Saturday, November 3, 2018
Myth-Perception #3 "It's In Your Genes"
written 27 October 2018
published 3 November 2018
The third myth-perception described in "Spontaneous Evolution", by Lipton and Bhaerman, is that our genes determine everything in our body and we are fated from birth. This materialist understanding of biology was established in 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick published their Nobel Prize winning ideas based on research showing that deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) consists of a string of four nucleotide bases, adenine paired with thymine, and guanine paired with cytosine (A and T, G and C), to create reciprocal strands of DNA, forming a double helix.
The bases A, T, G, and C, in sets of three, code for one of 20 amino acids that comprise the building blocks of proteins in the body. A gene is the sequence of the DNA coding for a particular protein. A molecule of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) "reads" the gene code by making a mirror image of the gene. The mRNA moves from the nucleus into the cell body, becoming a template for assembling the amino acids in proper sequence to form the protein.
In this description, information flows from DNA, by mRNA, to the protein. But proteins encounter the environment and DNA does not, thus preventing the organism learning from experience, and evolution can only happen when a mistake occurs in the transcription by the mRNA, or the replication of the DNA during cell division. For half a century, this material determinism has dominated western medicine and pharmacology, despite research to the contrary.
In the late 1960s, geneticist Howard Temin, working with viruses containing only RNA, found the DNA of an infected a cell could be modified by the virus RNA, indicating a two-way flow of genetic information. Temin was called a heretic, but later vindicated, sharing a Nobel prize for his work in 1975.
In 1988, English biologist John Cairns demonstrated that simple bacteria could modify their DNA in response to their environment. Cairns was also vilified, but subsequent duplication of his results led to acceptance of this new understanding.
By 1990, biologist Fredrick Nijhout, emphasized that genes are a code, like a blueprint, and determination of which genes are "read", and when, is controlled by factors other than the genes themselves, introducing the concept of epigenetics: above genetics. Gene activity and cellular expression are regulated from external fields of influence, rather than the internal DNA.
The first few cells of a new embryo are virtually identical, but differentiate to vastly different forms in the mature animal. If one of the early cells is destroyed, another one takes over that development path. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, in "A New Science of Life", suggested that morphogenetic fields, existing in higher dimensions, direct that reformation.
The materialist paradigm was further challenged in 2003, with the conclusion of the Human Genome Project. This massive effort began in 1990 with the goal of sequencing the entire human DNA. Assuming a one-to-one correlation between genes and proteins, it was expected that complex organisms would have more genes than simpler life forms. Beginning small, they successfully mapped the 3,000-5,000 genes of bacteria, and the 23,000 genes of a microscopic round worm, which seemed to support their early assumptions. However, the more complex fruit fly was found to have only 18,000 genes, and human DNA contains 23,000 genes, about the same as the round worm, even though the human body contains between 50K and 2M proteins. This was a big surprise, and caused a crash in several bioengineering companies that had hoped to patent DNA sequences as proprietary information.
Current thinking is that each gene can express as many as 100 variations of a family of proteins. There is ongoing discussion about how this works, and what controls the process, but signals from the external environment are clearly important. For a human cell, those external signals come not only from the physical environment, but also from the state of mind of the person. This is why stress can adversely affect the physical cells, and why the reduction of stress is so important to good health. Our body materially reflect how we think, and what we believe about the world. To that extent, we are the co-creators of our fate, with our genes.