“Intelligent design” in the science of smell?

Going by the Christian Headlines headline, yes.

In a study published last month by Nature Communications, researchers reported new findings from fruit flies about how the olfactory system works. Until now, scientists assumed olfactory receptors worked by sending a simple yes-or-no response to the brain. But, much to the researchers’ surprise, they discovered that when a receptor cell fires, it can generate either an excitatory or inhibitory signal. In the nervous system, excitatory signals trigger certain behaviors that might involve something like moving away from a bad odor or toward a pleasant aroma. Inhibitory signals generally decrease behavioral responses.

So the receiver cells deal with twice as much input as previously thought in order to correctly identify the proper body response in any given smelly situation. Cool. (I found the study they refer to if you want to read it.)

The writer of the piece ends with this:

Like the senses of vision and hearing, the new study shows a complexity in the sense of smell that defies natural selection explanations and would make Charles Darwin’s toes curl.

Sigh. That’s just brimming over with wrongability.

Scientists love fruit flies because their life spans are so short so they can get many generations worth of flies faster and better study the mutations in a population without needing decades of time. This “complexity” was not instantaneous, instead happening within a species over generations and hundreds of thousands of years, likely one tiny beneficial mutation at a time. Those that could better judge the safety of an odor were going to be the ones who’d live to breed and pass on that ability to the offspring. Those who couldn’t tell shit from sugar would become the minority once enough time had passed, or be phased out altogether. That’s how natural selection works, baby. Lots of babies over lots of time.

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