Human Embryos “Edited” In China

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell Ph.D.
May 14, 2017

It has finally happened: human embryos have been genetically modified in China, by utilizing the CRISPR technique of genetic modification. Indeed, while the development is not surprising, as one might imagine, I have a few high octane speculations about it(and I would also like to thank all the readers here who sent me these two stories):

Engineering the Perfect Baby

Chinese scientists genetically modify human embryos

Frankly, I found the second article so disturbing that it is difficult for me to write about, particularly in connection with my habit of high octane speculation. Nonetheless, I want to draw your attention to the following paragraphs from the second article:

The technique used by Huang’s team involves injecting embryos with the enzyme complex CRISPR/Cas9, which binds and splices DNA at specific locations. The complex can be programmed to target a problematic gene, which is then replaced or repaired by another molecule introduced at the same time. The system is well studied in human adult cells and in animal embryos. But there had been no published reports of its use in human embryos.

Huang and his colleagues set out to see if the procedure could replace a gene in a single-cell fertilized human embryo; in principle, all cells produced as the embryo developed would then have the repaired gene. The embryos they obtained from the fertility clinics had been created for use in in vitro fertilization but had an extra set of chromosomes, following fertilization by two sperm. This prevents the embryos from resulting in a live birth, though they do undergo the first stages of development.

The team injected 86 embryos and then waited 48 hours, enough time for the CRISPR/Cas9 system and the molecules that replace the missing DNA to act — and for the embryos to grow to about eight cells each. Of the 71 embryos that survived, 54 were genetically tested. This revealed that just 28 were successfully spliced, and that only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material. “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%,” Huang says. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”

His team also found a surprising number of ‘off-target’ mutations assumed to be introduced by the CRISPR/Cas9 complex acting on other parts of the genome. This effect is one of the main safety concerns surrounding germline gene editing because these unintended mutations could be harmful. The rates of such mutations were much higher than those observed in gene-editing studies of mouse embryos or human adult cells. And Huang notes that his team likely only detected a subset of the unintended mutations because their study looked only at a portion of the genome, known as the exome. “If we did the whole genome sequence, we would get many more,” he says.

He adds that critics of the paper have noted that the low efficiencies and high number of off-target mutations could be specific to the abnormal embryos used in the study. Huang acknowledges the critique, but because there are no examples of gene editing in normal embryos he says that there is no way to know if the technique operates differently in them. (Emphasis added)

There you have it: using the latest CRISPR technique, embryos were successfully modified, and those modifications would have been hereditary had the embryos been viable. But note what I can only hazard was probably a completely unexpected (and hence, ‘played down’) result: there were “off target mutations,” in other words, DNA mutations that were not planned and not expected, and might also have been passed down. Notably, we’re not informed what those “off-target mutations” actually consisted of; would they have resulted in entirely new congenital diseases or, alternatively, special “uniquenesses”? Might they have resulted – to exaggerate my point here – in people born with three eyes or six digits or truncated brains, or conversely, with expanded intellect or physical strength and endurance? We simply don’t know; the article does not say, and in that silence, I strongly suspect lies a tale.

Of course, as the article points out, critics of the study pointed out that these “off target mutations” may simply have been the result of the unusual embryos – fertilized by sperm from two different donors and hence of non-normal genetic derivation – that were used in the study.

Herewith my high octane speculation: what if they were not the result of the unusual embryos, but rather, in innate – perhaps epigenetic – response to the whole process of this type of genetic editing altogether? what if we are looking at a kind of “programmed-in defense mechanism” against tinkering in a fundamental fashion with DNA in general, or human DNA in particular? Many geneticists are in fact already questioning the standard genetic explanations for the development of individual life and its characteristics, suggesting there is another mechanism “beyond the genes” – hence the term “epi- (beyond) genetics” (genes) – that we do not yet understand.

In short, I think humanity was just served a timely warning with the appearance of “off target mutations,” the warning being: tread with great care, and great caution, and perhaps even, “Don’t tread here at all.”

See you on the flip side…

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About Dr. Joseph P. Farrell

Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and “strange stuff”. His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into “alternative history and science”.

Artificial Womb Created

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell Ph.D.
May 7, 2017

In case you didn’t catch the story, artificial wombs have been successfully created and tested… at least, for sheep, according to this article shared by Mr. B:

An artificial womb successfully grew baby sheep — and humans could be next

Now, of course, this is all being sold – predictably enough and just according to the playbook – as a potential health benefit, for if it can be applied to humans, the technology could conceivably help premature babies; here’s the way the article puts it in its first three paragraphs:

Inside what look like oversized ziplock bags strewn with tubes of blood and fluid, eight fetal lambs continued to develop — much like they would have inside their mothers. Over four weeks, their lungs and brains grew, they sprouted wool, opened their eyes, wriggled around, and learned to swallow, according to a new study that takes the first step toward an artificial womb. One day, this device could help to bring premature human babies to term outside the uterus — but right now, it has only been tested on sheep.

