October 25, 2007

Another Mystery Solved by Modern Science

I finished the genetic and phylogenetic analysis of the mystery Stropharia species I mention in my entry of October 10.

Thanks to genetic fingerprinting and phylogenetic analysis, both of which are based on evolutionary biology (Creationists take note), I can now say with nearly 100% certainty that this fungus is Stropharia hornemanii. It's commonly known as the black inky veil or Hornemann's stropharia. This identification is based on an analysis of the mushroom's genes for the large ribosomal subunit (LSU) and internal transcribed spacer (ITS). The sequence was compared via NCBI BLAST against all known LSU and ITS sequences from Stropharia. The ten closest matches from the genus Hebeloma were used as an outgroup. The results of the query were aligned using ClustalX and the results further analyzed via MacClade. A phylogenetic analysis was performed and tree output using PAUP*. The Bootstrap value of the phylogeny was 100, which is as certain as one gets with Bootsrapping.
Oddly, the specimens I saw and those I collected don't generally conform to the usual morphology of S. hornemanii. None had either an annulus or chrysocystidia. These factors are probably due to environmental conditions, or they could be due to polymorphisms in the mushroom's genes outside of the LSU and ITS. Either way, neither myself nor any of the experts in my lab could have identified this organism to species without the benefit of current molecular biological technology, none of which would be possible without modern evolutionary theory.

I suppose the alternative hypothesis would have been "Goddidit," though why a supreme deity would be mucking about hiding the annulus and chrysocystidia of a few mushrooms in the woods of Massachusetts for the benefit (?) of the only person likely to have ever noticed them is beyond me. But hey, when you don't have a "mechanistic theory" and aren't constrained to explaining the "pathetic level of detail" necessary to understand what this particular organism is in comparison to everything else in the world, you don't have to bother with the trivialities of good science. Isn't that right, Mr. Dembski?

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