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Scientists cite 'creator' in paper for biology journal

The appearance of creationist argument in a research paper in a respected biology journal has provoked concern among academics.

The paper, which appeared in Proteomics last month, argues that a "single common fingerprint initiated by a mighty creator" explains the relationship between proteins produced by mitochondria (cellular components that have their own genome) and cells themselves.

Evolutionary theory suggests that mitochondria started as bacteria and evolved to live inside cells in an "endosymbiotic" relationship.

The paper's authors, Mohamad Warda and Jin Han of Korea's Inje University, cast doubt on this theory, arguing that the existence of proteins common to different forms of life are "more likely to be interpreted as a reflection of a single common fingerprint initiated by a mighty creator than relying on a single cell that is, in a doubtful way, surprisingly originating all other kinds of life".

The 15-page article, "Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: Proteomic prospective evidence", concludes: "We still need to know the secret behind this disciplined organised wisdom. We realise so far that mitochondria could be the link between the body and this preserved wisdom of the soul devoted to guaranteeing life."

The article has sparked consternation among academics and science internet bloggers since it was published online last month.

Paul Myers, associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, called the paper "a baffling failure of peer review" on his blog, "Pharyngula". "It should have been savaged by any competent reviewer," he said. Although the paper contained a "substantial, knowledgeable core," it was "pimpled with genuinely bizarre eruptions of unsupported lunacy", he said.

The director of the University of Maryland's centre for bioinformatics, Steven Salzberg, used his blog, "Genomics, Evolution and Pseudoscience" to accuse the paper's authors of putting "blatant creationist conclusions, not justified in any way, in a peer-reviewed article". He wrote: "The title of this article should have warned reviewers," he wrote.

Co-author Mr Warda told Times Higher Education that to criticise Western science was "taboo". He said: "It is clear that the fingerprint of (the) mighty creator (is) inside everyone in this Universe."

After initially claiming that evolution was a "useless, evidence-less" theory, he said the process did take place, but under the control of "complete, disciplined wisdom" and not in a chaotic way. "Even one amino acid, when mutated in any of millions of tiny different cell receptors in their body, can kill or ruin life," he added. "Is this chaos?"

Dr Han was not available for comment.

Michael Dunn, editor-in-chief of Proteomics and a professor at University College Dublin's Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education saying "it's not our policy to promote creationism". He told Times Higher Education that a decision on whether to retract the article would be made this week.

Readers' comments (3)

  • I think you're being a bit to kind to these people. Not only were the creationist outbursts completely unsupported by the content of the paper, substantial parts of it were plagiarised as has been shown clearly in the blogosphere.
    Whoever let this through peer review should be kicked round the nearest quadrangle and then thrown off a handy ivory tower.
    By the way amino acids don't mutate, Nucleic acids that code for them do.

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  • I think Dunn dropped th ball on this one in a big way. Simply saying "we don't support creationism" lets the creationists have a field day claiming that they had a "legitimate" peer-reviewed paper which was withdrawn because of persecution by the orthodoxy. We should be lending them ammunition?

    I think a full statement of "the paper was deeply flawed, mostly plagiarised, and made statements completely unsupported by scientific evidence" might have been better. Certainly it would have been true.

    I get the impression that the ed-in-chief does not have to deal with the anti-science crusade very often. Lucky man. It hasn't left him very well prepared, though.

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  • Yes, it's the sequence of nucleotides which mutates; moreover, the genetic code is redundant, meaning that different sequences of DNA can be translated into the same protein. Furthermoreover, amino acids in a protein can often be changed without noticeable effect. It's a bit like how in written English, you can accidentally type "grey" instead of "gray" without compromising the meaning of your sentence.

    I'm astonished that any scientist working in cellular biology is ignorant of neutral mutations. Somebody here drank some bad Kool-Aid, man.

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