Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The hidden risk of DNA experiments

The hidden risk of DNA experiments and genetic engineering

Today we get overloaded with success stories of genetic technology from industry and science. A genome of a plant or animal has been newly deciphered, an animal has been artificially cloned. Nobel prizes are handed out for research in this area and much more. All this hype is based on something, which is mostly unknown by the media and the public and which has been collectively hidden from the researcher's minds by themselves. It is the fundament of genetic science, the role of DNA in life. Unknown or repressed is that this generally accepted view of the DNA is not a proven fact but only a theory.

The basic dogma of the genetic community

The plan or program how to build a living creature lies in the genetic structure called DNA and nowhere else. The DNA is not only the program, it is the computer to operate on itself too. Moreover it is part of a robot, which actually builds the creature and thus itself. Not enough with that: This combined program-computer is able to develop itself through a random driven process called evolution. This is the genetic dogma and not a single part of it has ever been seriously doubted by admirers of genetic engineering. If you don't understand, you - and all other creatures too - are deemed to be such mechanically self building DNA-robots.

Does this DNA program-computer really work?

No one can know this for sure; neither now, nor probably in the future. If you were showing a computer scientist an abstract structural design of this hypothetical DNA based program-computer without revealing that you are describing life, you would surely be laughed at. There are shortcomings that seem to make such a machine nothing but a nonsense construction without any chance of functioning. Genetic scientists themselves have very little evidence and then for only tiny fractional parts of the hypothetical operation of this complex machine. They could have probably much more evidence that contradicts their theory, but of course every interpretation in an area that is mostly unobservable is only speculation. It is easy for them to shut their eyes.

Could this basic doctrine be wrong?

Yes, of course. That is the general principle of science. Everything is only a working hypothesis until it is proven wrong. But not so for genetic enthusiasts. They successfully exclude this possibility from their whole professional work, perhaps because it would be too disastrous for their self-conception as a researcher if they were acknowledging that all their effort may be based on a wrong premise. That is understandable from a psychological point of view, yet it imposes a big risk on all of us.

The crux

Genetic scientists think the DNA's mechanism is based only on known physical forces completely covered by chemistry. That implies that there are only short range effects of the scale of molecules at work. If such chemical reaction - the DNA manipulation - is artificially initiated, the effect is deemed to be limited to the test tube of the genetic scientist, the cell and its descendants. And that is the crux.

The big risk

If the machine of life works differently than genetic scientists think or if life is no machine in the mechanical sense at all, then the DNA must play a different role. It is clear from many observations that the DNA has some role in life, but it is uncertain what precise role that is. That means that the DNA could be very well involved in a long range effect. Quite some researchers have proposed such long range effects and many findings would be easily explainable with them. For example it could mean that an individual creature is not only determined by its own structure of matter at its beginning of being, but by a field which spans over its whole species. There could be even a forming field for organs or organelles of the same kind in different species. It is not that such a field of force has to exist. It is that no one can rule out its existence. So by all standards of applied science there is a chance of the existence of long range effects in conjunction with the DNA. And that chance is the big risk.

The long range effect and artificial DNA manipulations

So how could such a hypothetical interference of artificial manipulations with nature like merging DNA of different species look like? That is impossible to say precisely. Because of the long distance effect the extreme could be that a genetic manipulation on one side of the world could change the development of a living creature or a whole species on the other side. Mind you, it could be even another species than those involved in the manipulation.

What about the successes of genetic science?

The only operations of genetic engineering that are somewhat predictable, repeatable and explainable are at the lowest level of the DNA machine, the protein synthesis. That part of the DNA's role in life seems to be understood. Its genes are plans for building proteins. By injecting an alien gene into some DNA, genetic engineers can do fancy things like producing a fluorescent tobacco plant. But such injection of a complete low level functionality, in this case a gene that builds a fluorescent molecule, is everything that has been achieved. Implanting properties that go beyond that of a molecule, biological structures of any scale, is terra incognita. Furthermore injected genes might have myriads of unwanted or even unnoticed side effects and are often not stable. Mysteriously alien gene material seems to have a tendency to vanish in the descendants. Genetic scientists are fooling themselves with thinking that they know something about the general construction plan, where it is located, how it is realized and how it has been developed, just because they can deliver differently colored bricks at the building site.

But human's genome has been deciphered!

The "deciphering of a genome" of the DNA of an organism is roughly a list of genes and therefore proteins and other molecules, that could be build with that DNA. It is only a list of material, not the construction plan! Furthermore this list varies, depending on the methods used to analyze the DNA. Even more bizarrely this list itself can't be deciphered! For almost every of its items it is unknown whether it is a brick or mortar or whatsoever. It is even not clear if an item is an item at all, if it has to interact with others to be one, if it is nothing or if it has some other function than being construction material. In a nutshell, nothing has been deciphered and the way media, science and industry are celebrating these genetic "milestones" is irresponsible misleading nonsense.

Critics of genetic science don't know their best argument

Many people are critics of genetics, even more find it suspicious, but most of them don't see the real danger. Everyone, proponents and critics evenly, take it for granted that there are only local effects. The thinking goes like this: If I raise this cell culture in that petri dish and something goes wrong I will just kill it. Outside a laboratory people may take care to seed genetically altered corn separated from other plants and expect this to be safe. Despite the many problems with such precautions and their logic - the field in which genetic critics are combating - these very real threats are nothing compared to the big one described here.

The possibility of an unbelievable catastrophe

There is virtually no limit of what can happen. A whole species, e.g. the human one, could degenerate or even get extinguished. If there was some sort of threshold, a critical mass that manipulated DNA must reach to trigger a world wide change, it would mean that this could happen all of a sudden - in one generation - without any chance of rewinding of what went wrong. The degeneration could range from hardly noticeably like a statistical increase of a sensitivity for a specific disease up to a sheer horror scenario. In case of humans that would mean that some day our grand children would give birth only to nonreproductive humans or monsters anymore. There is a real risk for such an apocalypse which no one can quantify. The only thing for sure is that it is not zero.

Stand up against DNA manipulation and genetic engineering!

Here is a more technical explanation about the indications why the dogma of genetic scientists of the DNA as a combined computer and its program may be wrong, what else the role of the DNA could be and what reasons there are to assume a long range effect. One way to act is to spread the word by linking to this article from your website or to blog about it. Just because no one talks about it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The danger is real - do something!