Thursday, December 14, 2017

EVOLUTION: The Eureka Moment

The “eureka!” moment, when I saw the Pogonophora as the significant link of the two main divisions of higher animals, can be credited to the stimulation of reading Gans and Northcutt, 1983. 

Gans, Carl, and R. Glenn Northcutt.  1983.  Neural crest and the origin of vertebrates: a new head.  Science, 220:268-274. 

They placed the pogonophorans in line with the vertebrates based on development.  I was sure the evidence was overwhelming that pogonophorans were close to, or one of, the annelids.  But I also realized most scientists are honorable and truthful in their work and deserve to be taken seriously.  But how could Gans & Northcutt be right when the overwhelming evidence indicated pogonophorans were close to annelids and other protostomes?  Somehow, in an instant, I realized it could be true if pogonophorans were a connecting link.  A deluge of such evidence came to mind.  And, as I followed new, as well as some older, molecular and other evidence the connection became well supported. 

Engemann, Joseph G.  1968.  Pogonophora: the oldest living animals?  Pap. Mich. Acad. Sci., Arts, and Letters, 53:105-108.

Engemann, J. G.  1983.  Coelomate animals are monophyletic.  American Zoologist, 23(4):1008. Abstract # 753.  The Pogonophora have characteristics of both protostomes and deuterostomes and provide support for the annelid theory of origin of deuterostomes.

Understanding the extreme age of individual pogonophorans, suggested in the 1968 report above, was a result of preparing a new section on pogonophorans for the 1968 edition of Hegner and Engemann’s Invertebrate Zoology text.  It was reprinted in chapter 14 of the 1981 edition (Engemann and Hegner) which discussed the evidence making it very likely deep-sea animals typically have very extended lives and low respiratory rates.  My 1983 abstract noted above was reported shortly after Gans and Northcutt triggered my conclusion with their evidence. 

A full report of the paper was submitted to Nature.  The reviewers did not reject the paper but the editor decided not to publish it because it was not of wide enough interest.  I had given it a title suggesting pogonophorans were the protostome-deuterostome link.  He was not moved by my suggestion that a catchier title would have been “my ancestors were worms”.

Of course, there is a whole sequence of organisms from protozoans through sponges, jellyfish, flatworms, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insectivores, primates and closer relatives in our direct lineage.  But we don’t have direct ancestry through either nematodes, mollusks, arthropods, echinoderms, or many other groups.  If people squirm to think some ape-like primate was in our evolutionary ancestry, how much more appropriate to squirm for a worm.

What about extreme longevity of pogonophorans?
It helps explain their slow evolutioary rate, and thus, their close molecular relationship to diverse groups of animals.

What is so important about abyssal life of pogonophorans?
The slow pace of life at great depths, due to great pressure, low food and oxygen input to the depths, paucity of life, probable absorption of fossil nutrients from sediments, and isolation from many surface extinction factors makes them living "fossil" ancestors. [Note: really old people may live to see great, great, great grand-children]

What has pressure to do with it?
It has not been demonstrated but it is obvious that reduced diffusion based metabolism is probably the missing factor in reduced community respiration noted at great depths.  I await someone making observations of reduced Brownian movement and/or diffusion of dyes at great depths.  It may be a factor in extended submersion time for deep-diving whales.  Water is ever so slightly compressed at great pressures- it may be the cause.

Could circulatory systems increase activity and decease longevity at great depths?
Perhaps.  But whales presumably shut down some less essential portions of theirs.

What about the great difference in early embryology of the groups alleged to be connected by the pogonoporans?
That has been discussed in other posts.  Also, observation of isopod development in Tasmania and Michigan gives some clues to different rates of development associated with ecological factors.  Abyssal life put a species survival premium on shifting from protostome to deuterostome development.

Joseph G. Engemann    Emeritus Professor of Biology,  Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan      December 14, 2017

Monday, December 11, 2017



If you find anything I’ve written inspirational and/or of value, the credit goes to God.  I have been somewhat reluctant to extend that credit until recently for two reasons.  One, it sounded too boastful to think God had so favored me, and there are some scriptural passages that discourage excessive self-praise or taking the best seat.  And my mother had a frequent admonition that said “self-praise stinks”.  And two, I may have had self-doubts, but primarily the role God has had in my life was somewhat obscured in my mind until old habits had been well-established.

I do not know what made me so curious about things.  It might be that the early arguments with my brother helped me see that ideas I could not clearly express were as valid as his well-reasoned opinions.  The possibility that we were both wrong did not occur to me then; but sometimes, then or later, I came to the realization that we both may have been right in a limited way.  The consequence to me was that my thinking process may have been slowed down by applying too many “what ifs” to the subject at hand.

Applying alternative views when reading science research reports made me realize scientists often abandon old views prematurely when their research shows a statistically significant support for their hypothesis.  Perhaps individuals do the same thing when they understand exercise is good for their health and think they can exercise more and go back to smoking, or pigging out on sweets, or any other favorite vice.

My journey

Over seventy-five years ago on a pleasant evening I looked up at the Milky Way and with my limited knowledge of astronomy was extremely impressed with the immensity and age of the universe.  I was probably more impressed with God who had made it.  I had just been to confession and was moved that the creator of the universe was so good to me.  I am in awe of many wonders of nature, from the smallest to the largest, and especially humans.  I think it may be one reason I have been able to see evolutionary connections as part of God’s process of creation.  Jesus has said that no one knows the Father except himself and those to whom he chooses to know his Father.

I see the things others fail to see in evolution as evidence I have been granted some advantage because of my awe of God and his creation and love for all of us.  It seems to me that God has prepared me for this via some of the things I earlier viewed as misfortunes and other haphazard choices and/or events in my life.  It has not been a total “comedy of errors”, but I cannot attribute great wisdom to the haphazard direction of my life.

A neat and tidy life with thoughtful attention to career progress would not be likely to produce the eclectic bits of information and research needed to reconcile the annelid theory with the actual course of evolution.  I think Jesus knows this and has intervened to keep me going to help others see the validity of evolution and in particular, that scientists may see that belief in God is not only compatible with understanding evolution, but also may be a source of divine grace to help that understanding. 

The eureka moment of my most important contribution to science will be discussed in my next post.  The major role of asteroids, extinctions, and their interaction with deep sea ecology in determining major early events in evolution may be better appreciated by reading pertinent evolution posts in this blog.  I thought the eureka moment was to be expected in light of the peculiar collection of events in my academic/scientific life.  But I now think it was part of God’s plan for me as evidenced by a number of things.

First, a nudge to complete an evolution book that I had little accomplished toward in my first ten years of retirement.  The nudge was a diagnosis of myelodysplasia and the realization I would be lucky if I survived two years, about the time it took me to complete a first draft.  Some minor efforts to find a publisher convinced me I should put my work on an internet website.  My computer expertise had never been great in the days of punchcards, tape, and eventually disk storage of data (hurrah for thumb drives and if I could get over my fears, cloud storage). 

