Pharyngula

ORFans!

Paul Nelson has been twittering about ORFans for some time now—he seems to precede his talks by threatening to make us evolutionists tremble in our boots by bringing them up, but he never seems to follow through. Ian Musgrave got tired of waiting for him to give us a coherent creationist argument about them, and has gone ahead and cut him off at the knees by explaining the place of ORFans in evolution.

In case you’re baffled by the jargon, “ORF” is an Open Reading Frame, or a stretch of DNA bracketed by a start and stop codon; it’s a kind of bare minimum criterion for recognizing an actual gene within a DNA sequence. An ORFan is an orphan ORF sequence, or one that doesn’t have a known function or affinity to other known genes. It is not surprising that genes exist that do not have an easily recognized homology with other genes—novel genes have to arise sometime, and we do not have a complete understanding of all sequences of all organisms.

The short answer is that Nelson is deluded, and ORFans do not conflict with evolution at all…but read Ian’s post for all the details.

Comments

  1. #1 RCP
    April 26, 2006

    Excellent work by Dr. Musgrave.

    One of their main criticisms seems to be a version of the transitional fossils argument. You haven’t found fossils that are between two forms, so you cannot prove that one form came from another. Similarly, since these genes appear unrelated to any known genes, they can not have come from earlier genes. As more fossils are found and more genes are sequenced, these arguements fall apart.
    My analogy is probably a little off, but I feel it aptly describes the situation.

  2. #2 Reed A. Cartwright
    April 27, 2006

    ORFans are the bare minimum for a protein coding gene. A gene that lacks a start and a stop codon could still produce an active RNA product.

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    April 27, 2006

    I knew physicists had cooked up some silly names — WIMPs and MACHOs and even quarks — but now I think it’s universal to all the sciences.

    And I still think we should start the habit of calling the Big Bang the “Horrendous Space Kablooie“.

  4. #4 Carlie
    April 27, 2006

    Oh, physicists have nothing on molecular biologists – sonic hedgehog, INDY (I’m not dead yet!), the list is almost endless. I think it’s either a ploy to make molecular genetics seem more interesting, or a natural result of corrupting one’s brainwaves by looking at those little itsy-bitsy gene things all day long. 🙂

  5. #5 Steve LaBonne
    April 27, 2006

    Or maybe it’s the years of subsisting on cheap beer, cheap pizza and snack food as a grad student.

  6. #6 Bronze Dog
    April 27, 2006

    Oh, physicists have nothing on molecular biologists – sonic hedgehog, INDY (I’m not dead yet!), the list is almost endless. I think it’s either a ploy to make molecular genetics seem more interesting, or a natural result of corrupting one’s brainwaves by looking at those little itsy-bitsy gene things all day long. 🙂

    They’re naming genes after memes! 😉
    I find the funny names useful sometimes, since if you’re talking about Sonic Hedgehog (omitting his middle name), I, as a layman, am more likely to know what you’re talking about than if you said something like “C21N42” or however they label genes before they nickname them. I find funny names tend to be more memorable, too.

  7. #7 plucky punk
    April 27, 2006

    Wasn’t the original name for a quark going to be a parton? As in Dolly?

  8. #8 odysseus
    April 28, 2006

    Big surprise.

    Anything which seems a little over the heads of people stuck reading non-technical articles. But at least this provides them with fewer propaganda points than, say, “junk DNA.” You know the line: “If Darwinists thought that it had a function, they wouldn’t have named it ‘junk DNA!’ But we know that God put it there for a reason — unless of course somebody proves that some of it isn’t there for a reason, but is just kinda useless,” which may or may not end with an allusion to “The Fall of Man,” depending upon the audience…

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