Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth
Electron Microscope View of New Diatom Species Epithemia pelagica

We seldom think about the importance of microscopic organisms. Diatoms are essential for life on Earth because they generate 20-30% of the oxygen we breathe. They are single-celled algae with a cell wall made of silica. In March 2022, the National Science Foundation announced the discovery of two unique diatom species in the waters around Hawaii.

Diatoms live in the oceans and waterways. You may be familiar with diatomaceous earth, which has many commercial uses, including pest control in organic gardening. It consists of the empty silica shells that diatoms leave behind. In addition to generating oxygen, diatoms are essential for life as part of the food chain in the oceans.

Like green plants, diatoms need nitrogen to grow. Marine diatoms thrive in nutrient-rich ocean areas such as the Gulf of Mexico. However, the open ocean waters around Hawaii lack significant nitrogen nutrients. Ocean waters contain dissolved nitrogen gas, but the diatoms can’t use it. These two species of diatoms solve that problem by having a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. These bacteria do not contain chlorophyll for photosynthesis, but they can extract nitrogen from ocean water and convert it to ammonia. In turn, the diatoms can use the nitrogen from the ammonia. In a symbiotic relationship, the newly discovered diatom species take the nitrogen-fixing bacteria into their shells to nurture their own personal nitrogen generators.

We have mentioned many symbiotic relationships before, but here is a microscopic one. Diatoms are essential for life because they provide much of the oxygen we breathe. This symbiotic relationship between diatoms and bacteria is another example of God’s wisdom and design for life. Everywhere we look, we see that God has designed and implemented systems that sustain life in all kinds of environments.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation

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

Unusual Giraffe Features

Unusual Giraffe Features

In an American Scientist magazine article titled “Watchdogs of the Savanna,” Charlotte Ricker described unusual giraffe features. Here are some of those features:

HEIGHT: A giraffe can be almost 19 feet (5.8 meters) tall. For that reason, the circulatory system has to be specially designed to provide enough pressure to supply blood to the brain. That requires special features of the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys. In addition, the long neck allows giraffes to obtain food that other herbivores can’t reach and to see predators from a distance. Because of that, other animals rely on giraffes to alert them of danger.

EYES: Giraffes have the largest eyes of any land animal, allowing them to see those predators. Their long and sensitive eyelashes keep insects away and sense thorns on the acacia tree branches they eat. 

PATTERN: The irregular brown markings on the giraffe are not just for appearance. They act as thermal windows with a complex circulatory system around each splotch to radiate or absorb heat.

SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP: Birds called the oxpeckers have feet designed to cling to the giraffe as they eat ticks and other insects from its skin. This provides food for the oxpeckers and protection for the giraffes. Oxpeckers even clean the giraffe’s teeth. 

LEGS: The giraffe’s thin legs have a “suspensory ligament,” which allows them to support their weight of up to a fourth of a ton (1270 kgs). This unusual giraffe feature gives them the ability to run up to 37 miles per hour (60 km/hr) and a kick strong enough to kill a lion. 

NECK: The neck contains seven cervical vertebrae, the same as a human, but each vertebra can be nearly a foot long. Ball and socket joints connect them for a 360-degree motion range. In addition, a special ligament from the skull to the base of the tail counteracts the weight of the neck and head to relieve muscle strain. 

When you see these unusual giraffe features, you have to ask how they originated. Are they the product of evolutionary processes, or were they designed by an intelligence to fulfill a specific purpose in a given environment? The more unique characteristics we see, the less likely that chance processes could have produced them. These are simplified explanations of a few of the design features of a very complex animal.

Looking at the complexity of all living things is an excellent testimony to the wisdom and planning of God. “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). 

For more information, read Charlott Ricker’s article “Watchdogs of the Savanna” in American Scientist magazine November/December 2021, page 330. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Three-Way Symbiosis Is Hard to Explain

Three-Way Symbiosis Is Hard to Explain

Symbiosis is one evidence of design in nature that we have discussed before. In the following excerpt from his book The Source, John Clayton told about a three-way symbiosis:

One area that strongly resists a natural explanation is the area of symbiotic relationships. A symbiotic relationship is one in which two organisms live in such a close relationship that one cannot live without the other and vice versa. For example, certain plants cannot live without certain insects that pollinate them or clean them or store up certain nutrients for them. At the same time, the plant provides nourishment and/or protection for the insect.

Sometimes such relationships exist between two plants or two animals
, like the venomous jellyfish known as the Portuguese man o’ war and the tiny fish living among its tentacles yet never getting stung. These types of two-way symbiotic relationships are difficult to explain by natural causes because the question automatically arises, which came first?