The second nudge, I was struggling with developing a website a few years after surgical removal of a large bladder-stone, (but no prostate ablation due to low platelet counts).  Following the worst episode of bleeding since the surgery I had a serious talk with Jesus, I let him know I was ready to die, but if he wanted me to set up an internet presence I would take a bleeding stop as the indication.  That was almost five years ago, I was able to set up this blog within a month or so, and have had no bleeding from the urogenital tract since. 

I have had serious bleeding from falls and hernia surgery, especially from the last nighttime fall a few months ago that may have been partially due to an episode of pneumonia.  So now, ten years after finding I had myelodysplasia, I am happy to see every day but starting to take them for granted.  The first day of golf in 2008 I was just soaking up the beauty of the day, spring flowers, fluffy clouds and all that I expected would be my last year.  Whenever the day comes, know that I appreciate the days I’ve had, family, friends, colleagues, and many others that have crossed my path.  And I hope that some of what I have written will benefit you.

So talk to Jesus,  He will hear you and do what is best for you.  Thank him.  Pray for others, they are his friends too.

Joseph Engemann   Kalamazoo, Michigan    December 11, 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


 Jesus has been closer to me than I realized all of my life.  Unfortunately, I have not given him the recognition he deserves; and as I will be ninety late next year, if I make it, I don’t have a lot of time to make up for my omissions.  I have begun a few posts in the last few years that were almost introductory to a last post.  I have less premonition of such an event now, but the possibility of mental decline increasing made it seem like a good idea to write this now.  I may enlarge on topics in future posts, but I can’t be sure of that.

Who is Jesus?

Jesus is the second identity in the one Trinitarian God who took the human nature to help bring salvation to all people that accept him.  Having become truly human he gives us reason to believe that God really understands our problems.  He sacrificed his life for us to fulfill the will of the Father (at the same time being one with Him) to wipe away our sins that seem to us an impediment to entering heaven.  God’s love is all encompassing, and God’s Holy Spirit is always urging us to improve our love for God and all humanity.

Jesus was born of the virgin, Mary.  His life as the Son of God, a human, as well as his eternal life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is more than I can explain; but I think it is reasonable when you consider that God is an infinitely powerful, eternal being that precedes the universe and time, both of which are parts of his creation.

Jesus, the Jew.

Born into the chosen people, Jesus was trained in the scriptures and followed the Jewish law and traditions under the guidance of his family in preparation for his brief earthly role as the Messiah predicted by Isaiah and other prophets.

He castigated teachers in the temple who interpreted the law so strictly for the people but, did not act the way they taught.  Jesus summed up the law of the Old Testament as the guiding principle in the New Testament, as love of God and neighbor.

Jesus and science.

It appears that Jesus does not try to teach us principles of science.  Instead he accepts the understanding of the culture of the time and uses it to teach things he is concerned about. 
In the previous post, I mentioned the nematode worm that is wound up on a stick to extract it from the skin of an infected person.  Jesus mentions it as a symbol of the way he would die on a cross (John 3:13-15) and references it later (John 8:28 and 12:32-33); the bronze serpent had been held up by Moses (in Numbers 21:6-9) as instructed by God.  In the telling of the story the worm became a seraph serpent depicted in bronze wound around the stick, converted to the symbolic crucifix, used by Christians as a reminder of Jesus’ death and love for us.  And it is converted to a symbol of the medical professions as the caduceus, usually showing the serpent wound around a winged staff; the medical version may be showing a connection to the method of extracting the nematode, or possibly gods of Greek mythology.  [Credit for my knowing the possible connection of the parasite being the fiery serpent of the bible goes to an unknown colleague of Dr. E. B. Steen, my colleague at WMU, who told me about him nearly sixty years ago.]

The three days before the resurrection of Jesus were prefigured by Jonah’s three days in a big fish.  Whether it was literal truth, but mistaking a whale for a big fish, or myth or legend of the Paul Bunyan sort, it provided a teaching moment linking old and new in the Bible.

Science and Religion

There are numerous bits with accuracy in understanding of science common to biblical days as presented in scripture.  Variation in germination and growth of plant seed dependent on soil and determining yield, predicting weather based on clouds on the horizon, the relative permanence of a dwelling built on rock as opposed to sandy soil, as well as understanding of human behavior, are among examples enriching the teachings of Jesus recorded by his disciple’s followers as well as some apostles.

The findings of science are all tentative, i.e., capable of being falsified by new data.  Of course, laws are not expected to yield to new interpretations, whereas hypotheses change, hopefully with declining frequency as new data is obtained and interpreted.  When it comes to spiritual things, science is incapable of making valid observations to either prove or disprove spiritual matters.

The findings of religion do not appear to have clarity of method in all cases.  Because the three dominant monotheistic views differ to increasing degree as we leave discussion of God and some basic principles, we will probably never reach complete unity even though we should strive for it.  But it is difficult for those believing all scripture should be interpreted literally to believe-- the scientific view of age of the universe, or fossils; the fiction incorporated in some bible stories and parables that were used to teach moral principles; the exaggeration common to speech and scriptures during biblical times.

Can we add separation of science and religion to separation of church and state as a desirable principle?  Maybe separation of science and state too?

My personal relationship with God

It has been a journey, many others have taken it, and it is open to you.  I have no doubt that  God has been with me all my life, even when I did not cooperate.  The same is true for you, just have patience.  In the meantime, I suggest a short daily reading of scripture.  Give God a chance.  

The apostle, John, had a close relationship with Jesus, and cared for Mary after the Crucifixion.  So John had opportunity for learning about Jesus' childhood from Mary and directly observing Jesus during his ministry.  So those constructing his gospel were able to faithfully give a clearer picture of what Jesus taught.  In John 13:34-35 we learn of the new law, "love one another".  We get a clearer picture of the Holy Trinity in John 5:19-30 and 5:14-17.  The equality of men and women is perhaps best shown in John's Gospel.

My love of the gospel according to John may be attributed to the fact it was the first one we studied the first year I joined as the only graduate student, along with some faculty and townspeople, in a study group led by Dr. Joseph Druse, an English Professor at Michigan State University.

Joseph Engemann      Kalamazoo, Michigan    November 8, 2017 

Monday, October 30, 2017


Nematode worms are typically long, round, unsegmented, gradually tapered at both ends.

"Nematodes have many species with relatively little difference in body form.  Many are parasitic and it is thought that most species of vertebrates may have one or more parasitic nematode species unique to them.  Nematodes parasitize many other groups of animals and plants.  Many live in the intestines of animals.  One free-living nematode species lives in organic rich soil but can also live as a parasite in humans. Rotting organic matter in soil is not so different from the intestinal contents of some animals.  Both are rich in bacteria that the nematodes can feed upon.  Adapting to the rich soil made them somewhat "pre-adapted" to life as an intestinal parasite. This adaptation included an ability to live in environments with oxygen so limited many other animals could not survive." (from my unpublished 2010 manscript)

The similarity of structure of different species disappears when the mouth end, and often the anal end, are examined microscopically.  Three jaws are present in some.  The pharanyx may have a muscular bulb that probably helps ingestion of food without losing pressure, the body contents act as a hydrostatic skeleton.  The cuticular covering of the body is molted or shed typically several times in early development.  During the process of development portions of the chromosomal material can be ejected from the chromosomes; this is perhaps a result of selection for the small size of ancestors living among the sand grains of soils. In one species the ejection of chromatin occurs in all cells except the stem cell until the 32 cell stage.  Body cells of many achelminths other than nematodes also seem to have the loss of ability to regenerate that is thought to be a result of the reduced chromosomal material in body cell nuclei (or nuclei when tissues are syncytial).  Near constant number of nuclei or cells of the species are present in the tissues of many aschelminths.

