems. Without mountains, the amount of land that would be hospitable to humans would be much more limited.

In addition to mountains capturing and storing water, they have also created underground aquifers. Glaciers generated in mountain areas have carved out huge valleys, depositing sand and gravel in permeable layers that allow massive amounts of water to seep into the ground. Here in southern Michigan, continental glaciers produced aquifers that supply us with water. In a large area of the Midwest United States, an underground aquifer called the Teays River has supplied adequate water for agriculture.

God has provided a massive and effective water system for nearly all continents, primarily because of mountains. Why do we need mountains? We need them for the water that allows irrigation as well as drinking and other uses. Mountains are beautiful, they provide recreational activities for humans, and they literally water the world for human survival.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

“Truth In Nature” by Don Betts

“Truth In Nature” by Don Betts

One of our readers wrote the following poem and sent it to us. We share it with you to show one person’s evaluation of this ministry. The title is “Truth in Nature” by Don Betts.

Does God Exist? Of course, He does!
My brother John says so.
He digs deep for evidence,
So you and I may know
That God in all His glory lives.
His sign is everywhere
Extant in oh, so many things,
Wonders made for us to share.

John’s compiled a Dandy List,
Designs in nature meant to be
Proof in things that now exist
In which God’s face we see.
The truth of His existence
Is everywhere we look,
And our hope lies in persistence
Worded in His Holy Book!

Yes, we can find truth in nature as we see God’s design.

— John N. Clayton and Don Betts © 2021

Carbon Atom Design Makes Life Possible

Carbon Atom Design Makes Life Possible

The media seems to be constantly concerned about the harmful effects of our “carbon footprint.” That phrase refers to how much carbon we kick out into the world’s environment in our daily activities. With all the concern about carbon, it is easy to overlook the fact that the carbon atom design makes life possible and demonstrates God’s engineering wisdom.

The carbon atom is one of the lightest atoms in the periodic chart. The relative weight of the standard carbon atom is 12. Uranium, on the other hand, is 25 times heavier. Carbon’s low weight means that things made of carbon are relatively light. Other elements are structured like carbon, but their weights are much heavier. Silicon is twice as heavy, and germanium is six times as heavy.

The carbon atom design makes life possible. Carbon has six electrons, but they are carefully arranged, allowing carbon to have the properties essential to life. All atoms have electrons orbiting the nucleus at different energy levels as you move out from the nucleus. Scientists give these levels letter identifications because of the spectral lines they produce. In a chemistry book, you will see the letters s, p, d, and f used to describe the spectral lines for electron orbitals of all elements in the periodic chart. The d and f orbitals are incredibly complex, but for carbon with only six electrons, the structure is relatively simple.

Carbon has two electrons in the 1s orbital closest to the nucleus and two electrons in the 2s orbital. They orbit the nucleus in a circular path. The next level out from the carbon nucleus is the p orbital, where electrons move in a figure-eight path. Three energy paths are available for two electrons each, and they are at right angles to one another.

Since carbon has four of its six electrons in the first two orbitals, there are only two electrons in the p orbital. That means there are four available openings in the carbon atom’s p orbital, and it fills those spaces by sharing electrons with other elements. If carbon is bonded to hydrogen, which has only one electron in its first orbital, the two elements will share an electron. In that way, hydrogen has two electrons filling its first orbital, and carbon will have one more of the six it needs to fill its last orbital.

Carbon will have to combine with four hydrogen atoms to complete its p orbitals, and the result is methane (CH4). Oxygen has eight electrons, so it needs two electrons to fill its third orbital, and two oxygens will share electrons with one carbon atom giving us carbon dioxide (C02).

Organic chemistry is incredibly complex since many periodic chart elements can share electrons with carbon creating different organic chemicals. This complexity allows life to exist and makes possible all of the medicines and organic materials that are a part of our everyday life. Carbon atom design makes life possible because of the Creator’s engineering wisdom.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Seahorse Role Reversal

Seahorse Role Reversal

In most animal species, the female is the one who gives birth and cares for the young, but that is not always the case. One exception to that rule is the seahorse role reversal.