It’s appealing to imagine a world where artificial wombs grow babies, eliminating the health risk of pregnancy. But it’s important not to get ahead of the data, says Alan Flake, fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and lead author of today’s study. “It’s complete science fiction to think that you can take an embryo and get it through the early developmental process and put it on our machine without the mother being the critical element there,” he says.

Instead, the point of developing an external womb — which his team calls the Biobag — is to give infants born months too early a more natural, uterus-like environment to continue developing in, Flake says.
(Emphasis added)

True enough, such a technology would be a boon for care of premature babies.

But like Mr. B., I have difficulty believing that this technology is not applicable to the earliest stages of pregnancy. And that brings me to my high octane speculation of the day…

… while such a technology might be beneficial in the care of premature babies, I strongly suspect there’s another reason set of reasons entirely for the creation of this technology, and that set of reasons boils down to just two words: genetic engineering. Conceivably, such a technology could fulfill two dreams – or rather, nightmares – of the transhumanist “community,” for it would be (1)  a means not only to create but to gestate chimerical life forms, and (2) a means to create and gestate clones. Both purposes could be served by the perfection of this technology. In the latter case, it would be a kind of real world fulfillment of the film Island, staring Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, where human clones are literally gestated in such ‘biobags” and then “birthed” surgically on a pre-determined date.

The reason? There organs are going to be harvested for their “real” counterparts, and the clone – who is not viewed as a real “person” of course – is butchered, murdered, and thrown away. The technology, in other words, raises moral and jurisprudential issues. I’m one of those that maintains that human clones are persons, unique and different from their “originals” in the same way identical twins or triplets are different unique persons, regardless of the DNA similarities.

But watch, the transhumanist-progressive crowd will consult medical “ethicists” from the University of Oxford, who will contrive sophistical arguments why this is not the case.

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About Dr. Joseph P. Farrell

Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and “strange stuff”. His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into “alternative history and science”.

The Meaning of Life [Part I]

The Meaning of Life (Part I)
Jonathan Latham Ph.D.
April 26, 2017

Originally published on

The Rockefeller Foundation had two strategies for management that were distinct but complementary: to control human behaviour at the level of social structures: family, work and emotions, which the Foundation referred to by names such as “psychobiology”; and to control human behaviour at the level of molecules.

Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. DNA stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid and ribo stands for Rockefeller Institute of Biochemistry (now Rockefeller University) where the chemical composition of DNA was first discovered in the 1920s. The Rockefeller Foundation had become interested in DNA because its trustees feared a Bolshevik-style revolution. Intense public resentment had already compelled the break-up of their Standard oil Company in 1911; so the Foundation sought ways, said trustee Harry Pratt Judson in 1913, to “reinforce the police power of the state”. They intended to find the ultimate key to human behaviour which would allow the resentful and envious mobs to be effectively managed.

The Foundation had two strategies for management that were distinct but complementary: to control human behaviour at the level of social structures: family, work and emotions, which the Foundation referred to by names such as “psychobiology”; and to control human behaviour at the level of molecules.

The “science of man”

To develop methods of control at the societal level, the Foundation more-or-less founded the discipline of social science in the early 1900s.

Max Mason, appointed as the Foundation’s director in 1929, described this double focus as their “science of man” project:

“[It i]s directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the medical and natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of the sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control” (quote from Lily Kay, The Molecular Vision of Life, 1993).

For the social science arm the Foundation sought to inculcate within the social science research community specific mechanistic habits of mind and an ethos conducive to this goal of control: “the validation of the findings of social science [must be] through effective social control,” wrote the Foundation’s head of Social Science, Edmund E. Day. According to Warren Weaver, then director of the Foundation, this meant the “recasting of prevailing ideas of human nature and conduct” in line with the “managerial needs” of industrialisation for characters such as timeliness and obedience.

The “restructuring of human relations in congruence with industrial capitalism” as Lily Kay, biographer of the Foundation described it, was an agenda that was quite widely understood in the 1930s—and widely disapproved of. One contemporary critic called the Foundation’s work “a thinly disguised capitalistic manipulation of the social order” (Kay, 1993).

The Rockefellers construct the gene

The second arm to the “science of man” strategy was seen as purely based on scientific rationality.

