Monday, 13 July 2015 00:00

The Bombardier Beetle--A Remarkable Example of Irreducible Complexity

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The last RMCF Speaker, David Rives, included the bombardier beetle as one of the examples in his June 12 RMCF presentation.  I realize this is not a new topic for most of you, but there is some new, timely data, about the beetle’s explosive mechanism, presented in the Chemical and Engineering News Magazine (CEN), May 4, 2015.

Using synchrotron X-ray imaging, details of the beetle’s explosive defense mechanism were recorded for the first time 1 .  The pygidial glands are associated with three major components:  a reservoir chamber, reaction chamber, and exit chamber. The reservoir chamber contains an aqueous solution of 25% hydrogen peroxide (oxidizing agent), 10% p-hydroquinone (powerful oxidants), and 10% alkanes (carbon/hydrogen compounds for fuel).  The reaction chamber contains catalase and peroxidase enzymes, which control and regulate the beetle’s explosive process.

When a predator is encountered, the beetle goes into its defense mode and instantaneously transfers the reservoir solution into the reaction chamber.  The p-hydroquinones are converted into p-benzo-quinones, plus oxygen and heat, to combust the alkanes.  The water vaporizes, creating intense pressure (regulated by the enzymes) at a temperature of 100 deg C.  A flame issues out of the exit chamber at a velocity of 10 m/sec and pulses at a frequency of 700 Hz.  However, the way in which the beetle is able to control these functions has remained a mystery.

Dr. Andrew McIntosh, professor of thermodynamics, University of Leeds in England, had proposed that valves within the pygidialglands play the role of controlling the explosion.The most recent studies, done in collaboration with MIT, U. of Arizona, and Brookhaven National Laboratories,  involved anesthetizing the beetle in a cold environment, while initiating the beetle to activate its explosive process.  Synchrotron X-ray images were taken ranging from 30 to 2000 frames/second(see X-ray video at http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/i18/Beetles-Explosive-Spray-Mechanism-Revealed.html ).

What was observed was that the solution from the reservoir chamber is delivered into the reaction chamber in five nanoliter droplets.  The pressure is precisely controlled by a valve which closes and reopens for every cycle in the explosion. (see diagram below)

If this is not a truly amazing of God’s irreducible complex designs, then I don’t know what is!

There is absolutely no way any of these components within the bombardier beetle could have evolved in sequential increments, because the beetle would not have survived the process.

Blessings in His Holy Name, Ed

  Dr. Ed Boudreaux, RMCF President

1.  Science 2013, DOI:10.1126/science/1261166

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Dr. Edward A. Boudreaux

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