Bad bacteria have broken genes.  We all carry an enormous population of microbes, known as the “microbiome,” in our digestive systems and on other internal and external body surfaces.  These include some bacteria that can cause serious disease if they get into body tissues and organs, but most of the time they are harmless or even beneficial as long as they stay in the right place. 

Scientists at University of Queensland have studied digestive system bacteria to find out what makes some bacteria harmless, i.e. “good bacteria” that stay in their place, while other variants of the same species are “bad bacteria” that invade the body and cause disease. 

They investigated a common bacterium known as E coli and found the disease-causing variants had mutations that prevented them from making cellulose, which would normally be part of their cell surface.  Mark Schembri of University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, explained: “The mutations we identified stopped the E. coli making the cell-surface carbohydrate cellulose and this led to increased inflammation in the intestinal tract of the host.  The result was a breakdown of the intestinal barrier, so the bacteria could spread through the body.”  He summarised their findings: “The ‘good’ bacteria make cellulose and ‘bad’ bacteria can’t.” 

Sumaira Hasnain, another of the researchers, commented: “Our finding helps explain why certain types of E. coli become more dangerous and provides an explanation for the emergence of different types of highly virulent and invasive bacteria.” 

The researchers also found mutations that disrupt cellulose production in Shigella and Salmonella, two other intestinal bacteria that can make people ill.  In the title of their research paper they describe this disease causing change in different species of bacteria as a “convergent evolutionary pathway”

References: ScienceDaily 21 February 2024; University of Queensland News 22 February 2024; IFL Science, 22 February 2024; Nature Communications 21 February 2024 doi: 10.1038/s41467-024-45176-4

Editorial Comment:  The “emergence” of dangerous bacteria in a population of otherwise harmless bacteria is change, but it is not evolution.  The bad bacteria have lost a function due to a broken gene.  That is degeneration, i.e. a downhill process, not upwards evolution.  Furthermore, the disease causing bacteria are still the exactly the same species of bacteria as the harmless bacteria.  This study is a reminder that mutations do cause real change in living things but do not make new living things or improve existing living things.

These mutated bacteria fit well into the Biblical history of the world – all living things, even bacteria, were created good, but are now degenerating and becoming less complex because we live in a world degraded by human sin and God’s judgment.

Creation Research News 6 March 2024

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