Life Needs Phosphorus

Life Needs Phosphorus
The element phosphorus is used to make matches. Molecular phosphorus has two common forms. There is white phosphorus which is dangerously combustible and is used to make fireworks and weapons. The more stable red phosphorus is used on the side of any box of safety matches. When you strike the match against the red phosphorus, a small amount of it is changed to white phosphorus to ignite the match. But phosphorus has more important uses than starting fires. Life needs phosphorus. The average human body contains about 26.5 ounces (750 grams) of phosphorus. Most of it is in our bones.

Phosphate is a compound of phosphorus and oxygen. It combines with sugars in living tissue to form the backbone of DNA, which is the blueprint for life found in every living cell. Phosphate is also part of a complex organic chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) found in every living organism. ATP releases energy so that cells can function. Life needs phosphorus and could not exist without it in an abundant supply.

Recent research presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science on April 5, 2018, indicates that phosphorus may not be widely available in the Milky Way. The research indicates that it is more random than scientists had previously thought. That means even if one of the recently discovered exoplanets had all of the conditions required to support life, it still might be lifeless without phosphorus.

We have often referred to the many conditions required to make a habitable planet. Here is one more to add to the list. Life needs phosphorus, and apparently phosphorus is less widely distributed than we thought. Phil Cigan, one of the astronomers involved in the study, said, “It’s not a guaranteed thing to have phosphorus abundant everywhere, ripe for the picking. It seems to look like luck plays a bigger role in this.”

Is it just one more chance coincidence that planet Earth has the phosphorus needed for life? We don’t think it is a matter of luck. We think this is another evidence of God’s design for life.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Tree Rights: Do Trees Have Feelings?

Tree Rights
A German forester and author named Peter Wohileben has written a book titled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. The book has sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany and has hit the best-seller list in 11 other countries including the U.S. and Canada. He was quoted in the March issue of Smithsonian magazine as saying, “We must at least talk about the rights of trees.” Since we are concerned about human rights should we also be thinking of tree rights?

According to the article in Smithsonian, scientific evidence indicates “that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species.” Wohileben says that trees in every forest “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate.” What Wohileben is talking about is a symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi underground. The hair-like root tips of trees join together through fungal filaments to form a mycorrhizal network. The fungi consume sugar from the tree roots as they pull nitrogen, phosphorus, and other minerals from the soil which are absorbed by the roots for use by the trees.

The trees communicate through their “wood-wide-web” by “sending chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals.” The large trees with deep roots draw up water which benefits the shallow-rooted trees. The article says that trees also share nutrients with each other, even between species. In addition to the underground network trees also communicate with each other through the release of chemicals into the air, and they release large amounts of moisture into the air feeding rain systems.

Wohileben presents his story of the trees as if they have intelligence. He says that we must “allow some trees to grow old with dignity, and die a natural death.” Multiple scientists refute Wohileben saying that trees are not “sentient beings” and call Wohileben’s ideas anthropomorphism.

We believe that God has given us the duty to protect the environment. That includes trees. (Genesis 2:9, 15) However, we see great danger in talking about tree rights. Plants and animals are here to serve humans, and we are here to serve God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Oak Tree Rodent Control

Oak Tree Rodent Control
There have been times in Earth’s history when rodents threatened to overrun areas of the planet. Sometimes humans upset the ecological balance leading to an overabundance of rodents. Then people have to find a way to keep them under control. But what if you are an oak tree with a mouse problem? Is there such a thing as oak tree rodent control?

Among other things, rodents eat acorns which are the seeds of oak trees. How can new oak trees be produced if the mice eat the seeds? Dr. Jerry Wolff of Oregon State University made a study of oak trees and white-footed mice in the Appalachian Mountains several years ago. Dr. Wolff found that oak trees in the Appalachian area synchronize their erratic production of acorns. In that way, they control the rodent population.