Females seahorses compete to secure a mate. The female is the leader in the courtship ritual, which involves an extended “dance.” After the ritual, the female will deposit her eggs in a pouch on the front of the male. The male fertilizes the eggs and keeps the embryo sea horses for as long as ten weeks.

At the end of that time, the male ejects the young with muscle contractions, pushing them out into the ocean to fend for themselves. There can be dozens or hundreds of tiny seahorses, depending on how big the male is. Sea horses live in dense seaweed, which supplies food and hides them from predators. Small fish such as seahorses are easy prey for many animals in the sea, so they need to reproduce in large numbers.

Besides the seahorse role reversal, there are other cases in the natural world where a male is the caregiver for offspring. Diversity is the answer to many needs of a balanced life system, and the male and female roles can be different depending on the needs of the ecosystem.

The more we learn of the natural world, the more examples we see of incredible design and planning which reflect God’s actions in preparing this planet for human life. We all have a role in protecting the diversity of living things God has placed in our care.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

National Wildlife magazine for December-January 2021 has pictures of seahorse birthing.

Tiny Living Things that Make Life Possible

Tiny Living Things that Make Life Possible

The natural world is incredibly complex, with a staggering number of things that we are not even aware of. Every cubic meter of air above a grassy field can contain more than 100,000 living things, many of which we can’t see. We seldom realize that it is these tiny living things that make life possible.

In 2008, Dr. Thomas Kunz at Boston University helped to establish a new scientific discipline called aeroecology. Dr. Kunz and his team used radar, telemetry, thermal imaging, and acoustic monitoring devices to study our lower atmosphere. Other scientists have continued studying aeroecology, which provides useful information in biology and such diverse areas as weather, wind turbines, conditions around airports affecting airplane safety, and disease control.

Aeroecology also involves controlling and maintaining insect populations. Insects are pollinators, and they are critical in a variety of food chains. Recent problems with bee die-offs have affected food production in many areas. Birds and bats help control airborne insects, and their survival is essential to maintain healthy conditions for the success of farming. A purple martin will eat about 20,000 insects yearly, which means this one species removes roughly 412 billion bugs from the atmosphere every year. Some birds stay in the air eating bugs for months at a time, like the alpine swifts of Europe and Africa. They can fly continuously for up to seven months while eating, drinking, and even sleeping.

All of this atmospheric life has a direct bearing on our bodies. We take in massive numbers of bacteria from the atmosphere. Studies by the germ-free research center at Notre Dame University have shown that microbes are critical for life. Researchers found that germ-free rabbits were unable to reproduce. Babies exposed to antibiotics during the first six months of their lives are prone to being overweight. A lack of microbes alters the serotonin levels in humans, affecting many areas of our health. Healthy humans have 1000 microbial species in their mouths and more than 10,000 species in their digestive systems.

The bottom line is that the life of a plant or animal is not just about the organism itself. It is also about the tiny living things that make life possible. The air and the soil are full of these supporting organisms. This indicates design by an Intelligence far beyond what humans can comprehend.

As we get more and better tools to look into the very small, we are astounded by their complexity and function. The Bible simply says God created life. We don’t see any detail, nor should we expect to. How would you explain bacteria to a man with no microscope? “We can know there is a God through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). Our ability to understand the tiny living things that make life possible leaves us in awe of what God has done.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Footnote: In 2011, Dr. Thomas Kunz was struck by a car and severely injured, ending his career. In 2020, Dr. Kunz, who introduced the science of aeroecology, died from an airborne disease—COVID-19. You can read more about his remarkable life HERE and HERE.

God’s Diversity of Birds

God's Diversity of Birds

An interesting study involves the biblical classifications of living things. Genesis doesn’t talk about species — it talks about broad groupings. For example, “the flesh of fish” and “the flesh of birds” (1 Corinthians 15:39 and Genesis 1:20-21) includes a wide range of species with many adaptions to particular environments. There is no better example of adaptation than what we see in God’s diversity of birds.