Suppose you agree that there are problems answering this question with two codependent life forms. How much more difficult would it be to explain the simultaneous evolution of a three-way symbiosis? Yet this is what we find with a leaf-cutting ant species in South America. These ants live in colonies of up to eight million. That is a number that surprisingly represents the collective biomass of an adult cow.

These ants cultivate mushrooms as a farmer grows crops, using leaf cuttings instead of soil. However, the ants are not able to eat the leaves because the leaves contain a natural insecticide. Neither can the mushrooms live on the leaves because they are coated with a prohibitive wax.
To make the three-way symbiosis work, the ants must carefully avoid the poison as they scrape the wax off the leaves. Without the wax, the leaves decay into a mulch in which the mushrooms can grow. The mushrooms, in turn, harmlessly absorb the insecticide, converting it into edible food for the ants. Neither creature could live without the other.

But there is more. Recent studies have revealed another partner necessary to sustain the ant/mushroom relationship. The mushrooms have a parasite enemy that would destroy them. However, they can be protected with an antibiotic produced by a specific bacterium that, coincidentally, lives on the ants’ bodies. So the bacterium depends on the host ant’s body for life. The ant depends on the food produced by the mushrooms for life. Finally, the mushrooms depend on the ants’ farming practices and the ants’ pet bacterium for life.

This three-way symbiosis is irreducibly complex. If anyone of the partners is missing, the entire group dies. The only way such a codependent society could be produced is by intelligent design. Any other attempted explanation quickly becomes a quest for the impossible dream.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data came from articles in the journal Nature. You can find them HERE and HERE.

This article was adapted from The Source: Eternal Design or Infinite Accident? (page 47) by John N. Clayton. This book is available for purchase HERE.

Animals Growing Crops

Animals Growing Crops

We generally think of farming as a human enterprise, but there are cases in the natural world of animals growing crops. In most cases, the crop they are raising could not survive without the animal tending it. Some good examples are living things that eat fungi or algae. 

Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan studied red algae called Polysiphonia. These algae have a symbiotic relationship with a species of damselfish (Stegastes nigricans). Red algae look like a brown carpet, and the damselfish make sure that the carpet is not disturbed. If any other species of algae shows up among the red algae, the damselfish will nip it off and take it out of the fish’s territory. If the damselfish is removed from the area, the red algae can’t survive. So it appears that the damselfish are critical to the survival of the red algae and vice versa. 

There have been other studies of certain species of ants, termites, and ambrosia beetles that grow fungi for food. Some of these “farmers” even use bacteria to produce pesticides to protect their fungus crops. How do such symbiotic relationships happen? Evolutionists suggest that initially, the animal had a varied diet but becoming dependent on one thing offered such an advantage that the animal gave up any other foods. 

The difficulties with the evolutionary explanation are many and quite complex. The nutritional issues are a problem because a single source of nutrition must have a balanced collection of minerals. Going from a varied diet to a single food does not seem to be an evolutionary advantage. Defending the food source is also an issue. For example, when the researchers removed the damselfish, other fish and sea urchins had eaten all of the red algae within days. 

Another explanation is that symbiotic relationships are part of the design of every animal’s genome. The earliest fossil remains of many animals show that a symbiotic relationship was already in place. We suggest that animals growing crops is part of God’s design. He gave them the genetic messaging and instinctive drive necessary for them to survive. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Original article in Science News August 12, 2006, page 102. You can find many other references on the web. 

Anemones and Clownfish Symbiosis

Anemones and Clownfish Symbiosis
Common Clownfish and Red Sea Anemone

There is an interesting relationship between anemones and clownfish. If you have had the joy of snorkeling in undeveloped areas, you may have had the unpleasant experience of bumping into one of some 800 species of anemones. Their tentacles contain toxin-filled capsules called nematocysts that fire stingers at anything that touches them. I can tell you from personal experience that it is extremely painful.

I finally learned to stay away from the anemones and just look at them. I saw that some fish died when they touched the tentacles. Interestingly, other fish, shrimp, and crabs lived among the tentacles and seemed unaffected by their stings. The very colorful clownfish lives right in the middle of the tentacles and appears to be immune to the anemone’s poison. Spider crabs and shrimp live at the base of the anemones. Crabs carry around baby anemones using them as defensive weapons. Even a baby anemone could deliver a nasty sting to my finger.