I was reviewing some of Libbie Hyman's work on Aschelminthes (not accepted as a valid cluster by many zoologists), but unfortunately she did not have the benefit of knowing about gnathostomulids (first described in 1956) which were later.  Gnathostomulids seem to be descendents of the simple early flatworms that are not flat, but are adapted to living in sediments that are often anoxic.  Reidel, 1969, suggests the gnathostomulids can be placed in either the Platyhelminthes or the Aschelminthes.  The gastrotrichs may be the connecting link to rotifers.  Nematodes may have been the termination of a line orginating early in the cluster of achelminth groups; but they have a complete lack of cilia, a fact that makes them unlikely to have given rise to any other groups since arthropods also lack cilia but are so clearly derived from annelids that do have cilia.  Thus the lack of cilia in nematodes and arthropods is an analagous, not homologous, trait.

The reason I referred to Hyman was to find out about the adhesive glands or pedal glands, commonly paired on most ashelminths' posteriors, but absent in the gnathostomulids.  The glands are very small and difficult to see, especially in nematodes.  I did not see them in some nematodes I had watched in water on a microscope slide at low magnification, but those nematodes were clearly adhering by their tail as the writhed around.  One researcher (Chitwood) divided nematodes into two groups depending on whether they had phasmids at their posterior.  The mouth area and anal areas of nematodes show great variation in microcopic details not conducive to casual observation.

Such fine details can be a great help in identifying species and often show revealing variation suitable for showing evolutionary relationships.  The October 20, 2017, issue of Science has a research report detailing such a fact with feather-like hairs on water-strider feet.  In the case of water-striders, the details are limited to very close relatives.  In arthropods, similar microscopic comparisons can be made of structures limited to closely related species of the same genus and sometimes of different orders.

When the very small and the very large features match, relationship seems more likely.  To determine evolutionary relationships, neither can be ignored.  Over-dependence on one may lead to error and demonstrate why the novice or student may see things the specialist or teacher does not see, a relationship affecting creativity as noted by Tinbergen.

Among the larger features distinctive for nematodes, that show them as a terminal group in an evolutionary sense, are the muscle cells of the body of the intestinal parasite, Ascaris.  All are longitudinal and each passes a muscle cell process to the nerve enervating the muscle.  Other lines of evidence that the Ecdysozoa are an invalid group are indicated by some of the references appended.

Ascaris can grow to a foot long during it time in the intestine.  It has a simple life cycle with transmission of eggs, typically ingested with fecal contaminated food, hatching in the intestine and larve going through tissue and blood to the lungs where they break out and get coughed up, swallowed, and then comlete their life in the intestine.  Another nematode parasite of humans is thought to be the fiery serpent mentioned by Moses.  It has a big name, Dracunculus medinensis, and is known as the guinea worm.  The adult female can be as much as a meter long and live in the subcutaneous tissue under the skin.  The larvae are discharged through a hole in the skin and, if ingested by an aquatic microcrustacean named Cyclops, complete their larval development and, if Cyclops is ingested by a human, eventually reach their location under the skin.

The great variations in size, number of host species needed to complete life cycles, and adaption to a single or limited number of final hosts of most vertebrates, as well as many invertebrates, seems to indicate an ancient origin for nematodes.

Joseph G. Engemann    Emeritus Professor of Biology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan   October 30, 2017

REFERENCES (comments added)

Aguinaldo, Anna Marie A., James M. Turbeville, Lawrence S. Linford, Maria C. Rivera, James R. Garey, Rudolf A. Raff, and James A. Lake.  1997.  Evidence for a clade of nematodes, arthropods and other moulting animals.  Nature, 387:489-493. Unfortunately, textbooks have picked up their grouping of nematodes with arthropods and some other molting animals in a group they named Ecdysozoa; based on 18s ribosomal DNA sequences, it is inadequate to support such a group.  They even say “It was unexpected to find nematodes contained within the Ecdysozoa because in previous molecular studies they diverged deep in the protostome tree, even before the deuterostome-protostome bifurcation.”   -page 491 has discussion of unequal rates found in other nematode studies (documented and ignored) and their search for and choice of slowly evolving representatives [almost guaranteed to put an outgroup in where it doesn’t belong]

Fraser, Hunter B., Aaron E. Hirsh, Lars M. Steinmetz, Curt Sharfe, and Marcus W. Feldman.  2002.  Evolutionary rate in the protein interaction network.  Science, 296:750-752.  (26 Apr 2002)  “We show that the connectivity of well-conserved proteins in the network is negatively correlated with their rate of evolution.”  “interacting proteins evolve at similar rates.” - used “putatively orthologous sequences between Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.” 

Halanych, Kenneth M.  1996.  Testing hypotheses of chaetognath origins: long branches revealed by 18S ribosomal DNA.  Syst. Biol., 45(223-246.   Well-done study but long branches and small sample size make result of relationships beyond the nematode-chaetognath affinity somewhat dubious.

Halanych, Kenneth M., John D. Bacheller, Anna Marie A. Aguinaldo, Stephanie M. Liva, David M. Hillis, and James A. Lake.  1995.  Evidence from 18S ribosomal DNA that the lophophorates are protostome animals.  Science, 267:1641-1643.  “we propose the node-based name (16)[K. de Queiroz and J. Gauthier, Syst. Zool. 39, 307 (1990)] Lophotrochozoa, which is defined as the last common ancestor of the three traditional lophorate taxa, the mollusks, and the annelids, and all of the descendants of that common ancestor.”  Note 10 includes the following statement “Regions that could not be readily aligned were excluded from the analyses.”  Their proposal is ridiculous when all data are considered.

Halanych, Kenneth M., and Yale Passamaneck.  2001.  A brief review of metazoan phylogeny and future prospects in Hox-research.  Amer. Zool., 41:629-639.  maintain Hox gene research supports the earlier ridiculous proposals of ecdysozoans and lophotrochozoans.  Has numerous references.

Hobert, Oliver, and Gary Ruvkun.  1998.  A common theme for LIM homeobox gene function across phylogeny?  Biol. Bull., 195:377-380.  neurogenesis regulatory genes and transcription factors are very similar in vertebrates, insects, and nematodes

Hobmayer, Bert, Fabian Rentzsch, Kerstin Kuhn, Christoph M. Happel, Christoph Cramer von Laue, Petra Snyder, Ute Rothbackerm, & Thomas W. Holstein.  2000.  WNT signaling molecules act in axis formation in the diploblastic metazoan HydraNature, 407:186-189.  the WNT signaling pathway had been found in nematodes, insects and vertebrates.

