Today’s ID the Future brings listeners physicist and engineer Brian Miller’s recent lecture at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith, “The Surprising Relevance of Engineering in Biology.” Miller rebuts several popular arguments for evolution based on claims of poor design in living systems, everything from the “backward wiring” of the vertebrate eye to whales, wrists, ankles, and “junk DNA.” But the main emphasis of this discussion is the exciting sea change in biology in which numerous breakthroughs are occurring by scientists who are treating living systems and subsystems as if they are optimally engineered systems. Some in this movement reject intelligent design for ideological reasons. Others embrace it. But all systems biologists treat these systems as if they are masterfully engineered systems, and that perspective is rapidly accelerating progress in experimental biology. At the forefront of this work is the Conference on Engineering in Living Systems (CELS). Miller provides an exciting sneak peek at some of the cutting edge research from members of this group.
On today’s ID the Future, physicist and engineer Brian Miller sits down with host Casey Luskin to survey exciting developments in intelligent design research that are driven by an engineering model for understanding and studying variations in species. ID researchers are pushing this work, but so too are systems biology researchers outside the intelligent design community. Tune in to hear Miller and Luskin discuss everything from fruit flies, finch beaks, and stickleback fish to mutational hotspots, phenotypic plasticity, and the gravity well model of biological adaptation.
Today’s ID the Future spotlights systems biology and the role engineers can play in some leading-edge biology. According to guest Steve Laufmann, systems biology is taking the biological world by storm, an approach that treats biological systems as optimally or near-optimally engineered systems and, using that working assumption, seeks to better understand the system. Laufmann says this provides an opening for engineers to contribute, since they have a deep understanding of what it takes to make a complex system work, and what’s required to change one core aspect of an engineered system so that it continues to work with all of the other crucial parts of the system. Many biologists aren’t trained in this, Laufmann says, and most engineers aren’t trained in the details of biology. Laufmann argues that the way forward is to get engineers and biologists talking, train biologists in engineering principles, and train engineers in biology. Laufmann and host Eric Anderson also discuss a recent conference they helped organize, the Conference on Engineering in Living Systems (CELS). Near the end of their conversation, Anderson asks Laufmann to tease some of the research work coming out of the conference, and Laufmann points to one researcher’s work on the bacterial flagellum, and promises more to come.
On today’s ID the Future we go behind the scenes at the recent Conference on Engineering in Living Systems, where host Jonathan Witt sat down with Dustin Van Hofwegen, a biology professor at Azusa Pacific University in California. The two discuss the private conference, which brought together biologists and engineers to study how engineering principles and a design perspective can and are being applied to biology — to plants and animals but also to Van Hofwegen’s area of focus, the Lilliputian realm of microbial biology. The two quickly move into a conversation about Van Hofwegen’s article in the Journal of Bacteriology, co-authored with Carolyn Hovde and Scott Minnich, based on research they did at the University of Idaho. As Van Hofwegen explains, the research focused on one of the most ballyhooed evolutionary changes to come out of Richard Lenski’s long-term evolution experiment at Michigan State University, a decades-long study of many thousands of generations of E. coli bacteria. Perhaps the biggest evolutionary development in the course of the experiment involved some bacteria beginning to feed in citric acid. Interesting, to be sure, but as Van Hofwegen explains, E. coli already has this capacity; it’s just a matter of switching it on. Van Hofwegen, Hovde, and Minnich demonstrated this through do-or-die experiments with E. coli, which led to the bacteria developing the capacity not in years or decades, as in the Lenski experiment, but in fourteen days, in as little as 100 generations. Van Hofwegen unpacks why this is an embarrassing result for Neo-Darwinism, then he and Witt discuss another study, this one focused on antibiotic resistance but with a similar result: the findings suggested that the antibiotic resistance observed came not by evolving anything new but by tweaking something already present — in this case, by actually breaking something.