Getting a head start has its advantages. If you are an early bird, you will get the worm. And if you are in the U. S. Army, you will “do more before 9:00 AM than most people do all day.”
Recent work by UC Berkeley scientists indicates the same is true for genes.1 In prokaryotes, genes encoding collaborative proteins are organized as a contiguous sequence called an operon. Genes located near the start of an operon do more work than most other genes. These first genes are expressed at higher levels because they are transcribed earlier and more often than genes located elsewhere in the operon.
This new insight highlights biochemical information’s elegant organization, helping to further the case for intelligent design. It also provides an effective counter to evidence sometimes cited in favor of biological evolution.
Gene Position in Operons
Genes are not positioned randomly along the DNA molecule. Instead, as I discuss in The Cell’s Design and in an online article, there appears to be a rationale for gene location. The Berkeley researchers demonstrated this concept by showing that a linear relationship exists between the location of the gene in the operon and the amount of protein produced. Genes located near the beginning of the operon produce more proteins than genes at the end of the operon.
To produce a protein, the prokaryote’s cellular machinery reads the entire operon and uses the information contained to generate a particular type of messenger RNA called a polycistronic RNA. This molecule migrates to the ribosome where the proteins are produced simultaneously, ensuring all proteins needed for a specific biochemical task are made at the same time. (Watch the video to get an overview of one of the textbook examples of an operon.)
Operon Structure and the Case for Intelligent Design
Biochemical systems are, in their essence, information based systems.2 Common experience teaches us that information derives from intelligent agency. Therefore, by analogy, one could argue that the information in biochemical systems emanates from a Creator.
But the argument for intelligent design is much deeper than that, as illustrated by operon structure. There is an exquisite biochemical rationale for gene organization along the DNA molecule. The work by the Berkeley investigators indicates that the precise sequencing of operon genes ensure not only that all the right proteins are made, but also that proteins are made at the right levels to support the cell’s metabolic demands.
It looks as if operons are “all that they can be,” and it is rational to see these structures as the work of a Creator. Next week I will discuss what this new insight means for the evolutionary paradigm.
- Han N. Lim, Yeong Lee, and Razika Hussein, “Fundamental Relationship between Operon Organization and Gene Expression,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (2011), published electronically June 13, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1105692108.
- See The Cell’s Design and this online article for further discussion of biochemical systems’ similarities to information based systems,