Kappen, Claudia.  2000.  Analysis of a complete homeobox gene repertoire: implications for the evolution of diversity.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 97:4481-4486.  used the nematode, C. elegans

Sarnat, Harvey B.  1984.  Muscle histochemistry of the planarian Dugesia tigrina (Turbellaria: Tricladida): implications in the evolution of muscle.  Trans. Am. Microsc. Soc., 103(3):284-294.  Says striated muscle is in every metazoan phylum except Porifera and adult Platyhelminthes. (oblique striations in nematodes – Rosenbuth 1965, 67  Wright 62) 

Van Auken, Kimberly, Daniel C. Weaver, Lois G. Edgar, and William B. Wood.  2000.  Caenorhabditis elegans embryonic axial patterning requires two recently discovered posterior-group Hox genes.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 97:4499-4503.  “essential embryonic patterning in C. elegans requires only Hox genes of the anterior and posterior paralog groups, raising interesting questions about evolution of the medial-group genes.” Three Hox genes in the nematode

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Today's paper

A Washington Post article by Jonathan Kay, “Nobody Listened to Luther at first. That’s why he succeeded”, published in the Kalamazoo Gazette October 29, 2017, deserves reading to see an example of how momentous ideas develop.  Some similar circumstances surrounded Darwin’s ideas about natural selection.

Non-conformists may face problems

Today such factors as rapid communication and professional networks can, Kay writes, “make us more cautious, since we know that any new idea can expose us to instant censure from complete strangers in other parts of the world………. – This phenomenon goes by different names – group think, political correctness, herd mentality.  But in every form, it serves the interest of the orthodox and frustrates the heretic.” 

I sometimes feel like I am a group of one in terms of my findings.  I don’t expect to be in a group with Luther or Darwin, but I am not aware of much acceptance of what I thought were my best ideas about evolution.  I do appreciate the fact that my post about the coelom has received so many views.
An early post of mine-  has had zero page views. The post makes suggestions for solitary brainstorming that can substitute to some degree for the benefits of group brainstorming.


I have begun a draft of a post on nematodes.  It is hoped to be helpful in understanding the antiquity of their origin, far before the time the erroneous Ecdysozoa implies.  I was reviewing some of Libbie Hyman’s invertebrate volumes and will leave most related comments to the forthcoming post.  But the last two paragraphs of the post  said some of the things I might have repeated.

Christian Unity

Today, about the 500th anniversary of the event most associate with Luther’s long campaign, there is a mood that seems to have developed in recent years, of Protestants recognizing that Catholics have gotten past such blemishes as selling indulgences and killing heretics, and of Catholics thinking that Protestants have selectively departed from teachings of Jesus.  There is recognition of a common bond for many on both sides of the former divide; and if it has not been there before, that all humans are created by, and loved by, God.

Joseph Engemann      Kalamazoo, Michigan   October 29, 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Economy

The blog post, “History Repeating”, that I posted in April of 2016 was copied from a journal entry I wrote in 2009.  It seems like history is still repeating in the economy, the political world, and perhaps other ways.  It seems like it is worth reading for those in the USA. 

If you want to read it you can get there by clicking the arrowhead before 2006, then April, then History Repeating.  I think you can also get there by clicking

Don’t let it depress you too much – repeating can be better than destroying.  It might be better to call it a cycle, or a day, year, or generation.  It can even make you happy when it is children or grandchildren.

If you apply natural selection theory to economic or political theory it might result in beneficial change.  It doesn't need to be as destructive as revolutionary change that people see in what Marx accomplished.  Gradual change is most likely to be both beneficial and successful.

Joe Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan    10/23/17

Friday, October 20, 2017



About a half-century ago I was confused by the distinction between Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism.  The "Neo" prefix had been added to designate the discoveries of Darwin enhanced by understanding of hereditary or genetic principles clarifying the principles of natural selection.  Such proliferation of terms helps the specialists introducing them but brings confusion to the generalists.

Discovery of details of pogonophoran biology provides near certainty that the abandoned annelid theory of chordate ancestry was actually correct when modified as done in numerous posts on this evolutioninsights blog.  The separation of the chordate line from protostomes via the polychaete - pogonophora - hemichordate - chephalochordaate sequence has sufficient evidence to justify abandoning the old idea that the deuterostome departure from protostomes was near the flatworm level.

Updating the annelid theory

First, the original abandonment of the annelid theory on embryological grounds was dismissed by the drastic differences between protostome and deuterostome development.  This blog (June 24, 2013 etc.) is the only source showing a plausible reason for the change via the pogonophorans.

Second, the current popular distortion of animal phyla relationships is based on faulty research described in this site's blog of May 31, 2013.  The post on Evolution: Molecular Clocks on November 25, 2014 contains numerous citations to research showing the great variations possible in studies based on molecular clocks.

Third, the input from ecological and structural studies shows the simplicity of inversion of systems to deuterostome chordates from protostome annelids via tube-dwelling polychaetes noted in Evolution of systems inversion posted June 28, 2013.  Several other June 2013 posts should also be viewed.

Fourth, the post on EVOLUTION AND THE OLDEST ANIMAL, June 13, 2014, should be a great help understanding the unique evolutionary position of the pogonophorans and their position as a very important connecting link between the two major lines of higher animals.

Updating the Tree of Life

The June 30 2013 and subsequent posts to August 3, 2013 have information about the linking of mainstream invertebrate groups as well as arthropods and mollusks.  There are many important subgroups of sponges, cnidarians, and flatworms in the mainstream.  Interesting sideshoots include ctenophores, rotifers, nematodes.  The protonemerteans are a hypothetical descendent of flatworms preceding the polychaete annelids; they represent the most uncertain guess for continuity in the protozoan to people ancestral tree.  Arthropods and mollusks probably have separate origins from polychaete annelids.

Branches from uncertain places in the tree of life include lophophrates such as bryozoans and brachiopods, and echinoderms; they may be near the pogonophorans in origin.  Chaetognathan origins are uncertain, as are the origins of a number of unsegmented worms.

Joseph Engemann, Emeritus Professor of Biology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan       October 20, 2017

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Evolution: Offbeat Observations

Georg Lichtenberg said “It is impossible to carry the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing someone’s beard”, according to James Geary (2005, The World in a Phrase, Bloombury Publishing, New York, 229 pp.).  It somewhat comforts me as I write about the multiple errors earnest and intelligent researchers of evolution have made, errors I am trying to replace with a more accurate depiction of the tree of life.

One, of the two worst research reports establishing a faulty superphylum, Ecdysozoa, had a lady as the primary author; it made me realize the sexist nature of the aphorism quoted above.  I also do not know if the gentleman first author of the publication setting up the other faulty superphylum, Lophotrochozoa, had a beard to be singed.

The most influential zoologist of the last hundred years could well be Libbie Hyman.  See  She deserves the respect given her, mistakes in her work are minimal, and I also do not want to detract from other work by the two authors whose work is criticized in , after all, “to err is human”.  I guess that proves I am human too.

When offbeat becomes main-stream evolution

Three of the last four blog posts have had bits about the abyssal ocean.  There are several facts about the abyss that can help us understand major consequences for evolution shaping life today in unappreciated but interconnected ways.

