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NIH Announces New Software for Scientists Publishing Articles in Evolutionary Biology

nihdirector-collins1.jpgThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) have created a computer program to assist scientists who are writing articles in evolutionary biology. According to NIH Director Francis Collins, authors can access the program for a nominal fee (subsidized by their federal research funding), choose from a variety of templates, and simply insert their latest research data. The sophisticated software then integrates the data into standard evolutionary algorithms and adds relevant technical terminology.

The program is based on computer code written by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and it is accessible on the NIH website. Here is the title and abstract of a computer-generated article recently accepted for publication in Nature:

Genetic evidence reveals a heretofore-unsuspected evolutionary relationship between roundworms and fruit flies


All species are descendants of common ancestors that have been modified by genetic mutations, natural selection, and random genetic drift. We studied two desert-dwelling organisms, the roundworm Caenorhabditis drosophilae and the fruit fly Drosophila nigrospiracula. The former spends part of its life inside the head of the latter, and the rest of its life on rotting cactus tissue. We sequenced a homopolymeric gene that is expressed proleptically in both organisms and found a surprisingly high degree of homology, indicating a heretofore-unsuspected evo-lutionary relationship between the two asymptotic species. Nonlinear phylogenet-ic regression using a binary dummy variable of 2 suggests that C. drosophilae and D. nigrospiracula diverged because of mutationally stable disequilibria due to frequency-independent apostatic natural selection and simultaneously converged because of ecologically constrained stochastic gene sorting. To the best of our knowledge this represents the first demonstrated case of allopatric speciation in the absence of geographical separation. We conclude that C. drosophilae and D. nigrospiracula are descendants of common ancestors that have been modified by genetic mutations, natural selection, and random genetic drift.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees the NIH), has assured potential users of the new software that they will not encounter the same problems as people who recently tried to sign up online for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and that their work will not suffer the same fate as 120 articles in mathematics and computer science that were recently withdrawn from publication after being exposed as computer-generated gibberish.

Image: Francis S. Collins/NIH.