Selfish ribosome theory proposed by scientists, according to ScienceDaily 7 January 2015 and Journal of Theoretical Biology doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2014.11.025, published online 10 December 2014. Ribosomes are a cell’s protein making machines. They consist of a mixture of RNA and proteins. RNA is a molecule similar to DNA, and like DNA it can carry genetic information. Because it is a simpler molecule than DNA some scientists have proposed that RNA evolved before DNA, and the origin of life began in an “RNA world”. This idea gained some popularity when it was discovered that some RNAs can self-replicate (copy themselves), something that DNA cannot do. However, for living cells to work they need to make proteins, a process that involves stringing amino acids together with the help of a special type of RNA called transfer RNA (tRNA). This process occurs in ribosomes, and Meredith and Robert Root-Bernstein came up with the theory that ribosomes were the missing link between the RNA world and living cells that make and use proteins.

To test this idea they studied the sequence of code letters in the ribosomal RNA of a bacterium and found there were code sequences that could match the tRNA needed for all the amino acids used in making proteins. They also found code sequences that could encode “key fragments of ribosomal proteins”. According to the researchers, “Statistical analyses demonstrate rRNA-encodings are very unlikely to have occurred by chance”, and therefore rRNA is the “vestigial remnant of a primordial genome”.

On the basis of these results Meredith and Robert Root-Bernstein have proposed the “selfish ribosome theory”, taking inspiration from Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene theory. Dawkins’ theory is that cells evolved in order the serve the purposes of genes that want to replicate themselves as much as possible. The Root-Bernstein theory is that ribosomes were selfishly trying to replicate themselves, and therefore the rest of the cell, including DNA, evolved to serve the ribosomes’ purpose. Meredith Root-Bernstein commented: “Maybe the selfish ribosome puts a new spin on feeling kinship with other creatures. We are all just different kinds of homes to the ribosomes!”

A sceptical blog named marmotism has proclaimed this discovery as “Bad news for creationists!” (exclamation in original)

ScienceDaily, Journal Theoretical Biology

Editorial Comment: This is not bad news at all. We agree with the scientists that “rRNA-encodings are very unlikely to have occurred by chance”, but that actually indicates they are there for a purpose. This research has revealed something no one knew about ribosomal RNA, and we look forward to learning more when more research into ribosome function is carried out.

However, we would advise these scientists not write off rRNA as vestigial, i.e. useless remnants, if they really want to learn more. Instead they should adopt a ‘creationist mindset’ and assume that these codings are there for a reason, so therefore, if we do some more research, we might find out what reason is and gain an even better understanding of how ribosomes and whole cells work.

Furthermore, this research is no help to anyone who believes life spontaneously evolved from chemicals. RNA may be a simpler molecule than DNA, but it is a long way more complex than organic molecules like methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide and other small molecules that are believed to have been banged together by lightning strikes or undersea volcanic eruptions to kick start life. There are good chemical reasons for being sceptical about the “RNA world” theory, such as the fact all the sugars in RNA are all right handed, but spontaneously generated sugars are a mixture of right and left handed, a mix which is fatal to RNA; and RNA does not last long if left by itself in water. It needs a pre-existent capsule to survive in. See our report “Water and Life Problem” here.

Finally, we remind scientists who refer to the sequence of chemicals in RNA and DNA as “codings,” that codes are information, and information comes always from a mind. Matter alone never generates information. Therefore, when scientists recognise code imposed on some matter as in RNA, they are truly recognising the evidence of a creative intelligence at work, and are without excuse for deliberately ignoring the evidence of the Creator. (Ref. origin of life, biochemistry, metabolism, genetics)

Evidence News vol. 15 No. 1
4 February 2015
Creation Research Australia