Electrons are found in pairs in most stable and naturally occurring molecules. However, it is possible, and not altogether uncommon, for an odd number of electrons to be found in an element or molecule. This we call a free radical (FR). We can imagine a disgruntled teenager carrying grocery bags from the trunk of the car to the kitchen. In one hand he has ten bags nearly dragging him to the ground, but in the other he has none. The disproportionate weight can easily be seen in the way that he walks lopsidedly. While this may be somewhat of an oversimplification, it does, in some ways, serve to illustrate the strain and discomfort found in a FR at the atomic level. As a consequence of their abnormal electron count, many FRs are unstable and thus highly reactive, and it is this characteristic which causes them to have a great impact on the mechanisms within biological systems. A few examples of their suggested effects on living organisms may help the reader to understand more about their anatomy.
1) The process and cause of aging has been and always will be a subject of no small amount of interest. If one could discover what enzyme, molecule, or DNA sequence produced the aging effect in humans and other living beings, then it would only be a matter of time before the proverbial ‘fountain of youth’ could be sold in pharmacies. However, recent scientific discovery has suggested that there is not a single cause of aging, but it is rather a quantitative effect. One such cause is, most likely, FRs. One of the most common FRs in eukaryotes is the superoxide radical (O2 + e - —> O-2). Because the mitochondrion is the site of the bulk of the of the cell’s oxidative metabolism, it is hypothesized that most superoxide radicals can be found there. “Several degenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s diseases, are associated with oxidative damage to mitochondria. Such observations have led to the free-radical theory of aging, which states that free radical reactions arising during the course of normal oxidative metabolism are at least partially responsible for the aging process. In fact, individuals with congenital defects in their mitochondrial DNA suffer from a variety of symptoms typical of old age, including neuromotor difficulties, deafness, and dementia.”1 2) Another, perhaps more well-known source of FRs is ionizing radiation produced by radioactive material. When atomic bombs detonate, when a radiologist takes an x-ray, and when we take a call on our smartphones we can be exposed to radiation. Most of the radiation we encounter in our daily lives is harmless, but in certain quantities and in certain forms, radiation can be detrimental to our health.
The primary reason for this effect is, you guessed it, FRs. When this ionizing radiation interacts with water in our bodies hydroxyl radicals can be formed. These radicals can then interact with other molecules, including DNA, and act as mutagens and/or carcinogens.2 When allowed to run rampant, FRs can impede essential biological reactions. As previously stated, FRs are oxidizing agents, or sometimes called oxidants. Because of this, an antioxidant is needful. For many years it was hypothesized that antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables could be ingested and thus function as the primary defense against FRs, but recently it has been discovered that bodies possess certain mechanisms and proteins which have the ability to combat degradation due to FRs. One such mechanism can be found in the superoxide dimutases. This is an enzyme family that functions "to efficiently catalyze the dismutation of superoxide anions.”3 There are three forms of this enzyme which have been characterized and identified by scientists. They are superoxide dimutase 1 (SOD1), superoxide dimutase 2 (SOD2), and superoxide dimutase 3 (SOD3). SOD1 is a dimer, meaning it is made up of two polypeptide subunits, and SOD2 and SOD3 are both tetramers, meaning they are made up of four polypeptide subunits. These three proteins alone serve as a formidable opponent to the FRs in biological systems. It has been observed that the genes that encode for these enzymes, when mutated at just a single amino acid residue, can cause diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a lethal form of cardiomyopathy, and other negative effects due to loose FRs. It is clear, then, that the most minute change in the anatomy of this enzyme can cause catastrophic damage to living organisms which require it, but what would happen if a larger mutation were to occur? What would happen if an entire subunit of the protein was missing or inactive? Untold damage to the cellular structure could result, and yet this must have been the case sometime in the past if we subscribe to the theory of biochemical evolution. It has been admitted, many times we might add, that the most common form of mutation to DNA results in degradation of function or structure, i.e. the mutation causes once functional mechanisms or processes to degrade. Mutations that cause new structures to arise are extremely rare. The statistical improbability of four, eight, or ten new structures (the amount needed for SOD1, SOD2, and SOD3 to form) to arise is astronomical. Of course the response from the Darwinian evolutionists would suggest that the extreme age of the universe could allow enough time for anything, no matter how improbable, to happen. It must be noticed, however, that this is not evidence, much less proof for their theory. It simply moves the discussion from the issue at hand to another, non-related (in this author’s opinion) subject. The problem of complexity has been used for years by scientists and laymen alike to challenge Darwinian evolution. After all, Darwin himself said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive,
slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.” Since the publication of this statement, however, organelles, organs, and thus organisms have been discovered through the work of microbiologists and biochemists that most certainly could not have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications. In no amount of time, and through no amount of genetic drift and natural selection could the mechanisms found in subunits of SOD1, SOD2, and SOD3 be accounted for. Not only does the mitigation of FRs by enzymes act as an evidence against the modern theory of evolution, but the current theories of the origin of life cannot give an adequate explanation of the impact of FRs on the primitive life forms. Many experiments have been performed in an effort to devise a description of how the first proto-cells came to be. Some have, admittedly, succeeded in producing some essential biological molecules from “natural” processes. However, the impact that FRs would have had on the “prebiotic soup” of the early Earth is often overlooked or possibly ignored. The first proto-cells were deficient in more than one of the essential amino acids, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. In fact, it is likely, according to most models, that the first cells did not have a fully developed lipid bilayer membrane. Without many of these fully developed enzymes and other antioxidants, coupled with the flawed and incomplete outer membrane, it is highly unlikely that the first cells would have survived very
long at all, even in otherwise perfect conditions. The onslaught of FRs would have damaged and rendered useless many of the components of the cell. We say “onslaught” of FRs because of the intensified radiation on the early Earth according to most models. “But,” another scientist might respond, “what about the antioxidants that are found in nature such as vitamins e, a, and c?” This is certainly a valid question. Many plants and minerals that we ingest do contain antioxidants. However, it is highly unlikely that the early prebiotic soup was able to synthesize these molecules before the need for them even arose. These molecules include complex structures that in the extreme dilution of the prebiotic soup, could not have been formed, even given billions of years.4 Furthermore, if these molecules were being formed in the early Earth they would be just as susceptible to FR degradation as the other early molecules before they reached their final form. If more evidence need be given, there is also the issue of the superoxide radicals that were formed from water. If modern science is correct in its assumption that this form of FR is the most common in biological systems, then it can be reasonably inferred that this was the most common FR in primitive environments as well. This of course poses a serious issue. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that an antioxidant could have been produced in the primitive conditions of Earth’s atmosphere. After this occurred, this antioxidant must make its way, in an extremely dilute solution mind you, to the only living cell on the planet in order to protect it from the radiation it was encountering. This, in and of itself, would be nearly impossible. Which of the two following options seems most likely: that an antioxidant would somehow navigate the sea of oxidizing agents and find the single FR with which it must react in order sustain the singular proto-cell, or that the antioxidant would simply react with the nearest superoxide radical or other oxidant? It seems quite clear that the latter is the only logical option. This being said, we conclude that the so-called prebiotic soup of the primitive biosphere could not have produced an adequate environment, so free of FRs, that the earliest cells could have survived long enough to reproduce. In conclusion, the chemistry of FRs, as far as we can tell, produces two holes in the modern theories of life evolution. Neither the theories of Darwin, nor the theories of life’s origins suggested by many scientists can be upheld under close scrutiny because of the impact of FRs and their complementary antioxidants found both within biological systems and without.
For further reading on this subject, we recommend Charles B. Thaxton et al. The Mystery of Life's Origin: the Continuing Controversy. Discovery Institute Press, 2020. While this is an advanced resource, the material contained within is second to none, and readers would do well to consider its arguments.