Programmed to Change

Colour Sergeant Butterfly - Programmed to Change
When I was a child, I was introduced to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a chrysalis to a beautiful butterfly. I decided to figure out how that change took place, so I cut open a chrysalis to see what was going on inside. Instead of catching the transformation in progress all I found was a capsule of black soup. Later when I asked biologists how the process took place, I realized that no one fully understood it. The caterpillar was programmed to change, but nobody could understand how.

What I did learn was that this process goes on in a wide variety of life forms. Frogs, sea urchins, flying wasps, and beetles are just a few examples of creatures programmed to change. The December 2018 issue of National Geographic features a wonderful article about the use of 3D models and micro-CT scanning of the process. These tools have given us a great deal of understanding of how this transformation occurs. The article identifies three stages of the change that happens as the caterpillar changes into a butterfly.

1. PROGRAMMED ACTIVATION. The caterpillar eats vegetation until it is full grown. As it does so, its hormones begin to shift with some parts of the caterpillar expanding and others becoming degenerate. The thoracic legs grow into legs that are good for grasping. Four wing buds on the caterpillar’s body begin to develop into wings, and the antennae become larger. The silk gland begins to degenerate to become the chrysalis. The proleg degenerates making the caterpillar more dependent on crawling. The mandible the caterpillar uses for chewing begins to degenerate making room for a tube for sipping nectar. The simple eye of the caterpillar which could only detect the presence or absence of light begins to change. All of this is programmed into the genetic makeup of the caterpillar.

2. TRANSFORMATION. As the prolegs degenerate, thoracic legs grow to adult size. Wings develop with full color from the four wing buds. The chewing mandibles morph into two halves that zip into pipes that make a straw-like proboscis. Simple eyes move forward closer to the brain and produce a compound eye which gives true vision.

3. EMERGENCE. The brain of the butterfly is almost completely rewired to meet flight requirements.  One thing that the butterfly seems to retain from its caterpillar stage is olfactory memories. It needs that to know where to produce the next generation of caterpillars. The butterfly sucks in air until its chrysalis breaks open. The butterfly flaps its wings for several hours to dry them and to circulate blood before flying off in search of a mate.

All of this happens in 15 to 21 days. The gut of the butterfly shifts from digesting plants to nectar in that short time. There are wonderful artistic drawings of all this in the article. The author summarizes his study by saying, “..the insect’s makeover is a programmed mix of destruction and growth. Certain cells die, and body parts atrophy. Meanwhile, other cells, in place since birth, rapidly expand in as little as two weeks, the adult emerges completely remodeled, capable of flight – and bent on finding a mate.”

We would add that no programming happens by chance. It takes intelligence to program a computer. The caterpillar programmed to change to a butterfly reflects the wisdom and intelligence of a great programmer superior to anything the software companies can offer.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Pallas’s Long-tongued Bat and Hummingbirds

Pallas's Long-tongued Bat
Most of us have seen hummingbirds hover over flowers or at our backyard feeders. Studies of hummingbirds show that they have a powerful downstroke and a recovery upstroke that twists part of their wing almost backward. The twist supplies about a fourth of the energy required to keep the bird in the air. The rest of the lifting energy comes from the downstroke. Because the hummingbirds have such a small mass, it doesn’t take a lot to keep them airborne. There is a bat known as Pallas’s long-tongued bat (Glossophaga soricina). It also sips nectar like the hummingbirds, but the bat is much larger.

Aerospace engineer and biologist David Lentink wanted to see how a more massive animal can accomplish hovering. His Ph.D. student Rivers Ingersol built a flight chamber with special sensors to study the hovering of hummingbirds and bats. He took it to Costa Rica and measured the hovering of 17 species of hummingbirds and three bats, including Pallas’s long-tongued bats.