When the mouse population is low, the oak trees produce a massive number of acorns which swamps the mice with more acorns than they can eat. These well-fed rodents produce high numbers of offspring. Over the next three or four years acorns will be a scarce commodity, and so the rodent population crashes. At that point, the trees again synchronize and switch back to high volume acorn production. There are fewer rodents around to eat them resulting in a greater production of tree seedlings.

Trying to explain this by some chance process stretches credibility. The simpler view is that the DNA of the trees and the mice were designed to continue providing a constant growth of new trees and the production of acorns for the mice. There are many symbiotic relationships in nature where two species are dependent on each other. This oak tree rodent control is a design to guarantee that both species survive. Design indicates a Designer.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: This study first appeared in Discover magazine in 1992.

Dangers of Long-term Marijuana Use

Dangers of Long-term Marijuana Use
A newly released study indicates the dangers of long-term marijuana use. The bottom line is that it alters brain cells.

The study was published in Jneurosci (The Journal of Neuroscience) on October 16. The researchers focused on the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. Dopamine and serotonin receptors are concentrated there. Those receptors give a person the sensation of pleasure.

The scientists conducted the study on mice in their “teen” and “adolescent” stages of life. The mice received injections of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) every day for a week. THC is the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana (as well as opioids and alcohol) stimulates the VTA to release dopamine resulting in an experience of pleasure and the desire for more. There is a GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) cell in the VTA which acts as an inhibitor. When the brain releases GABA, it serves to restrain the desire for pleasure and keep it under control.

In the week of receiving THC, the GABA neurons lost their ability to control the desire for pleasure. They were in a state of “long-term depression” (LTD). This caused the dopamine to remain longer in the VTA giving a sense of being “spaced out,” and leading to addiction.

The researchers stated that the long-term effect of the THC was to remodel the brain’s synapses resulting in reduced “synaptic plasticity.” The synapses carry electrical or chemical signals from one nerve cell (neuron) to another. This “synaptic modification” is changing the brain at the cellular level.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is the standard reference used by mental health professionals at all levels. The current edition is DSM-5. It defines cannabis (marijuana) use disorder as a “problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

In other words, marijuana impairs the ability of people to do things they need to do or even want to do. We have cautioned before about the dangers of long-term marijuana use and the consequences of legalization and wide-spread availability. This study confirms that danger.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

It’s Good to be Blue

Blue Begonias
It’s a plant that uses quantum mechanics to make maximum use of minimum light, and in doing so, it displays blue leaves. The explanation of why blue begonias are blue is another demonstration of the incredible design built into all living things.

The tropical begonia (Begonia pavonina) that grows in Malaysia has leaves that are iridescent blue. The blue does not come from pigmentation, but rather from structural color, a technique that gives beautiful color to some birds, Butterflies, and beetles. In the leaves of all kinds of plants there are cellular capsules called chloroplasts, and inside those structures is a green substance known as chlorophyll. The chloroplasts are the organic machines that take energy from sunlight and chemicals from the soil to make organic energy that allows the plant grow.

Sunlight is a mixture of light at various energy levels, but green is the highest energy of sunlight reaching the surface of the Earth. Since the chlorophyll pigment reflects green light, the plant is protected from being damaged by the high-energy sunlight. We see the reflected green light, so the leaves look green.

Blue begonias live on the floor of dense rain forests where the forest canopy restricts the light. Inside the chloroplasts of these begonias, there are nano-structures called thylakoids where the energy conversion takes place. Other plants have thylakoids, but they are arranged differently in the begonia. Scientists using an electron microscope discovered that the thylakoids are aligned in a way that they act like crystals. In other plants, they are haphazard in their arrangement. Light bounces around within the thylakoids causing interference at certain wavelengths and reflecting the iridescent blue. The light is slowed down in this process so the plant can use more of the high-energy green and red light while reflecting the blue. These plants are using principles of quantum mechanics which scientists only began to learn about in the twentieth century.

