When it comes to biological life, even the simplest single-celled organism is an astonishingly complex multi-part system. Just how simple can a living cell get? On this ID The Future, Eric Anderson hosts another conversation with Dr. Robert Sadler to evaluate the claims of abiogenesis researchers. A recent Nature paper reports on an engineered minimal cell and how it contends with the “forces of evolution” compared to the non-minimal cell from which it was derived. In an attempt to find life’s lowest common denominator, experimenters reduced the minimal cell down from 901 genes to 473 genes. The result was a fragile, irregular organism, sheltered and well cared for. But does this reduction in genomic complexity demonstrate evolution or devolution? Is it an unguided process at work or adaptation within the boundaries of an organism’s design? “When people speak of evolution, they speak of random changes and natural selection,” Sadler says. “But are they really random? Or does the organism have a built-in ability to change the genome to its own benefit?” Sadler puts the paper’s results and claims in perspective for us.
Rob Stadler is the co-author with Change Tan of The Stairway to Life: An Origin-of-Life Reality Check and The Scientific Approach to Evolution: What They Didn’t Teach You in Biology. He received a BS in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University, an MS in electrical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in medical engineering from the Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. As a scientist in the medical device industry for over twenty years, he has obtained more than 140 US patents, has been elected fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biomedical Engineers, and has contributed to medical devices that are implanted in millions of patients worldwide.