Nearly every day the newspaper has an article that announces some new research on DNA. One of the recent applications of DNA research is to classify living things. Classification is an old issue, going back to Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2:19-20 God brought all kinds of living organisms before Adam so that he could name them. In 1 Kings 4:33 Solomon wrestled with the issue as well. Our current system of naming living things was brought into existence by Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s, but it is gradually being replaced by what is called DNA barcodes.
You can compare DNA barcodes to the barcodes we see when we shop for merchandise. Instead of bars, DNA barcodes are a string of DNA nucleotides. In 2003 scientists began to identify species by these nucleotides. Mitochondria are rod-shaped organelles that can be considered the power generators of the cell. They convert oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical energy that powers the cell’s metabolic activities. There is one gene named cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (COX1) which is found in mitochondria. It is passed only from mother to offspring. The mixing of traits from the father and mother does not happen in this mitochondria, so the DNA nucleotides in mitochondria make it ideal to use in identifying species.
Studies by M.Y. Stoeckle and D.S. Thaler have involved analyzing the DNA barcodes from five million individual organisms which represent 100,000 different species. What they found was that barcode variations within a species vary by small amounts, and there are huge gaps between the species. What that means historically is that each species is essentially an island not connected to other species. If all species came from a common ancestor, you would not see this, but you would see a river from island to island.
The biblical record is very consistent in identifying the groupings of living things. In our materials, we have referred to these “islands” as being “trees in the forest of life.” First Corinthians 15:39 identifies these “islands” or “trees” in this way: “There is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts (mammals), another flesh of birds and another flesh of fish.” This same grouping is used consistently in the Bible with Genesis 1 & 2 in describing the creation of life, Genesis 7:14 describing what Noah took on the Ark, and 1 Kings 4:33.
There are many more trees or islands than the Bible describes, and they contain living things that may vary enormously. A major debate in science is whether the dinosaurs were birds or reptiles. DNA barcodes may answer that question, but the implications for the biblical record are not significant. The single “tree of evolution” which has been popular for a very long time does not fit the DNA bar code evidence, but the biblical system does. New research is leading to new understandings both scientifically and biblically. It is an exciting time to be alive and to learn from new scientific tools how accurate the biblical record is and how wise God has been in His creation techniques.
–John N. Clayton © 2019
For further information, go to this website: https://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/cells/mitochondria/mitochondria.html