The result is that the blue begonias get the nutrition they need to survive in a location with little sunlight, and we see the leaves as a beautiful blue. One science website described the alignment of the thylakoids in this way: “…they have an amazingly regular structure, which is obviously planned.” Here is the way another science website described the unique way these begonias efficiently use the limited sunshine they receive: “It seems selective evolution led the plants to engineer a nanoscale light-trapping structure, the likes we’ve only seen in miniature lasers and other photonic structures made by humans…”

We believe that planning requires a planner and engineering requires an engineer. As scientists study even the simplest forms of life, they find more and more evidence that God is ingenious in all He creates.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Why Is There Color in Our World?

Why Is there Color in the World?
One of the joys of life is the beauty that we see in the natural world. The beauty of flowers is so great that we decorate our homes inside and out with flowers of every description. People will get out of bed early in the morning to watch a sunrise display colors of incredible beauty and complexity. We admire the work of artists and photographers who can capture a permanent record of the colors of the world on canvas or film. Why is there color in the world?

There are hundreds of papers that have been written by scientists and science writers concerning the reason for color. The design of the Earth and of the life systems on Earth frequently demand that certain colors exist. For example, the green in vegetation is necessary to protect plants from the high energy wavelengths of the Sun’s light.

There are some colors in the natural world, however, that seem to defy a naturalistic evolutionary explanation. Flowers living in identical environments will frequently have radically different colors. If we postulate that the colors are different to attract different pollinators, we run into logical problems. Wouldn’t the most efficient pollinators provide the same advantages to all flowers of similar geometric design? In caves deep in the ocean, there are some of the more vividly colored tropical fish. These fish never see sunlight and have no camouflage advantage given by their colors. There are worms and burrowing animals in thermal vents deep in the floor of the ocean that display rich and beautiful colors.

A skeptic may reply that these colors are a chance consequence of the materials that make up the bodies of these organisms. The fact is that, in many cases, the colored materials in the organism are inconsequential to the survival of the organism. We would suggest an equally plausible and perhaps more realistic explanation. Could it be that a God of intelligence and creative power designed the creation not only with functional wisdom but also with aesthetic intelligence?

Why is there color? God obviously enjoys beauty. We were created in God’s image, and therefore we enjoy the beauty of the world around us. Beauty is one of the things that makes our sojourn on this planet worthwhile.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Medical Marijuana–Good or Bad

Medical Marijuana
All the discussion of medical marijuana and the questions of legalization are based on the assumption that people understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the human body. The general public is almost universally unaware of this system, and yet it is a major player in the question of the use of medical marijuana.

In our brain and throughout our central and peripheral nervous systems we have receptors that are involved in appetite, pain sensation, mood, sleep, and memory. This complex system operates by chemical reactions with enzymes and molecules released by the system itself called endocannabinoids. When life experiences such as stress act on the brain, chemical secretions influence the ECS system and our behavior.

Marijuana contains phytocannabinoids which interact with the endocannabinoids which the body makes. The scientific name for marijuana is Cannabis sativa, and this plant contains more than 100 different cannabinoids as well as hundreds of other chemicals. The following cannabinoids have been studied enough to know what effect they have on the human brain:

Cannabidiols (CBD)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anxiety reducer, antipsychotic, reduces muscle spasms

Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, euphoriant, suppresses nausea and vomiting

Cannabigerols (CBG)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal

Cannabichromenes (CBC)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal

Cannabinols and Cannabinodiols (CBN, CBND)

– anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, sedative, anti-convulsant

Marijuana has a high potential for abuse, but it also has useful purposes. As we understand more about the design of our brain and nervous system, we will find ways that cannabinoids can be used to relieve human suffering. However, medical marijuana benefits do not come from smoking it which can damage the lungs and become addictive just as cigarette smoking does. Tests have shown that long-term use can lead to psychotic disorders, heart problems, and sexual/reproductive problems.