The clownfish seem to have the greatest skill for avoiding the anemone stings. When the clownfish is threatened, it will dive into the anemone tentacles for protection. The anemones eat algae remains that float in the water, and also small fish, sea urchins, shrimp, and some crabs. The clownfish benefit the anemones by removing parasites from them while the anemones provide the clownfish protection from predators.

So how do the clownfish avoid being stung by the anemones? They secrete a very thick mucus that does not trigger a response from the nematocysts. The clownfish can be all over the anemones and not get stung. Scientists are studying the mucus of the clownfish because it has potential uses for humans. The mucus is an anticoagulant and disrupts the gill function in sharks, making it an excellent shark repellent. Some researchers believe that the clownfish gets the mucus from the anemones, but other research studies show that the clownfish has a gene that produces the mucus. Research continues in the study of anemones and clownfish.

Science has a lot of data without a clear answer to how anemones and clownfish live in such a well-orchestrated symbiotic relationship. It would appear that the design of this symbiosis, like many others, is a product of God’s design and is not naturally acquired.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from National Wildlife magazine April/May 2020 and their websites.

Evidence for Design in Symbiosis

Evidence for Design in Symbiosis
Nymphidium leucosia caterpillar being tended by Crematogaster ants

The natural world is full of examples of two species living together in a way that each benefits the other. This mutualistic relationship is known as symbiosis. In some cases, the species are totally dependent on the relationship for their survival. In many plant/animal relationships, the animal depends on a plant for food, and the plant depends on the animal for pollination or the spreading of seeds. We see evidence for design in symbiosis.

One of the most interesting symbiotic relationships is between ants and butterflies. Scientists refer to the caterpillar in this relationship as being myrmecophilous, which means “ant-loving.” Dr. Philip Devries has written several articles in scientific journals about the caterpillars of certain butterfly species and their symbiosis with ants. The caterpillars feed on the nectar of croton trees, but they have a mortal enemy in the form of wasps. The wasp will find a caterpillar, kill it by stinging and then eat it. If ants are present, they will drive off the wasp and protect the caterpillar. Devries has covered some croton trees with ants, and they will have many caterpillars, but trees without ants will have very few caterpillars.

So the ants benefit the caterpillars, but what do the ants gain from this relationship? The caterpillars have organs on their posterior which extrude a clear liquid containing amino acids but virtually no sugar. The croton tree has a secretion that is 33% sugar but has very little nutritional value. The ants get vital nutrition from the caterpillar even though what they get is not sweet.

The caterpillar has other ways of attracting ants, including an organ on its back that secretes an ant pheromone that chemically attracts them. The caterpillar also has an organ that attracts ants by sending sound vibrations through the wood of the tree. Because of this feature, Dr. Devries coined the term “singing caterpillars.”

One of the great challenges to evolutionists is explaining how such a complex system of symbiosis happened by chance mutations. The more we study such relationships, the more different systems of design we see in the natural world. The more relationships we see, the more difficult it is not to recognize evidence for design in symbiosis. It speaks to us about God’s wisdom and design that allows the biological world to exist.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

An article by Dr. Devries appeared in Scientific American, October 1992, pages 76-82.

Design of Symbiosis

Design of Symbiosis

One of the most interesting examples of design is the massive number of symbiotic relationships that exist in the natural world. These are arrangements two or more plants or animals benefit each other. Sometimes the design of symbiosis is essential for their survival.

Living by a river in Michigan, we see many animals that couldn’t exist without symbiotic relationships. Such common animals as squirrels need a designed symbiotic relationship that allows them gives them a growing abundance of food. We have a wealth of oak trees. In the fall, there are so many acorns on the ground that you can’t go barefoot. I counted 14 squirrels in my yard this morning, gathering acorns. They not only eat the acorns, but they bury them so that they will have a reserve of food for the rest of the year. They hide so many in so many different places that they eat only a small fraction of the acorns. The rest sprout and produce more oak trees. The oak forest spreads, and that means that the squirrel population can increase. The trees feed the squirrels, and the squirrels plant the trees in the design of symbiosis.

I grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The bedrock there is mostly granite. Granite is hard, and water cannot penetrate it. That means that growing crops is difficult in the “U.P.” Animals would have it tough except that God has provided an animal with a symbiotic relationship to the soil and rocks of the area. To retain enough water to take the entire ecosystem through periods of drought, beavers construct dams in the streams. The multiple dams create small ponds that supply the water needs of plants and animals. What would otherwise be a sterile wasteland is a temperate paradise of woods with a wealth of birds and animals all dependent on the beavers. As beavers reproduce, their kits build their own system of dams and ponds, expanding the availability of water for all northern life.

