The only hint of something controversial is the statement in the abstract that they will present evidence to “disprove the endosymbiotic hypothesis of mitochondrial evolution that is replaced in this work by a more realistic alternative.” This is a little unusual because review articles usually discuss the literature and sometimes produce summaries, but don’t usually disprove hypotheses or present new work.
So what is this “more realistic alternative”? First, a very brief explanation of what the endosymbiotic hypothesis is: the mitochondrion is a small organelle present in almost all eukaryotic cells (the cells of all organisms that have a nucleus). This category of living things ranges from single-celled creatures like yeast and fungi all the way up to plants and animals. Mitochondria are often called the “energy factories” of cells, and they have their own genome. It’s a small genome, but it contains many essential genes that cells need. Virtually all evolutionary biologists agree that the mitochondrian was originally a free-living bacterium, and that the predecessor to all eukaryotic cells engulfed it about 2 billion years ago. The ancestral mitochondrion then became an endosymbiont: a cell living inside our cells in a mutually beneficial relationship. This theory was first proposed over a century ago, and recent decades have seen a huge amount of evidence accumulate to support it.
Warda and Han don’t disprove the endosymbiotic hypothesis at all. Instead, they make an argument that the coordination between the mitochondrial proteins and those of the nucleus is so complex, and so well orchestrated, that it just can’t be explained by the endosymbiotic model. Then they come out with this stunning assertion:
“Alternatively, instead of sinking into a swamp of endless debates about the evolution of mitochondria, it is better to come up with a unified assumption…. More logically, the points that show proteomics overlapping between different forms of life are more likely to be interpreted as a reflection of a single common fingerprint initiated by a mighty creator than relying on a single cell that is, in a doubtful way, surprisingly originating all other kinds of life.”A “mighty creator”? In other words, “god did it.” It was quite a shock to see this in a scientific article. This statement, buried as it is in the middle of a long, technical review, very likely slipped past the peer reviewers. (I can’t imagine any decent scientist accepting the article otherwise.) This is basically the same argument that creationists and “intelligent design” proponents have been making for years: that certain processes are just too complicated to have evolved naturally.
Does the article contain any more creationist assertions? Well no, it just jumps back into review mode and continues like that until the end, until the very last paragraph. There, Warda and Han have one more surprise for us. They say that “many controversial questions still need to be answered, e.g., how signaling molecules … precisely translocate from or to mitochondria in a matter of milliseconds while crossing a huge ocean of soluble and insoluble barriers.” Okay, but then they go to say “we still need to know the secret behind this disciplined organized wisdom. We realize so far that mitochondria could be the link between the body and this preserved wisdom of the soul devoted to guaranteeing life.” What the heck does that mean? The mitochondrion as the “wisdom of the soul”?! That’s just nonsense.
Warda and Han have inserted blatant creationist conclusions – not justified in any way in their article – into a peer-reviewed article in a highly respected journal. This is a (clever) stealth attempt to get creationism into the literature. The title of this article should have warned the reviewers, but apparently not enough. If the article appears unchallenged, creationists can point to it and say that creationism is now supported in the scientific literature!
I have already contacted the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Proteomics, and he is looking into this already. Warda and Han’s home institutions (Inje University in Korea and Cairo University in Egypt) and departments should be very concerned about how this paper makes them look, but chances are they don’t even know about it. Since the paper hasn’t appeared yet in hardcopy, maybe there is still time to remove the unscientific nonsense. I hope so.