Researching Creation

June 17, 2010

Information Theory / Sanford Publishes New Bioinformatics Tool


John Sanford, a young-earth creationist biology professor at Cornell, just published a bioinformatics paper describing his new genomics tool, called skittle with a bioinformatics graduate student Josiah Seaman.  You can read the paper here.  The tools allows you to color the genome and experiment with alignments to visualize patterns that are not detectable by other methods. 

You can download the program from Skittle's website on sourceforge., or find more information about the program at

It runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

This tool allows us to detect a number of new patterns in the genome.  Not only does it help to find tandem repeats, it also helps to find structured variations in those repeats.

This holistic approach to genome analysis is precisely the sort of research that IDers and creationists are interested in.  The reductionist approaches of the last century were useful for digging deeper, but they often blinded researchers to the larger-scale activities of what was happening.

From the paper:

As we have been able to better visualize tandem repeats using Skittle, we have seen a surprising amount of internal complexity. Some of this complexity seems to be easily understood in terms of point mutations and indels, but a great deal of the complexity appears to provide an intriguing array of "puzzles" which invite further study. These puzzling patterns include co-varying deviations from a repeating theme, and internal patterns that are not simply "repeats within repeats". For lack of a better term we are referring to these patterns as structured variation.

If tandem repeats have any function, the "structured variation"
described above could conceivably carry information. A perfect repeat cannot contain any information beyond the base sequence and copy number. However, a repeat with variation can contain considerably more information. Each of the three types of observable variation (substitutions, indels, and alternating repeats) has a direct analog in electronic information technology (amplitude modulation, phase modulation, and frequency modulation, respectively).

And then later, he mentions something interesting about the alignments:

Interestingly, the self-adjusting cylinder alignment, which was designed to simply optimize local alignment as would be expected in vivo, causes a marked increase in the visual coherence of all complex tandem repeats. This suggests to us that such coherence might reflect a minimal energy state, and may reflect actual structure in vivo, and might even reflect an unknown biological function. Logically, such coils could change circumference in multiples of the repeat length and so might modulate local genomic architecture.

Anyway, I am really excited about this, and hope to dig more into this as I have time.

Thanks to Sal for pointing this out to us!