Of Monarchs and Protestors - Evolution News & Views

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Of Monarchs and Protestors

One of the Emory scientists who led the protest against Ben Carson's appearance as a commencement speaker has a new paper out that doesn't help evolution.

Dr. Jacobus de Roode is one of the four Emory professors who led the recent protest against Dr. Ben Carson's invitation to deliver the university's commencement address and receive an honorary degree (see here for our latest coverage). "Ben Carson's Outright Rejection of Evolution Is Against Emory's Ideals," the title of their open letter adamantly announced. Apparently one of those ideals is intolerance of doubts about evolution.

That being the case, it's ironic that de Roode's new paper, in Molecular Ecology, is about Monarch butterflies -- the heroes of Illustra Media's most recent documentary, Metamorphosis, in which two Discovery Institute fellow Paul Nelson and Biologic Institute scientist Ann Gauger show Monarchs to be not only devastating to evolutionary theory but exquisite examples of intelligent design.

Does de Roode's paper rescue Darwin from the Monarchs? Apparently not, since neither the word evolution or Darwin is found in the text of the paper, or in the summary on Science Daily -- except indirectly in the references and a brief mention of "Emory's Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution program" that conducted the study. The authors did refer to natural selection, but only to express their own surprise, wondering how populations undergoing different "selection pressures" could be genetically similar.

The paper indeed presents a challenge for evolutionary geneticists. Monarchs that overwinter in Mexico disperse into two migrating populations, a western group that heads up the California coast, and an eastern group that migrates north through Texas and as far as Canada. Dr. de Roode and colleagues expected to find genetic differences between the populations as they diverged over the millennia by natural selection, but the scientists could not find any such differences in 19 microsatellite markers they checked. They wrote,

Our results show that eastern and western migratory monarchs form one admixed population and that monarchs from Hawaii and New Zealand have genetically diverged from North American butterflies. These findings suggest that eastern and western monarch butterflies maintain their divergent migrations despite genetic mixing.
This finding raises new questions about the delicate insects' admittedly "spectacular annual migration" over thousands of miles and three to four generations. If the migration instructions are not genetically distinct in the two populations, what causes some to go northwest and some to go northeast?

Did they researchers miss the right genes? That's certainly possible, but a comparison of the Monarchs from Hawaii and New Zealand did show some genetic divergence in the microsatellites. This suggests that the two North American populations are one admixed group. Some other factor must explain why they migrate north by two very different routes.

De Roode and his colleagues suggest that gene regulation could be the missing factor. That's epigenetics, the "code above the code" that Tom Woodward described in a recent ID the Future podcast. Epigenetic codes are all the Darwinists need right now, having already gone bankrupt trying to explain metamorphosis and Monarch migration.

"These results are surprising," de Roode and his colleagues wrote of their results. Ben Carson, an advocate of intelligent design, would not be surprised.