Symbiosis- More Complex Than We Knew

Symbiosis- More Complex Than We Knew

by Dr. Hugh Ross assisted by Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez

Biological symbiosis, the mutual dependence of two species on each other (such as bees and flowers) for survival, has often been cited as evidence supporting divine design. Symbiosis demands that two different but uniquely compatible species arise at the same time and in the same place with the morphological structures in place to support the interdependence.

As unlikely as that may be, imagine the improbability that three-partner symbiosis could occur by random process. But that is what scientists have discovered: three very different species each of which contributes vitally to the survival of the other two. This tripartate grouping includes leaf cutting ants, a type of parasol mushroom, and an antibiotic-producing bacterium.7

The ant-mushroom relationship works this way: The ants cut the leaves, chew them into a pulp, and lay the pulp down on a substrate from which the mushrooms grow. The mushrooms produce structures called gongylidia which the ants harvest as food.

Neither the ants nor the mushrooms can feed on the leaves directly. The leaves contain a biochemical insecticide dangerous to the ants, and the leaves are covered with a waxy coating the mushrooms cannot penetrate. The ants scrape away the waxy coating for the benefit of the mushrooms. The mushrooms digest the chemical insecticides, providing insecticide-free fungal tissue for the ants to eat.

This part of the symbolic relationship has been observed for several years. New research, however, reveals a more complex picture: A certain parasite attacks the mushroom gardens.8,9 This parasite is kept in check by antibiotics produced by a bacterium that grows on the ants’ bodies. The bacterium depends on the ants for its life, the mushrooms depend on the bacterium for life, and the ants depend on the mushrooms.

All three species need each other. The complexity of this symbiotic system defies description, as well as all the laws of probability. Again, the numbers point to purposeful, intricate design rather than to mindless process.

7. Jack J. Lissauer, “Three Planets for Upsilon Andromedae,” Nature, 398 (1999), pp. 659-660.

8. Ted R. Schultz, “Ants, Plants, and Antibiotics,” Nature, 398 (1999), pp. 747-748.

9. Cameron R. Currie, James A. Scott, Richard C. Summerbell, and David Malloch, “Fungus-Growing Ants Use Antibiotic-Producing Bacteria to Control Garden Parasites,” Nature, 398 (1999). 701-704.