When I traveled to the Galápagos Islands back in 2011, it was said on our trip that only God and Peter Grant could tell the species of finches apart. While that may seem like an exaggeration, I don’t think it’s too far fetched after seeing these brown and rather plain birds myself. Peter and Rosemary Grant are scientists that make an annual trip to the Galápagos and actually live on an island for several months researching the birds. They have written several books and many technical articles describing changes in the beak size of the finch that vary dependent on food sources and other factors.
It has been known for sometime that the genes BMP4 (bone morphogenetic protein 4) and calmodulin were responsible for the variety in beak length, depth, and width. They are expressed at various levels in different species of finches, and this can be directly correlated with beak size and shape. However, as any good molecular geneticist wants to know, what controls the expression of these genes? A new study sequenced the genomes of 120 birds that encompassed all finch species on the Galápagos. One gene, ALX1, encodes a transcription factor that likely controls the expression of these genes to give the great variety of beak sizes we observe. Transcription factors are responsible for regulating the copying of DNA into RNA. The RNA is then “read” (translated) into proteins that determine beak size and shape. A similar gene to ALX1 in humans causes severe craniofacial abnormalities when it is mutated.
One news report on the finding said this:
Darwin's theories of evolution through natural selection were published more than 155 years ago and still spark controversy among creationists. With the new findings by Andersson and his team, Darwin's concept now has definitive evidence that the ALX1 gene plays a major role in how the finches developed into 18 different species.
Did you catch the equivocation that occurred in these two sentences? The first sentence is clearly talking about historical science and molecules-to-man evolution, which biblical creationists reject because it is contrary to God’s Word and not supported by science. However, the second sentence discusses speciation in the present, which is observational science. Finches varying into other species of finches are clearly not “definitive evidence” for finches or any other organism for that matter evolving into a completely different kind of organism. The biblical creation community welcomes this new discovery of the master control for beak size and shape in finches but does not welcome the rhetoric that this supposedly is evidence for molecules-to-man evolution.
To learn more about the Galápagos Islands and the amazing wildlife found there, I encourage you to check out my book, Galápagos Islands: A Different View. It is a collection of short, laymen-friendly articles about multiple aspects of the Galápagos alongside amazing photographs of this beautiful place. There is also the DVD Journey to the Galápagos that includes video footage of the islands and in-depth interviews with me about the genetics of the wildlife found there.
Keep fighting the good fight of the faith!