To the Rockefeller Foundation trustees, however, rationality meant eugenics. Eugenic theory, by definition, implies that humans contain hidden determinants for traits like civility, intelligence, and obedience. Logically, such determinants ought to be discoverable, reasoned the Foundation’s trustees. If science were able to peer deep enough it would discover those mechanisms and molecules that effected this ‘upward causation’ of behaviour. Once identified, such controlling elements—which were initially presumed to be proteins—could be understood and made use of.

However, to make such discoveries required a new science and a new concept: ‘molecular biology’. Molecular biology was a term the foundation invented for a reductionist “science of the very small” that was focused on discovering the nature of the gene.

The Foundation nevertheless did try out other—even nonreductionist—approaches to biology. It briefly supported the mathematical biologist Nicolas Rashevsky before finally dropping him (Abraham, 2004). Presumably, as a descriptive science, mathematical biology did not meet the Foundation’s desire to discover deterministic and controlling forces.

By testing out and sifting through distinct approaches, individuals, and institutions, the Foundation eventually developed a strategy to reinvent the science of biology that, by 1933, was fully elaborated. It concentrated on funding scientific cliques at a relatively small number of elite institutions (such as Caltech and the University of Chicago). These cliques trained up hundreds of scientists whose job was to find the molecules responsible for that upward causation; that is, to find the specific molecules and the specific mechanisms that determined the form and function of organisms. They would thus validate the Rockefeller eugenic thesis.

Institutionally, these efforts were extremely successful. After the search for these ‘master molecules’ had eventually narrowed to DNA, George Beadle, Nobel Laureate in physiology and Rockefeller insider, noted that all but one of the 18 Nobel prizes awarded for genetic science after 1953 had been awarded to current or former Rockefeller-funded scientists (Kay, 1993). By Beadle’s death in 1989, largely thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, molecular biology had become the dominant approach to all of biology. That is, medicine, developmental biology, neurobiology, and agriculture.

Almost the whole world nowadays assumes the overwhelming emphasis of biological science on genetics and reductionism to be a logical and inevitable scientific one. But what the history of the Rockefeller Foundation shows is that the virtual wiping out of whole organism biology and the sidelining of diverse other approaches such as Rashevsky’s; of nutritional biology; and of environmental determinism, was a carefully planned coup d’état. It was an overt seizure of the scientific estate intended to substitute genetic determinism for competing ideas about causation in biology.

Genetic determinism is the idea that genes have a privileged level of causation and thus a special status in biology. As shown in the companion article Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life, the idea is clearly false. Causation in biology can take many forms and genetics is just one of them, but the robber barons who bought biology did so specifically in order to impose a genetic determinist paradigm.

A further consequence of their efforts was that they simultaneously seized and impoverished our idea of life. Thus, when Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA in 1953 they considered they had discovered “the secret of life“. The triumph of the Rockefeller Foundation was that no one contradicted them.

The origins of genetic determinism: Huxley and the Victorians

The fear of unruly mobs was not unique to leaders of the Rockefeller Foundation. Victorian reviewers of the books of Charles Darwin, fifty years earlier, also lived in a tumultuous age. The advent of new technologies like trains and telephones, the growth of cities, and the rise of a mercantile class that threatened to displace the nobility, were destabilising their world.

To add Darwinism to this ferment, feared those reviewers, would “shake society to its very foundations” (Desmond, 1998). These mid-Victorians feared Darwinism primarily because it provided a set of powerful ideas that profoundly undermined God and the Church, the two rocks on which their world was largely built.

More than that, evolution specifically threatened to destroy the ancient and sacred concepts of inherited wealth and inherited merit. To Victorians, these were virtually synonymous with the benefits of order and hierarchy.

Evolution even threatened to unleash social upheaval directly: to free the slaves, to liberate the workers, and emancipate the female population; and Thomas Huxley, the leading advocate of Darwinism, calculated he would widen popular support for science by promising as much. He told enthusiastic Victorian workers that the ascent of species showed the inevitability of social improvement.

Huxley, however, couldn’t go too far. Unlike all of his wealthy colleagues, he needed to make a living from science. But as Darwin’s de facto spokesperson, he was nevertheless in a unique position to shape the perception and interpretation of Darwinism.

Thus, in the presence of the dispossessed he emphasised science’s revolutionary qualities; but with the new industrialists he presented science as the driver of a new industrial era; and, for the stolid British establishment he emphasised that “Nature’s old salique law will not be repealed, and no change of dynasty will be effected”. Salique law was the ancient Frankish law ensuring inheritance only through the male line.