One, the stability of the abyssal region offered refuge from numerous early extinction events.

The extreme pressure, lack of light for photosynthesis, low input of surface debris reaching the abyss, near-freezing temperature, and sparse populations were ecological factors leading to the long-life, low reproductive rates, and emphasis on survival adaptations characteristic of K-selected life styles.  They contrast to r-selected life styles of organisms where abundant food and high predation lead to short lives, high reproductive rates, rapid growth, and perhaps higher evolutionary rates of most organisms in lighted, warmer surface habitats.

Two, the abyssal affects on embryology and metabolic rates

The low reproductive potential in the deep sea put such a high priority on survival that it selected for delayed specification of embryonic fate of cells so loss of a cell from an early embryo would not prevent normal development.  This led the transition from protostomes to deuterostomes that have the ability to have an early embryo divide and produce two individuals instead of dying like a protostome embryo would.  Pogonophorans are at the junction where this happened and they have a mix of protostome and deuterostome features.

As I have noted elsewhere, the extreme pressure is probably a factor slowing metabolic rates and extending life-spans in the abyss.  Several studies have shown respiration is slowed greatly beyond what colder temperatures alone would depress rates.  One of the most enlightening clues was that a brown bag lunch contained a sandwich and an apple, that sank to the ocean bottom many months before they were retrieved with the sunken research vessel, Alvin, and were both in fresh condition.  Similar food in cold seawater decayed within a few days.

The ocean layer and circulation patterns described in a recent blog show that oxygen levels below the oxygen minimum layer would be impossible to exist if respiratory rates at abyssal pressures were anywhere near rates normal in shallow water below the photic zone.

Three, it’s a bit complicated

but the things above help show the role of the pogonophorans as an intermediate that also accounts for some features of our development and structure that were first accounted for by the annelid theory of chordate origin, an abandoned theory that is correct when adjusted for the role of the pogonophorans.

Joseph Engemann    Emeritus Professor of Biology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan    September 30, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

pre-Cambrian survival

I never knew  -  ‘till Kalamazoo

What did I not know until Kalamazoo?  There is a tremendous amount that I didn’t know, and still don’t.  But that is probably true for most of us.  What I am talking about is some of the events related to how we evolved over the past two billion years to become the dominant species on earth.  Our knowledge of evolution is riddled with gaps and errors, even though the general story of evolution by natural selection is probably close to the truth.  The last section tells of three important ways marine species may have been able to survive the intense extended period of pre-Cambrian asteroid bombardment.

Many that believe in God reject evolution because the sequence of chance and random events are not acceptable as work of a creator conforming to their concept of God.  Many scientists, especially biologists, have found it difficult to accept God as the creator because acceptance is not compatible with their concept of the chance and randomness involved in evolution.  Both may struggle with the chaos, disasters, evil, and other bad things they see in the world and want to blame God, or see it as evidence of God’s non-existence.

Stop for a moment, and think about something in your life that seemed bad, but in retrospect you see that it helped make you who you are.  There are numerous such occasions in the evolution of life that may have been essential for evolution to take its peculiar course over the last billion years it took to produce Homo sapiens.  If that doesn’t inspire you, read on, find out how important extinction events were in the course of evolution leading to us.


The “Big Bang” begs a question like the one asking “is there is a noise if a tree falls in the wilderness and there is no one there to hear it?”  Astrophysicists have an answer for the projected rapid expansion from the first relative speck to the slowing expansion, formation of elementary particles, elements, and the first generation of stars.  Condensation of materials into later generations of stars (after the extinction of some early ones) was responsible for the formation of heavier elements completing the materials needed for the evolution of life on planets with favorable conditions around stars like our sun.

We don’t need to know the details of the formation of our solar system.  It was probably similar to a billion other places of the expanding universe.  Whether the protoplanetary disks around the stars formed by condensation of more diffuse matter, or from emissions or explosions from the newly formed stars, sufficient matter ended up forming planets spinning and orbiting the sun.  Some planets had sufficient gravity to retain gases in their atmosphere and retain space debris striking them.  Planets tend to collect most of the debris as well as larger objects in their orbits.  The larger objects sometimes were captured in orbit as moons or impacted the planets with varying results.  The sun, with its massive gravity, probably collected many objects, even planets, that lost speed due to some collisions and fell into the sun.

Our moon does not have seas and atmosphere like the earth, so erosion has not obscured the craters produced by impacting meteors, comets, and asteroids.  In fact, the moon may have provided some protection to us from some that would otherwise have hit the earth.  Craters are much more numerous on the far side of the moon than they are on the lava fields of the near side.

Some worry more than necessary about the danger of an asteroid causing our extinction as part of a phenomenon much like he events terminating the dinosaurs.  It is remotely possible, but the solar systems planetary arrangement suggests that a much more stable system exists than the state several billion years ago.

Where would we be without asteroids?
 The irregular structure of some asteroids and craters or “pock marks” shows they had been stuck many times.  The presence of many moons and smaller satellites around the four largest planets, all beyond Mars, suggest that some were captured as moons and perhaps the collision with potential moons and or planets may have provided the fragments (asteroids) of the asteroid belt orbiting in space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Some of those fragments provided extinction-type events in decreasing frequency as they were swept up by earth, the moon, adjacent planets and their moons.  In the beginning impacting asteroids contributed mass to the earth.  They probably sped up some of the potential chemical evolution steps in the pre-biotic earth.  Perhaps their craters filled with water to make many experiments in addition to the intertidal pools where the chemical steps leading to organic life may have started. 

How life survived asteroids

The late pre-Cambrian is thought to have experienced a long period of more intense asteroid impacts.  The abyssal sea was so great a portion of the earth’s surface layer, and the cold polar seawater flowing toward the equatorial region had high density due to temperature and salinity that allowed it to gradually replace bottom water.  The process continued taking thousands of years to have bottom water reach the surface, just as happens today.  Animals able to adapt to the abyss had such an extensive area to inhabit it enabled some to survive even the worst asteroid hits.

A second method was the selection of cysts and other survival mechanisms used as overwintering, drought resistant, and dispersal stages that can emerge from somewhat suspended animation when conditions improve.  Such stages were already being selected by the rigors of surviving dry periods in freshwater temporary ponds as well as in saltwater pools along ocean shores.  Gemmules of sponges and statoblasts of bryozoans are cystlike asexual reproductive bodies, common among freshwater species but missing in marine species, suggesting such survival mechanisms are now less valuable for marine species in their more stable environment.

A third method is direct uptake of nutrients dissolved in seawater.  The mortality of marine species may well have boosted the dissolved organic matter content of seawater following an asteroid extinction event.  It may be an important method in today’s oceans for the survival of larval stages during dispersal, especially in species providing little yolk for nutrient reserves for the larvae.  Stephens, Grover C., and Robert A. Schinske  (1961, Limnology and Oceanography, 6:175-181.)  found that in ten phyla tested only arthropods did not take up amino acids from very dilute solutions in seawater.  Manahan and Crisp (1982, American Zoologist, 22:635-646) found dissolved amino acids could be taken up by bivalves from egg to adult stages.