Ingersol discovered that the upstroke of the nectar-sipping bats’ wings generated a little more energy than the upstroke of other bat wings. But the majority of the lift was generated by the powerful and deeply-angled downstroke. The result is that the bat’s very large wings provide the same hovering power per gram of body weight as the hummers wings. The authors of the study conclude that “supersizing can have its own kind of high-tech design elegance.”

Building a bigger wing that can withstand the stress of rapid beating to allow hovering is an engineering challenge. Proverbs 8 discusses the role of wisdom in all that God has created. Pallas’s long-tongued bat is a wonderful display of that wisdom.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Source: Science News November 10, 2018, page 4, or CLICK HERE. Original report in Science Advances CLICK HERE.

Honeybee Clusters – How They Survive

Honeybee Clusters
Among the most interesting things to see in the natural world are honeybee clusters. When bees search for a new location, the queen will move to a tree branch or some other surface she can hang onto. The worker bees cluster around her making a large ball. Researchers have noticed that the ball of bees changes shape as various forces like wind or vibration are directed at it. The changing shape fine-tunes the cluster to resist the elements protecting the queen and the cluster as a whole. The question is how the bees know where and how to move to hold the ball together.

Researchers at Harvard University have found that the strain sensed by each bee is the answer. When a bee feels stress from the wind or some other external force, they will move to an area of greater strain. Many bees moving to protect the cluster flattens the cluster’s shape making it more resistant to the source of the stress. The bees are taking more strain on themselves for the good of the cluster.

In fundamental physics, we know that Young’s modulus is the ratio of stress to strain and every material has a value. Understanding the values is critical to engineering structures to prevent material failure leading to the collapse of the structure. Apparently, bees have a high Young’s modulus designed into their genetic makeup to allow the honeybee cluster to survive.

Researchers emphasize that our understanding of insect behavior is in its infant stage. As concerns grow over the loss of bees that are important pollinators, more research is of great importance. Our understanding of God’s designs in the natural world continues to grow. The complexity of even such simple things as honeybee clusters tells us we have a lot to learn. It also tells us much about God’s wisdom and engineering design.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Reference: Science News, October 27, 2018, page 5.

Can’t Get That Song Out of My Head

Can't Get That Song Out of My Head -Yellowhammer Singing
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Sometimes we hear a song, and it seems to keep ringing in our brains for days. It may be a song we love. Sometimes it’s an annoying song that we can’t stand but can’t forget. Advertisers often use jingles in their commercials hoping that their little songs will keep haunting us until we buy their products. Whether good or bad, I can’t get that song out of my head.

I can be thankful that whatever the song is, it will eventually go away–and be replaced by another one. Imagine what it would be like if you had only one song for your whole life. More than that, imagine that your children and future descendants still had that same song. That could be the description of the life of a songbird.

We love to hear songbirds, and with a little effort, we can learn to identify different species of birds by their songs. That’s because, for the most part, each species has its unique song that it passes on from generation to generation.

Songbirds are born with a song stored in their brains. As the birds grow, they learn to match their vocal patterns to the song in their heads. Even if a baby bird never hears its parents sing, and although surrounded by the songs of other species, it will still learn to sing the song that its parents sang. There are a few species of birds that can imitate the songs of other birds, or even human voices and other sounds. Those birds are born with a different program built into their brains that gives evidence of a creative Designer of life.

When I can’t get that song out of my head, I can start singing or listening to a different song. Humans have that ability because the Designer has given us a creative capacity. That’s part of being created in the image of a creative God. But what if all people made their houses precisely the same way? Besides singing the songs of its parents, a bird will build only the same kind of nest its parents made. You would have to say that Someone also stored the nest-building instruction book in the bird’s brain.

Is it possible that an intelligent Designer drew up the nest plans and created the songs and placed them in the bird’s DNA? Generation after generation, the song and nest data are pre-programmed for the birds to follow. Remember that the One who drew the nest blueprints and wrote the songs and programmed them into the tiny brains of those birds is the One whose, “eye is on the sparrow” and furthermore, “I know He watches me.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Ultimate Food Source

Ultimate Food Source - Antarctic Krill
One of the great necessities that a planet must have to support life is an ultimate food source that everything can eat. It must be highly nutritious, exist over a long time, and have very little waste. Modern oceanography has uncovered such a food source in an unlikely place. They found it in the frigid Antarctic ocean waters. The form of life is a small shrimp-like creature called Antarctic krill (Euphasia superba).