The December 5, 2020, issue of Science News featured a discussion of recent studies into the genomes of modern birds. called the “Bird 10,000 Genomes Project.” An international team of researchers has published the genomes for 363 species of birds, covering roughly 92% of all modern bird families. The scientists in the project are determined not to stop until they have published the genomes of all bird species on Earth.

This diversity is amazing. There are flightless birds like emus, kiwis, and penguins. Some birds are carnivores, and others are herbivores. Other birds have very limited and specialized diets. Some have wide ranges, and others, such as the Henderson crake, are found only on one island in the South Pacific. The most practical aspect of this study is learning how to protect bird species to preserve diversity. All creatures on Earth have properties important to humans, so this research is critical.

God didn’t create 10,000 species of birds independently of one another. He created “fowl,” and the Bible mentions several different species. The bird genomes allowed them to adapt to different environments. Those environments could support other forms of life only because birds supply nutrients and resources that make life possible. Bird migrations can provide the needs for environments thousands of miles apart. The Arctic tern and the bar-tailed godwit are excellent examples of that. Birds not only supply the needs of plants, but their eggs provide food for a variety of animals.

God has used diversity to supply the entire planet with life. Romans 1: 20 tells us that we can know there is a God by the things He has made. We see incredible wisdom and design built into God’s diversity of birds.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

You can find the article in Science News HERE and the research report in Nature HERE.

World’s Fastest Ant Species

World's Fastest Ant Species
Saharan Silver Ant Capturing a Beetle

One of the exciting things about life on Earth is that there are creatures designed to survive, even in hostile environments. A good example is the Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina), the world’s fastest ant species.

These ants thrive in the Sahara desert, where the sand’s daytime temperature can be as high as 140 degrees F (60 degrees C). In fact, these ants’ primary food is the remains of other insects that have died from the heat. Saharan silver ants play an important environmental role by helping to keep the desert clean. But how do they survive the heat?

Researchers have found that these ants are designed to move extremely fast. They can travel 108 times their body length in one second. That would be equal to a human running 1 ½ football fields in one second. Have you ever been barefoot on the beach and had to sprint over the hot sand? The ants run so fast that each foot is in contact with the ground for only seven milliseconds. That is not long enough for the heat to threaten the ant’s survival. Researchers say the muscle contraction speed is unique to Saharan silver ants, and it is at the limit of what the ant’s body can withstand, making them the world’s fastest ant species.

We see life no matter where we look on planet Earth. Life prevails from the hot desert sands to the extreme pressure and darkness of the deepest part of the oceans. Through the system of plant and animal life, even the extremes, God has provided for the needs of humans.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: National Wildlife, December/January 2021.

Mighty Powerful Sun

Mighty Powerful Sun

The power released by the Sun every second is equal to ninety-six billion megatons. One megaton is the explosive power of one million tons of TNT. That is a mighty powerful Sun.

All of that energy is released by immense numbers of tiny hydrogen atoms fusing into helium atoms at a rate of four hydrogens to make each helium. The process requires incredibly high temperatures to get it started. After the fusion, the helium atom has less mass than the total of the four hydrogen atoms by 0.7 percent, indicating that a tiny amount of mass has been converted into energy. The energy released provides heat to keep the process going and the energy that powers our solar system and our planet.

Humans duplicated the process of atomic fusion in 1952 with the first hydrogen bomb. It was repeated in 1954 with a more powerful explosion equal to fifteen megatons. To obtain the high temperature required, scientists had to use an atomic (fission) bomb to get the fusion process going.

The hydrogen bomb is the most power that humans have ever been able to release, and we hope it’s the most that will ever be released on Earth. Compare that one-time 15 megatons to the ninety-six billion megatons per second released in the Sun. Then compare our mighty powerful Sun to many other stars which dwarf the Sun’s power. The stars Rigel and Deneb each release the energy of 200,000 Suns, but even they are not the largest power generators in the universe.

All of this is already far beyond my ability to comprehend. I can only say, “Tell everyone about God’s power…his strength is mighty in the heavens” (Psalms 68:34 NLT).

— Roland Earnst © 2020