Evolution of Nylon-eating bacteria



Paenarthrobacter ureafaciens KI72, popularly known as nylon-eating bacteria, is a strain of Paenarthrobacter ureafaciens that can digest certain by-products of nylon 6 manufacture. It uses a set of enzymes to digest nylon, popularly known as nylonase. The discovery of nylon-eating bacteria has been used to educate and challenge creationist arguments against evolution and natural selection. These bacteria can produce novel enzymes that allow them to feed on by-products of nylon manufacture which did not exist prior to the invention of nylon in the 1930s. Observation of these adaptations refutes religious and pseudoscientific claims that no new information can be added to a genome and that proteins are too complex to evolve through a process of mutation and natural selection.

The manufacture of nylon-6 generates waste materials not present before in nature which several bacterial species can degrade. Three enzymes, able to hydrolyse various amide bonds in these waste substances were shown to be responsible for these processes. The optimized versions of these enzymes are likely to have arisen within a few decades, mostly under selection in a laboratory.

Evolution and Adaptation

Evolution (also known as macroevolution) is typically described as a natural process that generates new biological structures from less ordered material, such that “simple” creatures like bacteria are transformed into complex organisms like birds. This process implies a developmental history of life that is incompatible with that described in the Bible, which portrays the creation of fully-formed life.

On the other hand, adaptation (or microevolution) describes the capacity of organisms to undergo limited changes over several generations in order to make better use of, or survive better in, different environments. Creation scientists agree that God’s creatures were given the potential to adapt to different environments, but they propose that these adaptations have natural limits. Adaptations in response to environmental changes are observed in nature, but evolution is not.

The gene that mutated to enable bacteria to metabolize nylon is on a small loop of exchangeable DNA.3 this gene, prior to its mutation, coded for a protein called EII with a special ability to break down small, circularized proteins. Though synthetic, nylon is very protein-like because inventor Wallace Carothers modeled the original fiber based on known protein chemistry. Thus, after the mutation, the new EII protein was able to interact with both circular and straightened-out nylon. This is a clear example of a loss of specification of the original enzyme. It is like damaging the interior of a lock so that more and different keys can now unlock it.

This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

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Best Regards,

Mary Wilson,

Associate Managing Editor,

Medical Microbiology & Diagnosis

E-mail: microbiology@jpeerreview.com