Marijuana itself is not evil, and certainly not a creation of Satan as some have implied. Humans can and do use marijuana as a destructive agent, but God designed it and intended it for good.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Summer Snow in Michigan

Summer Snow
Eastern Cottonwood Seeds

Recently my driveway was covered with Michigan summer snow. The temperature was 92 degrees, and the snow was falling at an alarming rate. I didn’t get out my snow blower, but I did get out my leaf blower.

Michigan summer snowflakes are one-to-two inches in diameter. Contained within each snowflake is a seed. These snowflakes can travel for miles when the wind is blowing because they are carefully engineered so that their density is the same as the air here in Michigan on a hot early summer day. They only stop when they hit an obstruction, but even a dandelion or a tall weed can stop them. The cotton that surrounds the seed is highly soluble in water. As soon as it rains or the sprinkler system comes on, the cotton will dissolve, and the seed will fall to the ground and try to become a new cottonwood tree.

The eastern cottonwood is the state tree in Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. It can grow as much as six feet in one year and can become one of the largest trees in North America. Because they grow so fast, the wood of cottonwood trees is not very strong. But when you have a tree 190 feet tall, there is a great deal you can do with it. The Native Americans made canoes from the trunks of cottonwood trees. They used the bark of the tree as forage for horses, and the sprouts for food and medicinal tea.

Cottonwood trees come in both male and female varieties with different life cycles. The males don’t make seeds. In the spring the female trees have tiny red blossoms. When the females are pollinated by the male trees, they form a spherical cotton ball with a seed inside. The volume of the cotton is exactly enough to give buoyancy to lift the seed off the ground, but not so enough for it to be lost in the atmosphere. The cotton balls with their seeds flow across the landscape in the same way that cold air blows snow in winter. The seeds can be so thick that we can’t see across our street.

It is a wonderful thing to see all the different methods that God designed into trees to allow them to reproduce. Maple trees use tiny helicopters to lower seeds to the ground. Oak trees use acorns to entice squirrels to bury their seeds. Squirrels have enough memory space in their brains to remember where most of the seeds are, but not all of them. Cottonwoods create summer snow.

Romans 1:20 tells us that we can know there is a God through the things He has made. Our Michigan summer snowstorm is just one more example of that truth.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Cobra Plant Insect Trap

Cobra Plant
One of the most interesting areas of botany is the functioning of plants that don’t rely on photosynthesis to survive. Recent studies of the California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica), also known as the cobra plant because of its shape, have shown that its design is incredibly complex.

David Armitage at the University of Notre Dame has been studying this plant, and in a recent article in Science News (January 21, 2017, page 4) he reported on what is known about this strange plant. It grows in soil rich in serpentine which would kill most photosynthetic plants. The cobra plant survives by being “meat dependent.” Up to 95% of the nitrogen the plant uses comes from insects trapped inside the leaves of the plant.

The curled leaves of the California pitcher plant serve as an insect trap. It draws insects into the leafy trap by secreting a sweet substance. This secretion is not through its blossoms but from a special roll of tissue near the mouth of the insect trap. When an insect enters the small opening under the cobra-like head of the pitcher, something interesting happens. By a method still not understood, the cobra plant draws water up from the soil and creates a pool in the bottom of the “pitcher.” Putting other substances into the trap doesn’t trigger the water. The plant will only respond to an insect. How the plant knows what is a bug and what isn’t a bug is still not understood. The water contains bacteria which lower the surface tension, so when a bug falls in, it quickly sinks to the bottom and drowns.

Another unsolved mystery of this plant is that it has a forked tissue at the top of the trap called a “fishtail” which resembles a mustache with red veins. It does not lure insects into the plant, but its function is still not understood. Armitage says “The only thing fishtails lure, for the time being at least, are puzzled botanists.”

Those of us who see God’s designing hand in the natural world would see the cobra plant as a special design to meet a particular environment. We would point to the Bible in Romans 1:20 where it says, “We can know there is a God through the things he has made.” The complexity of the California pitcher plant supports such a viewpoint in a special way.
–John N. Clayton © 2017