What is the most expensive meal you can order when you go out to eat? Ask for the “diamonds of the kitchen” and you will be served a fungus called a truffle. A three-pound truffle recently sold for $300,000, and yet it is just a fungus. Truffles grow underground on the roots of trees. The truffle keeps bacteria and corrosive elements away from the tree roots, and the roots provide a protected place for the truffle to grow. This is another design of symbiosis. The way most people search for truffles is to have pigs root around trees until they uncover a truffle. Truffles are said to be the most expensive food in the world, but to locate them requires the use of animals that most of us don’t care to be around.

There are countless symbiotic relationships. The question of interest is, how does such a relationship develop? Is it merely by accident? We suggest God has looked at the nutritional needs of all of His creatures. In His wisdom, He has created living things in a way that links their food supply to other living things in their environment. The design of symbiosis is a marvelous creation of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Synergy – Working Together

Synergy – Working TogetherThe word “synergy” comes from a Greek word meaning “working together.” We have often mentioned “symbiotic” relationships where living things work together in various ways. When non-biological forces work together with living things, we can call it synergy.

Synergy describes the relationship between plate tectonics and life on Earth working together. Plate tectonics involves plates of Earth’s crust moving in relation to each other. Plate tectonics is the force responsible for making continents and mountains and for causing volcanoes and earthquakes. Without photosynthetic life (plants), plate tectonics would have shut down because photosynthetic organisms provide energy for Earth’s geochemical cycles. Without plate tectonics, Earth’s crust would be a solid lid sealing vital nutrients and elements beneath the surface. The nutrients needed by plants would not be available. That means there would be no photosynthetic life.

Animals and humans depend on plants for food. The animals that don’t eat plants feed on the animals that do. It’s photosynthesis that removes the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releases oxygen. All animals need oxygen, and excess carbon dioxide would result in a greenhouse effect, heating the Earth and making life impossible.

The point is that plate tectonics requires photosynthetic life, and life requires plate tectonics. Therefore all forms of life on Earth require both photosynthesis and plate tectonics working together in the right balance to exist. Was this balanced synergy system merely accidental, or was it planned? We think it shows intelligent planning by a divine Engineer.

For a fuller explanation of this, we recommend Dr. Hugh Ross’s book Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home.
— Rolnd Earnst © 2019

Romantic Get-Away Inside a Sponge

Venus flower basket
The Venus’ flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum) is a deep ocean sponge with fascinating properties and an unusual symbiotic relationship with a pair of crustaceans. We call it a romantic get-away inside a sponge.

The Venus’ flower basket is classified as a glass sponge because its body is made of silica, which is chemically the same as glass. The silica fibers are woven together to make a hollow, cylindrical vase-like structure. The fibers form a fine mesh which is rigid and strong enough to survive deep underwater. The picture shows a Venus’ flower basket more than 8400 feet (2572 meters) under the ocean’s surface.

Glassy fibers thin as a human hair but more flexible and sturdier than human-made optical fibers attach the sponge to the ocean floor. The sponge forms the fibers at ocean temperatures while human-made glass fibers require high-temperature furnaces to melt the glass. Human-made fibers are brittle while the sponge’s fibers are more flexible. Scientists are studying these sponges to find ways to make better fiber-optic cables.

We think it’s amazing that the Venus’ flower basket lights its fibers using bioluminescence to attract prey. Even more interesting to us is the symbiotic relationship these sponges have with some crustaceans called Stenopodidea. The Venus’ flower basket holds captive two of those small shrimp-like creatures, one male and one female, inside the sponge’s hollow mesh tube. The captive creatures clean the flower basket by eating the tiny organisms attracted by the sponge’s light and consume any waste the sponge leaves. The sponge provides the crustaceans with protection from predators.

As the crustaceans spawn, their offspring are small enough to escape from the basket and find their own sponge-home where they grow until they are trapped. Because a pair of crustaceans spend their lives together inside the sponge, Asian cultures sometimes use a dried Venus’ flower basket as a wedding gift to symbolize “till death do us part.”

The Venus’ flower basket and the crustaceans benefit each other by mutual cooperation, which we call symbiosis. One more thing, the bioluminescence comes from bacteria that the sponge collects. This amazing three-way partnership occurs deep under the ocean where humans have only recently explored. We think this romantic get-away inside a sponge is another evidence of Divine design, not chance mutations.
— Roland Earnst © 2019