The pogonophora benefitted by their living in the abyss, a relatively protected location of such great extent that remnants of the population might survive.  They also benefitted from the third method of direct uptake of dissolved nutrients in sediment water.  The "degenerate" appearance of the pogonophorans is part of an evolutionary step backward that laid the groundwork for the advance of animals to today's vertebrates.

Joseph G. Engemann   Kalamazoo, Michigan    September 26, 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017



The Lord, via the author of Isaiah 55:7-9, advised the scoundrel to forsake his ways, and the wicked man his thoughts. “Let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”

“As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts, says the Lord.”

Isaiah, in other chapters, also contains some of the best texts anticipating events surrounding the coming of the Messiah about seven centuries before the birth of Jesus.

Where does the above fit in with God’s method(s) of creation?

Just as Jesus tells us how people can look as the sky and predict the weather, he could tell us today to look at the evidence of the living organisms and their fossils and see the glorious power of God exhibited in all creation.  We might have to listen to Isaiah and accept the limitations of our thoughts where the evidence of nature is excluded.

Why didn’t Isaiah tell us about evolution?

Why should he?  If he did it was most likely abandoned- as unintelligible with all that stuff about subatomic particles, genes, and fossils- for having no relevance or value to things then known.  It is amazing, that ideas and information preceding computers and printing presses by 4000 years, got passed along as well as they did.

Is there anything that rationally connects God, science, and evolution?

Yes, a proper understanding of causality.

Joe Engemann      Kalamazoo, Michigan    September 24, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017



The tropical and subtropical regions of the oceans have three layers, an upper warm layer, an intermediate layer of rapidly declining temperature (the thermocline), and the bulk of the ocean extending to the bottom.  The intermediate layer is a zone where warm water mixes with colder deep waters.

The layers are maintained by density differences due to temperature and salinity; deep cold water is more dense or heavier than the upper layers.  The surface layer is typically from one hundred to one thousand feet thick.  It floats on top due to its expansion as it is warmed by the sun.  Most of the energy of sunlight that enters the water is absorbed in the first meter; below a few meters only blue light continues until it too is absorbed almost completely in the top 100 meters.

The depth, typically between 50 and 500 meters, of the mixing layer varies with wave and current action depending primarily on wind speed and density differences between the layers.  Constant winds produce higher waves and turbulence which induce deeper mixing.  Thus, the energy of the sun is absorbed and transported throughout the upper layer.  During a hurricane, the energy can be released from the water and strengthen the hurricane.  As the hurricane moves on, a new one may form if the surface water has not cooled much below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The winds of storms presumably enable the surface layer to be warmed to greater depths and thus store energy sufficient to produce additional and or stronger hurricanes.

Does global warming contribute to warmer oceans and more or stronger hurricanes?  Probably; a warmer air temperature increases the transfer of heat to surface water at the same time it reduces the rate of loss of heat from the water.

Do hurricanes contribute to ocean cooling, cooler weather, and a lull in hurricanes?  Presumably, hurricane winds increase cooling effect at the surface as turbulence in the upper layer transfers heat to an increasing depth of the upper layer as well as increasing the rate of heat loss at the surface from radiant energy, heat of vaporization of water, and direct water to air transfer.  The reduced water temperature increases the time needed to reach the temperature needed to generate a new hurricane.


Layers make it more difficult to accurately measure the heat stored in the upper layer.  As warm water is pushed toward the margin of a continent it increases in height and depresses the layers below and forces water of the middle layer into a bulge of middle layer that moves as an internal wave.  The middle layer is squeezed between the lighter warm upper layer and the heavier lower cold layer, both being forced by gravity to seek an equilibrium of level layers.  At the border of the warm and mixing layers, the internal wave (called a seiche by scientists studying freshwater lakes) can have much greater height (relative to the upper surface of the middle layer) than surface waves and move more slowly across the ocean (lake).  I don’t know if oceanographers have studied hurricane induced seiches, but I would presume the initial movement would be a thickening of the near shore warm layer that would thin and push a bulge of the thermocline in a seaward direction.

The depth changes of the two interfaces, one of the mixing zone (thermocline) with the upper layer (epilimnion) and the other of the mixing zone with the lower layer (hypolimnion), may change by hundreds of feet in the ocean as an internal wave passes.  So calculating the energy stored in the ocean from a single location of a depth and temperature profile, or determining if the ocean is warming by a few measurements, is not very accurate if the profile changes with a passing internal wave or warm water is built up along a coast by constant onshore wind that then subsides.

The flooding from a storm surge in coastal areas rises above normal ocean levels as enormous waves break into low-lying coastal areas as they peak in shallow beachfront areas.  The magnitude of their intrusion is amplified by onshore winds, high tides, heavy rain, increased runoff from adjacent areas, and reduced runoff from normal channels or streams due to high ocean levels.


Below the thermocline is an oxygen minimum zone where, light is insufficient for photosynthesis, and sinking dead organisms or their fragments provide nutrients for bacteria and other organisms to feed upon and deplete the oxygen in the process.  At the bottom of the deeper parts of the ocean, cold, salty, well-oxygenated water replaces bottom water that is slightly warmer.  The process of polar water replacing the deepest water continues until ten thousand or more years later the former bottom water approaches the oxygen minimum zone and becomes part of it until it enters the thermocline, eventually mixing with oxygenated surface water as well as being oxygenated by photosynthetic organisms when light is adequate.

The presence of oxygen gradually decreasing as water moves from the bottom to the oxygen minimum zone, and its long residence time, is evidence of the reduced biomass and long lives of individuals of the abyss.


It should be obvious that the rigors and size of a hurricane have a potential to eliminate individuals less well endowed with survival adaptations of structure, physiology, and behavior.  It may be a tug-of-war between those survivors and ones better adapted to intervening weather and conditions. 

The stratification of the non-polar portion of the ocean, with the cold, sunlight-lacking, enormous abyssal zone covering over half of the earth’s surface, provides a place of refuge for species adapted to those conditions.  There are different ways of adapting, but one, the pogonophorans, have had security by living in a tube they secrete embedded in the sediments.  Like many others in the abyss, they have extremely long lives, low metabolic rates, and ability to take up nutrients from very low levels in the water.  Their circulatory system may be a critical component of their living deeply embedded in perhaps anoxic sediments while supplying oxygen to the embedded part for tentacles in the sea-water.

Joseph Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan    September 15, 2017

Sunday, August 20, 2017


The anticipation of the eclipse on August 21, 2017 made me reflect upon the intersection of objects orbiting in our solar system.  The nearest star to our Sun is about 18 trillion miles away.  Beyond that, and in all directions, are trillions of other stars.  A lot has happened in our 13.7 billion year old universe.  But I want to consider asteroids found in our solar system.


1.  Stirring the pot for chemical evolution.

Whether they formed from condensation in the gaseous cloud giving rise to the sun and its protoplantary disk, or via collision(s) of orbiting planets, moons, and satellites, they exist in abundance, orbiting in a belt extending from the orbit of Mars to the orbit of Jupiter.  Smaller numbers have orbits intersecting earth's orbit; many have probably already been cleared by the earth and the moon from our orbit.  Some evidence of a peak in asteroid strikes a few hundred million years before the Cambrian has been claimed.