The amazing thing about these creatures is their abundance. Scientists found one swarm that covered several square miles and ranged in depth from 60 to 600 feet (12 to 180 m). They estimated the total weight of this one swarm is 10 million metric tons. That is equivalent to one-seventh of the entire planet’s weight of fish and shellfish caught in a whole year. It would amount to 98 pounds for every person in the United States.

Krill are rich in protein and have negligible bone and shell material. They consume microscopic animal and plant organisms as their primary food. Krill are near the bottom of the ocean food chain providing food directly or indirectly to everything in the ocean, including whales.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography did the original studies of this particular swarm. Data from other oceanographic research ships show that krill swarms are common in the ocean. Since they can even be turned into food for humans, Antarctic krill seem to be God’s ultimate food source for all living things on this planet.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Leaf Designs to Preserve Trees

Leaf Designs to Preserve Trees
We live in a part of the world where there are many trees. We also experience heavy winds that frequently blow down human-made structures. It is interesting that healthy trees are almost never blown down. When you stop to think about it, you would expect trees to be major victims of high winds. That is not the case, and it is due to leaf designs to preserve trees.

To survive strong winds, trees need two things. The most obvious is structural support–strong, flexible branches, sturdy trunks, broad bases, and good root anchorage. A more subtle requirement is leaf designs to preserve trees. Leaves must have minimal wind drag. A fluid, such as air, flowing around an object generates drag. To minimize drag requires some streamlining to reduce the amount of friction between the fluid and the object. A highly streamlined object will usually be gently rounded upstream and elongated and pointed downstream.

For healthy trees, the leaves offer the most surface area and thus the most drag. Trees most commonly blow over when in full leaf, so leaf design is critical to the survival of the tree. Different trees have different design features, but all of them are designed to avoid destruction in a wind storm. American holly leaves have a method that involves the leaves being able to flatten themselves against each other. When the wind becomes strong, the leaves turn and lie flat significantly reducing the drag.

Tulip tree leaf design allows the leaves to roll up when the wind gets strong. The blade of the leaf points away from the stem. As the wind blows against the leaf, it forms a cone pointing upwind at the stem. The blade forms the broad area of the cone away from the wind direction. The higher the wind, the tighter the cone and the less the wind resistance. Black locust leaves similarly roll together to produce a cylinder.

Each of these designs depends on the properties of the leaf. If the leaves were too stiff, they could not assume the right geometry. The flexibility of their stems has to be high, and the surface of the leaf must be carefully designed and restricted. You can argue that natural selection does all designing and that given enough time it will select the proper shape. But remember that changes in climate mean you don’t have infinite time to apply the process.

God’s engineering wisdom gave us leaf designs to preserve trees. The leaf design allows the longest season for each tree. Sit in your backyard on a breezy day and watch what the leaves do to preserve that tree you prize so highly.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Hamburgers Without Beef

Is Hamburgers Without Beef in Your Future?
There has been a lot of hype about red meat and its potential damage to our health. The FDA held its first public hearing about growing meat in the laboratory instead of using cattle–or for that matter fish or birds. The challenge is to produce hamburgers without beef.

One process that scientists are experimenting with involves growing “cultured meat” in the laboratory from real animal cells. The other idea is to create “meat” from plants with the protein and taste of real beef hamburgers without beef. Beef production is the top emitter of greenhouse gases, and growing beef from cows emits over 100 times more greenhouse gases than plant material would emit to produce the same amount of meat. Patrick Brown of Impossible Foods in Redwood City, California says “Animals happened to be the technology that was available 10,000 years ago for making meat. We stuck with that technology, and it’s incredibly inefficient by any measure–and destructive”.

When Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot introduced the first combustion steam-powered vehicle in 1771, it offered significant advantages over the horse. In 1898 urban planners in New York were concerned about the 50,000 tons of horse excrement that 175,000 horses in New York City were producing every month. Ten years later Henry Ford introduced the Model T which eventually eliminated the problem. How long will it take for plant-produced beef to solve the environmental and health problems caused by the use of cows to produce food? The beef industry is huge in America, hamburgers without beef are likely to be available in Europe and Asia before they are accepted here.

Some people believe that Christians cannot eat manufactured meat on religious grounds. Even those who go back to the meat prohibitions of the Old Testament will find no support for forbidding plant-produced hamburgers. In Genesis 9:3, God told Noah that he could eat of any “green plant,” but the law placed massive restrictions on eating animal-based protein. In 1 Corinthians 8:8-13 and in Romans 14:1-5 Paul expressed concern over the influence of Christians who because of their freedom to eat anything, might pose a problem for those who don’t understand that food is not a religious issue. Romans 14:17 summarizes this by saying, “The kingdom of God is not about meat and drink; but righteousness and peace…” In 1 Corinthians 10:25-27 Paul tells Christian to eat whatever is set before them “asking no questions.”

The silly aspect of religious concerns about eating manufactured foods is that we already do it. Think of the list of manufactured foods that we eat now. They include artificially produced fruits and vegetables such as tangelos, and hybrid apples, corn, and tomatoes. Other food substances include margarine, soy milk, artificial sweeteners, butter spray, etc. We copy God’s design of the foods we eat to enlarge the food supply of the planet and avoid waste.

Food chemistry is highly complex, but the more we understand the creation, the closer we get to the Creator. Let us thank God that we don’t go to bed hungry. Also let us thank God He has given us the ability to meet the needs of the hungry as we understand how we can produce and use these new foods, including hamburgers without beef.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Data: Science News for September 29, 2018, page 11, “Dreaming Up Tomorrow’s Burger” or read it online HERE.

How You Can Tell Where It Is

How You Can Tell Where It Is
When you look at something or hear it make a sound, have you thought about how you can tell where it is? How do you determine its direction and how far away it is? Studies of human sight and hearing tell us that two different systems are involved. One system works for sight, and another for sound.

Hold up a finger at arm’s length from your face. Close one eye and look at the finger and what is beyond your finger. Now switch eyes, and you will see that objects beyond your finger appear to move. When you look at a distant object, the brain receives two signals–one from each eye. Based upon how much the background seems to vary, your brain then computes how far away the object is. That’s how you can tell where it is because your brain combines both images to give you a distance perspective.

To locate a sound’s source, the brain gets a signal from each ear. The two signals arrive at slightly different times depending on the width of the skull and the direction of the sound. We cock our heads to take into account the angular location of the source, and the brain creates an auditory spatial map that pinpoints the sound. Your senses handle sound differently from sight because of the difference in speed of the two signals. Light travels at 186,000 miles (300,000 m) per second and sound travels at 1087 feet (331 m) per second. Your brain combines the object’s sound signals received by both ears, and that is how you can tell where it is.

All of this is amazing enough, but researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany, and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario wanted to learn more. By using visual tests on a barn owl while monitoring its brain activity, they found that different nerve cells respond to “specific angular differences.” The barn owl used auditory methods with its vision to give it a three-dimensional map of the area. In that way, the owl has an instant picture of where to fly to get the most unobstructed path to its target. The director of the institute said, “We speculate that the brain uses similar algorithms to solve similar problems” such as matching problems.

We take so much for granted about how our basic senses work. As we have said before, David got a small understanding of this which caused him to say in Psalms 139:14, “I will praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are your works.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Can Design Have Multiple Purposes?

