Before Darwin

Re: "Before Darwin," in which Eric Smith argues that simple metabolic processes likely explain how life emerged,1 Wächtershäuser also made an argument that the reverse citric acid cycle is similar to the first metabolic pathway to evolve.2 However, carbon dioxide fixation hardly is "one of the most conserved reactions throughout the biosphere," as Smith says. "

Science will never have all the answers to any question — so what?

To the contrary, a variety of pathways, reactions, and enzymes are being discovered3 that are used to fix CO2: RubisCO in the traditional Calvin cycle found in plants and many proteobacteria, the reverse Krebs cycle (tricarboxylic, TCA), reductive acetyl CoA pathway in methanogenes, the 3-hydroxypropionate pathway, and the 3-hydroxypropionate / 4-hydroxybutyrate cycle.

Peter Gogarten

University of Connecticut

Storrs, CT

I found the article disappointing. What good is it to use so many words to say...

Why national laboratories

In Steven Wiley's column, "Why national laboratories?"1 he explains why these facilities are often good places to do biology. I agree; however, most laboratories are bureaucratic, which often causes a delay in processing good research proposals for funding. Moreover, individual scientists enjoy relatively less administrative freedom to pursue and recruit research staff and to execute their projects. If such difficulties are removed, these laboratories can be the best places to carry out fruitful research work without commercial secrecy and pressures.

Anil Vishnu Moharir

Indian Agricultural Research Institute

New Delhi, INDIA

1. S. Wiley, "Why national laboratories?" The Scientist, 22(6):32—8, June 2008.

Tribute: Gunther Stent

I was an undergraduate in Gunther Stent's molecular biology course at University of California, Berkeley, in the mid- to late-1960s.1 I remember to this day a combined "transformation, transduction and rearrangement" question on the final exam: The correct answer for the resulting sequence of genes spelled "Merry Xmas." The periodic giggling in the room indicated that some of us got it right, while others looked around somewhat perplexed. Stent clearly will be missed.

Russell Poland

The Research & Education Institute for Texas Health Resources

Arlington, TX

1. E. Zielinska, "Molecular biologist Gunther Stent dies," The Scientist News Blog, June 19, 2008,

Learning from creationists?

Gordy Slack is misguided in his view that neocreationists have some good points to make.1 In essence, each and every good point he cites has already been made by scientists; Intelligent Design (ID) creationists bring nothing new to the laboratory bench.

I agree that there are big questions that evolution has yet to answer, but the central tenet of ID creationism states that it already has the answer for any and all of the "big questions" — its infamous, yet elusive, "designer." Science and scientists ask the big questions; ID creationists merely start with an answer and fit, bend, and twist the evidence to suit their viewpoint.

I am happy to have people profess faith, no matter their position, but I do object to them seeking to impose that faith on others, something the creationist movement wishes to do.

James Williams

University of Sussex

Brighton, UK

Whether evolutionists are humble has nothing to do with the validity of the theory. Science will never have all the answers to any question — so what? The cell is more complicated than Darwin could have imagined — so what? Some followers of evolution are blind followers — so what?

Tom Thunnell

Edina, MN

This was well thought out and well said. I'm also on the side of evolution, certainly not the creationists. But there's a real danger in unconditionally shutting out other points of views, even in (maybe especially in) science. I know there are many crackpots out there, and even more smart people who simply go the wrong way. So, hire "creationists" for a biology department? No. But, equally, don't shout them down, either, because of your fear, which is what it is.

Kerry Kleiber

Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN

In the few times that The Scientist publishes on this issue there is always the insistence that an obvious political compromise can be reached with the antievolution education campaign that will make everyone happy. This is not a polite academic discussion. This is a propaganda war in which the antievolution campaign will stoop to any low necessary to misrepresent science and the scientific community. Yes, intolerant atheists are waging an antireligion campaign that blurs/removes the line between science and spiritual philosophy, but that doesn't make fundamentalist lies about biology any more acceptable.

Michael Holloway

Rhode Island Hospital

Providence, RI

To call ID an "improbable outlying hypothesis" is giving the believers of this religious ideology way too much credit. A hypothesis is a tentative explanation for a phenomenon that can be tested by further investigation, which is exactly what leads to the requirement that ID not be included in science class discussions. In my opinion, there are few better ways to further reduce the credibility of science in this country.

Melissa McCoy

University of Colorado

Boulder, CO

1. G. Slack, "What neocreationists get right," The Scientist News Blog, June 20, 2008,

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