The early strikes may have contributed two things.  Elements and some simple organic compounds, the latter formed in the protoplanetary cloud before liquids and solids condensed, added to the chemicals available for early chemical evolution leading to living systems.  Larger asterioids may have made depression of various sizes in locations, some of which were favorable to the process described in earlier posts.  In addition to the delivery or useful chemicals, the mixing affect of material ejected around the impact area may have enabled useful different products to be combined.

2.  The origin of sex.   is a post including a view of how asteroid extincton events may have spurred the origin of sex.
"The starvation of protists during the early life extinction events meant degrowth to eventual fatal levels if they could not eat another protist or, better yet, fuse with another to make a viable mass.  Perhaps the reductions during degrowth resulted in a reduced genome lacking essential genes.  Or continued reduction after fusion made the survival of only the normal genome [haploid set of chromosomes] an outcome that over time developed the needed stable genetic controls." (my 2010 Evolution Insights ms. p. 89)

3.  Making room for new species.

Reduction or extinction of dominant species may have enabled diversity to develop with less threat to survival in early poorly adapted stages of evolutionary lines.

The Pre-Cambrian/Cambrian unconformity may have been due to an intense period of asteroid bombardment opening up reduced predation which allowed pogonophorans to adapt to shallow seas as they gave rise to the hemichordates.

The end of the Paleozoic ended the dominance of trilobites and some other very successful groups.

The end of the Mesozoic Era with the demise of the dinosaurs simplified the success and rise of birds and mammals.

4.  Asteroid collisions were a probable cause of the abyssal region of the ocean serving as a refugium, or shelter, for some ancient animals, most importantly, the pogonophorans.  Pogonophoran adaptation to the deep sea allowed them to survive extinction events and repopulate, not only shallow water but portions of the ocean abyss that became anoxic, after oxygenated water currents from polar seas to abyssal regions was reestablished.


The space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is about 205,000,000 miles.  That is more than two time the 93,000,000 miles distance of the earth from the sun.  The dwarf planet, Ceres, wanders around the sun in a path using up about one-tenth the space between Mars and Jupiter orbits.  Craters exist on all the planets as well as many moons and larger asteroids.

Daytime surface temperatures on planets beyond earth are below freezing.  But Venus and Mercury are closer to the Sun and have temperatures much higher than boiling.  The extreme cold of outer reaches of the solar system means that many of the orbiting objects may be ice or other frozen gases.  The density of meteorites and/or asteroids may be high enough to suggest that their origin was closer to Earth and Mars.  Along with the gap in presence of planets in the asteroid belt, it suggests to me that collision of planet(s) and other large objects were the origin of much of the debris in the asteroid belt.

The reduced spacing and high orbital speed of the planets closer to the Sun would seem to be conducive to more asteroid inducing collisions.The orbital speed in miles per second for Earth is 18.5.  Speed decreases to 3.37 miles per second for Neptune which is about 30 times further from the Sun than Earth.  While we take a year to go around the Sun, it takes 165 of years for Neptune do so.

The rocky composition of planets nearer the sun is more like rocky asteroids than the gaseous planets beyond the asteroid belt.

The above factors would seem to indicate one or more collisions, involving one or more planets shattering, was a major source of asteroids.

Joe Engemann      Kalamzoo, Michigan    August 20, 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017



The chance of having nuclear war seem to be increasing.  Threat of mutually assured destruction  is unlikely to dissuade doctrinily inspired terrorists from annihialating those not sharing their views.  That particular threat seems to be diminishing since most countries with nuclear capacity seem to be less inclined to provide necessary materials to terrorist groups.

The threat from North Korea, controlled by a seemingly megalomaniacal dictator, is greater with the increasing nuclear and missle capacity they are developing.  Their limited capacity would seem to make it certain they would not be able to hold the whole world hostage, but that might not prevent them from eliminating South Korea from the face of the earth if the dictator thinks the rest of the world will not come to South Korea's aid.


The horrendous destruction dealt Hiroshima with a relatively small atomic bomb stuck fear into the world as it helped bring a rapid end to World War II.  Perhaps it saved far more lives that would have been taken in a prolonged continuation with conventional warfare.  But few today are likely to think it is morally acceptable to be the first to use a nuclear bomb under any circumstances.  Perhaps the overwhelming capacities both Russia and the United States have to detroy civilization have been a factor detering nuclear war as well as conventional wars that might escalate to comparable detruction.


As high school students enrolled in a science class when the world was jolted by the atomic bomb, our knowledge of nuclear physics and heredity was insufficient to make us comfortable entering the atomic age.   Chain reactions were thought to possibly trigger explosion of the whole earth.  If the explosion didn't get us, perhaps new mutant animals would take over and destroy us.

We eventually realized chain reactions would not have enough fissile material in the environment to engulf the earth.  Genetists realized radioactive contaminant caused mutations would most likely cause the death of those with too high a mutation load, and the mutations are likely to be similar to already existing mutations which are mostly detrimental for organisms by causing the failure of function of genes.  The few good mutations may only duplicate other already existing ones.

Unfortunately, fears of radioactive contamination were realistically based on continuing pollution porpotional to the half-life of the radioactive elements involved.  Radioactive iodine in milk and dairy products had a short half life so it is greatly diminished by months of storage.  Plutionium, produced by fission of uranium 238, is more of an extreme danger because of its long half-life.  Airbourne debris from nuclear testing reached far distant places around the globe, laplanders in northern Europe had their food chain receive greater loads of radioactivity than many intermediate locations.  Strontium 90 is a radioactive isotope with a half life of about 28 years, it is metabolized much like calcium in biological systems, so it persists in milk and bone for a long time.


In a perhaps delusional self-satisfied moment, after completing a manuscript on creativity, I thought, "If I'm so damned smart, why don't I try to solve the world's biggest problem".  Atomic war popped to the top of the list.  The technology was already in the hands of several countrys, including the Soviet Union, considered the greatest threat by many.  Mutually assured destruction, a capacity resulting from a race between the United States and the Soviet Union, made a recognized first strike an unacceptable solution for both.  But what about an irrational leader in a group able to steal or otherwise get nuclear capability?

The best hope, I thought, if some level of rationality exists in the rogue nation or group, is beyond the control of the strongest country.  I thought the United Nations could publicize a policy that any and all deploying nuclear weapons against others will be subject to prosecution and punishment, regardless of lack of existing legislation, and any who stop such deployment will have the protection of the rest of the world.

Our United Nations ambassador sent me some literature of what the U.N. was doing, I think I got notes from our senator's offices, and one of Representative Wolpe's staffer's sent me a quite enthuiastic reply.

Why its imperfect

Today, the concept does not seem an effective solution for dealing with terrorists willing and able to recruit and mislead followers into blowing themselves up along with innocent civilians.  The phenomenon of North Korea's Kim Jong Un making brutality and lack of freedom a normal life is making the rest of the world uncomfortable.  I suspect he is smart enough to know it will be his end if he initiates a nuclear attack.  I hope our leader is smart enough to not initiate a premptive strike.  I think a lot of prayers are in order for a world cure beyond our capability.