Firefly- Can Design Have Multiple Purposes?
Can design have multiple purposes? That is a question asked by some scientists in a study led by Jesse Barber of Boise (Idaho) State University. The specific design feature they studied is the flashing light of fireflies. Do they have more than one purpose for their flashes?

We always believed that a firefly flashes its light to attract mates. That is reasonable and true, but it is an oversimplification of what the flashing does. Many times living organisms have a warning system built into their design to let predators know they are not good to eat. Barber and his associates suggested that fireflies taste bad and that the flashing warns predators not to eat them.

To test this theory, the researchers put bats that had never been around fireflies into a cage with fireflies. The bats learned in two or three interactions that a flashing bug is not good to eat. Barber says the bats quickly did a routine of “catch, taste, drop.”

Barber’s team then painted the flashing end of some lightning bugs with two coats of black paint so the bats could not see the flashes. Bats faced with the painted fireflies took up to 45 minutes to learn not to try to eat them. It seems evident that the flashing of a lightning bug has more than one function.

Can design have multiple purposes? This study answers that question with a “Yes.” Designing a system that has multiple benefits is engineering at its best. God’s design in nature is amazing! The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator and the more we see His planning and design.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
This study was published in August 22 Science Advances which you can read HERE.
Science News reported on it in their September 29 issue (page 4) which is available online HERE.

Natural Disaster and God

Natural Disaster and God Every time natural disaster strikes anywhere in the world, people tend to blame God for what happened. The current examples are the hurricane in the panhandle of Florida, and the catastrophic earthquake in Indonesia. What atheists and skeptics fail to realize about natural disasters is that the vast majority of catastrophes are due to human ignorance and mismanagement. Both of the current crises demonstrate that point.

The major loss of life and devastation in Indonesia is in an area that was built on a restored landfill. Gravel, sand, and dirt were brought in to make living space for what were mostly poor workers and laborers. Engineers have warned for a very long time that the land under the highly populated area was unstable, and the earthquake was enough to cause that land to move in a significant way. You could call this a human-designed natural disaster.

In America, we have the same situation in New Orleans and Los Angeles. New Orleans is built on an area that is soft and prone to flooding, and part of the city is even below sea level. Los Angeles is built in an earthquake active area riddled with faults. It isn’t a question of whether a severe earthquake will happen in the Los Angeles area, it is just a question of when. There will be a catastrophe when that happens, and God will be blamed for causing it.

Hurricane Michael is a demonstration of another human-caused natural disaster. One of the designs of our planet is the method which brings water to areas that would otherwise be a desert. At the equator, the direct sunlight evaporates ocean water which falls as rain causing tropical rain forests. The remaining dry air moves north or south in what is called the “Hadley Cells.” When that dry air cools and returns Earth’s surface at 30 degrees latitude, it produces desert conditions. Most of the world’s great deserts are found at 30 degrees north or south latitude–the Sahara, the Australian Outback, the Mohave, etc.

In the southeastern United States, 30 degrees north latitude runs through northern Florida. That area would be a desert were it not for hurricanes. The heating of the ocean in the summer is sufficient to lift massive amounts of water which are then carried to the land restoring lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers. Without that large water supply system, that area would be a desert like the Sahara. The land area around the Gulf of Mexico in its pristine state had barrier beaches and mangrove forests that moderated the wind and storm surge. When I was a child living in Alabama, we looked forward to “hurricane parties” when we would “button down” and enjoy not having to work. The storm’s damage was limited, and even the storm surge was never a problem. That was 80 years ago.

Since that time, we have modified the shoreline stripping the barrier beaches of vegetation, and building houses where they are easily destroyed by water or wind. Even the vast mangrove swamps that were a buffer to storms have been removed, and channels have been built lined with aluminum houses, golf courses, and boat facilities. It was an invitation for a natural disaster.

We are sympathetic to those who have suffered because of the greed and foolishness of city planners and real estate salespeople. But don’t blame God for the foolishness of human actions.
–John N. Clayton © 2018