Nylon-eating Bacteria Again

Recently we received a rather derogatory inquiry concerning bacteria that “eat” nylon as being an example of the type of mutation that results in a gain of genetic information. Evolution requires a gain of genetic information to go from molecules to man. Novel structures and functions like a brain, eyeballs, a cardiovascular system, etc., need to be added (and the genetic information for them in the DNA) in order for an organism to evolve from a single cell to mankind. D.C. wrote the following:

Your Organization has said on numerous occasions that no new genetic information has ever been added to a genome. I’d like to point out that this is a filthy filthy lie. The most obvious example is Nylonase. What happened was that bacteria in a waste disposal plant outside of a Nylon factory gained the ability to digest nylon. We know that this was in increase of information because we know what happened, first, there was a gene duplication, which added redundancy to the genome. I don’t claim this was the addition of information. However, a frame-shift mutation happened next, this turned the redundancy into NEW GENETIC INFORMATION, over 2,000 bits of it! This isn’t an Anti-Christian argument, it’s a fact and the Bible doesn’t say anything about genetic information anyway, so it’s okay for you to accept this.

First and foremost, D.C. does not have his scientific facts straight concerning nylon-eating bacteria. To my knowledge there has not been a gene duplication event associated with Arthrobacter sp. K172 gaining the ability to digest the byproducts of nylon manufacture (what they essentially “eat” in the wastewater from nylon-producing plants). Rather, what happens is point mutations (single base pair changes in the DNA) that alter the active site of the enzyme EII, an enzyme the bacteria already possess. EII’s normal function is to break down a substance that is chemically similar to nylon. Thus, the mutations slightly alter EII so it can break down nylon that is very similar to the substance it normally breaks down. Clearly, this is not an example of a gain of information mutation but rather an alteration of currently existing information.

Overall, the mutations are degenerative to EII because they reduce its specificity (now the bacteria can “eat” the normal product and nylon). Dr. Kevin Anderson and I in our paper addressing supposed beneficial mutations stated this about EII:

Nonetheless, reduced specificity of a pre-existing enzyme is biochemically degenerative to the enzyme, even if it provides a presumed phenotypic benefit. The “beneficial” phenotype of nylon degradation requires the a priori existence of the enzyme and its specificity. Its degeneration is not a mechanism that accounts for the origin of either the enzyme or its specificity.

The mutations that cause bacteria to gain the ability to eat nylon are not information-increasing, and therefore, they cannot serve as an example of the type of mutations necessary for molecules-to-man evolution. For a more technical discussion on nylon-eating bacteria and other supposed beneficial mutations, see “A Creationist Perspective of Beneficial Mutations in Bacteria.”

D.C. is also wrong when he states, “the Bible doesn’t say anything about genetic information.” The Bible does not directly talk about genetic information, but it indirectly refers to it in Genesis 1 when God creates every living thing—DNA included! I hope this blog post helps clarify some of the issues surrounding nylon-eating bacteria and the total lack of a mechanism that is required by evolution to produce the necessary gain of genetic information.

Keep fighting the good fight of the faith!