It would be very difficult to penetrate the strict control in North Korean with a glimpse of a personal right or authority philosophy to take action against rash decisions of their leader.  Isolated terrorist groups brain-washed by aberrant spiritual leaders are unlikely to be persuaded to prevent nuclear terrorist actions by any action of the rest of the world.  Their actions may be terrible, but world-wide destruction seems unlikely; conventional international cooperation will hopefully prevent their potential strikes.

Go green and

Just remember that wars, violence, dictators, disease, famine, eruptions, earthquakes, floods and all sorts of disasters have been around as long as civilization has existed.  But so has the sun, the moon, and the stars.  Vist with friends, family, and neighbors; take a walk in the woods or a park, sit on the beach and watch the waves and the seabirds; look at the stars at night; and consider the billions of years since rhe dawn of creation and realize that the love of God is with you and billions of others, along with a few deep breaths, it should make you feel better.

Joe Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan   August 7, 2017

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


The July, 2017, issue of Scientific American cover featured an article on "Our Memories" by Alcino J. Silva about advances in learning and memory.  His lab "had shown that the CREB gene was needed to form long-term memories.  . . . . by encoding a protein that regulates expression of other genes needed for memory."  The assignment of emotional memories as well as linking of memories are among things discussed.

The July-August, 2017, issue of AARP BULLETIN has a news item about an "electrical brain stimulation" research team, led by Michael Kahana, of "Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania" who "have shown for the first time that stimulating the brain when it's foggy can significantly boost memory function.  Conversely, stimulating the brain when it's sharp can impair thinking skills."

Panel discussions on TV news shows remind me of both stimulation and impairment when one persons comments stimulate another to interrupt and make it difficult for the first person to complete their statement clearly.


Linked memories are undoubtedly part of the difficulties some veterans with post traumatic stress disorder experience, such as terror-filled memories triggered by loud noises.  Emotionally charged memories may be linked with memories formed at the same time and may include visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile stimuli that can later have a role in recollection of the associated memory.

Such linkage may be a factor in the use of mnemonics for remembering sequential  or associated items. Since newly forming memories may be linked sequentially in a physical sequence in the brain, activation of one item in the list may aide recovery of others in the sequence.  It isn't just harried mothers that use the name of the wrong child and then sometimes go through the list of all their kids before getting the right name.  Anyone with an overloaded schedule is likely to do something similar without it being a mental defect.


The structure of the brain with memory and thinking intensive areas having several layers of neurons, with multiple fibers (dendrites and the axon with its branches) make it practically impossible to map or solve exact storage patterns.  The tangle of fibers is only one part of the complexity.  At the synapse, or gap at the junction of a fiber with the next neuron, the impulse (depolarization wave) results in the release of a neurotransmitter.  There are neurotransmitters with various functions, some that stimulate, some that inhibit, and others with a range of speed of action or persistence.

The neurotransmitter at the neuro-muscular junction is typically acetyl choline.  It causes the muscle cell membrane to send a depolarization wave along its length, causing contraction of the muscle.  Choline esterase is an enzyme in the gap that breaks down the acetyl choline allowing its constituents to be recycled into acetyl choline in the original fiber.  Because neuro-muscular junctions of other animals use the same process some of the most rapid acting insecticides are choline esterase inhibitors.  Our large size makes it more likely to kill insects before the concentration we are exposed to kills us.  I had a student who would come back for the Fall Semester, after working fogging for mosquito control in Northern Michigan resorts most of the summer, with obvious twitchiness.  He survived it and was an effective biology teacher for many years.


I have made the point in an earlier post that honesty is beneficial in developing creativity of a beneficial sort.  It may be that a liar has more linked memories on a topic, perhaps half of them untrue.  Does it then become impossible for them to distinguish truth from fiction?  An hour or so ago a panel on CNN was discussing our president's blend of fact and fiction had an early expression in his noting his marvelous home run to his classmate who reminded him it was just a single.  Apparently he was oblivious to the fact and repeated his recollection of his magnificent home run.

Scientists try to be honest and truthful in their work.  But complications due to complexity and sometimes relying on opinions of leading scientists, who have unintentionally given erroneous views credibility, can perpetuate and increase errors.  My early evolution blogs focused on one particular instance in the calculation of the ancestral tree of animals in which the pogonophora should be recognized as a remarkable link.


   for memory
Learn a bunch of connected things in uninterrupted fashion.
Multi-tasking is an interruption.
Its all important.
Repetition may help, especially if your mind wandered.

    for recall
Activate the appropriate regions of the brain by thinking about related things, locations, functions, people, times.
Be rested, fed, happy and comfortable or relaxed (don't be bothered if it doesn't come immediately)

   long-term preparation
Read, listen to music, play games, socialize, exercise, eat a balanced diet, sleep, meditate, appreciate nature and the world around you, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to pray, love God, your neighbors, and yourself.

Joe Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan  August 2, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017


The Sixth Extinction

I recently finished reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014, Picador Press of Henry Holt and Company under license from Pan Books Limited).  I was even more impressed by the book than I was by the interview of the author by Brad Plummer noted in my comments in a March 6, 2014 post -

, a post only accessed three times in the past three years, the same amount the immediately preceding post had during the same interval.

Kolbert does a remarkable job of presenting understandable and interesting accounts of extinctions, especially of the one humans are now causing, beginning with ice age humans.  I discuss the role of pre-Cambrian “origin of sex” being catalyzed by extinction events that may have been more numerous and violent than the six major extinctions recognized in subsequent eras.

She notes the current adoption of Anthropocene epoch as the beginning of a new era shaped by changes in the fossil record due to human activity.  The most notable change is the greatly increased rate of extinction of species.  Maybe we should have an additional label of Plasticene, or something comparable, for the sedimentary inclusion of a marker of plastic bags and other debris with which we have littered and labeled our environment.

As an adjunct to her remarkable book, it might be worth noting the brief essay on Numbers of Species in the post noted above.  It precedes the one on the Origin of Sex in the same post.

Her account of the extinction of the Great Auk (chapter III, The Original Penguin) filled a void in my background about the bird but is typical of our heedless behavior in causing species extinctions.  The extinction affecting many frog species (chapter I, The Sixth Extinction) may have taken longer without our aide in spreading the causative microorganism.  Rainforest, bats, and other current problems are all very worth reading.

I was especially saddened by the update on the demise of corals.  The double whammy of acidification of the ocean and ocean warming make recovery or coral reef ecosystems very unlikely during our lifetime.  But her description of her visit to One Tree Island as well as Heron Island brought back memories of a week I spent on Heron Island sixty years ago.  The hazardous walking on “pie crust” which she describes is mostly just on the tips of staghorn coral that seem sheared off by their inability to grow above low tide level.

                      Heron Island "pie crust" in background at low tide

Although her background is as a writer, especially for The New Yorker, she consulted with many scientists and, I think, reflects quite accurately current views in a very understandable and interesting way.  Her book may have the impact of Silent Spring by Rachael Carson about fifty years ago.

Joseph Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan     July 7, 2017