Huxley and his fellow scientists became adepts at such political manouevring. The key example, at least for genetics, was the taking of prescientific theories of inheritance, that were familiar to the establishment, such as salique law, and melding them with Darwinism. No evidence was available to anyone that the character traits prized by the establishment, such as intellect and social refinement, could be biologically inherited; and even if they could, it was surely unlikely to be only through the male line. Yet Huxley and his scientific fellows glossed over such inconsistencies so as to present evolution as minimally disturbing to the beliefs and values of the status quo. This required the nature of inherited traits to be essentially deterministic in nature. People did not acquire good characters, they were born with them.

Such interpretations meant that science thrived, but it was at the expense of undercutting Huxley’s earlier promises of greater freedom for the underclasses. Thus it was that the scientists used their positions as experts to bend the science and to knowingly take the side of the establishment in the struggle for social power that surrounded Victorian science (Desmond, 1998).

These interpretations were crucial to the future of biology. Inherited deterministic factors were based on what Huxley called “protoplasm” and protoplasm was a controller of human behaviour. Protoplasm is now accepted by many historians as the intellectual father of eugenic theory. It became the intellectual justification for the subsequent Rockefeller search for molecules of social control; but, as a theory constructed more for political than scientific reasons, it had feet of clay.

The entry of big tobacco

The railroading of biology away from the study of whole organisms by the Rockefeller Foundation (joined also by the Carnegie Foundation) proved relatively easy. Turning that understanding into social control was less so. The next stage required new impetus and even more money.

Starting in the 1950s the tobacco industry distributed $370 million among approximately 1,000 scientists in the US and British medical establishments. The long term plan was to construct another novel molecular science, that of human genetic variation (Wallace, 2009). The immediate goal was to attribute the diseases of smoking to genetic origins. The tobacco industry was determined to find “gene defects” that might lead to lung cancer and addiction. Tobacco executives thought—correctly—that finding even limited evidence would keep blame from being placed entirely on their products. Genetic determinism thus could be used to neutralise negative public, professional, and even legal, opinion (Gundle et al., 2010).

Tobacco funding never uncovered any compelling genetic determinants of cancer or addiction. But the strategy did shift public opinion. Genetic researchers were therefore encouraged by industries and governments to apply their methods to other physical illnesses (such as diabetes), and for the same reasons (Vrecko, 2008).

So although eugenics practitioners, such as Adolf Hitler, had made the word eugenics abhorrent to most people by the 1920s and 1930s, the genome sequencing bandwagon eventually convinced the public that DNA was a master molecule, a governor of health and behaviour, even down to one’s daily activities and decisions. The study of genes and genomes achieved acceptance of the eugenic premise through, as it were, the back door. The public was convinced to blame numerous illnesses and conditions, and not just lung cancer, on their own genetic ‘weaknesses’. Thus genetics was established as the presumptive primary cause of most human variation, chronic disease was normalised, and DNA was crowned “the King of molecules” by a Nobel Laureate (Mullis, 1997).

The ever-expanding domain of science

Thomas Huxley once declared, in an editorial of 1865, that science had no intention “of being content with anything short of absolute victory [over the Church] and uncontrolled domination over the whole realm of the intellect” (cited in Desmond, 1998). So while Charles Darwin initially refrained from publicly pursuing what he supposed to be the intellectual implications of his ideas, from fear that doing so would prevent them being accepted, his apostles rarely showed such restraint.

From Huxley and Herbert Spencer, via EO Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and many others, the presumed properties of DNA have formed the basis of great edifices of implication. EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: The new synthesis (1975) and Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype (1982) extrapolated biology far beyond previously accepted domains of the physical body, to encompass human desires, human ‘misbehaviour’, human ethics, and human social structures. Relying on faint statistical associations between DNA genome markers and human traits, geneticists have claimed that hundreds of human attributes have genetic explanations, at least in significant part, including: sexual and religious orientation, voting preferences, sleepwalking, entrepreneurial behaviour, sexism, violence, and many others (e.g. Kales et al., 1980). These claims have provided a steady supply of juicy headlines to pronounce that genes play powerful deterministic roles in behaviour.

The failure of “master molecules” to explain life

In 2016, Gary Greenberg, Professor Emeritus at Wichita State University, Kansas, reviewed a book that he plainly considered to be unnecessary. The reviewed was titled How many nails does it take to seal the coffin? The coffin in question is the science of behavior genetics. He cited fellow gravedigger Richard Lerner of Tufts University describing the “counterfactual conceptualizations of the role of genes in behavior and development” (Lerner, 2007) and genetic mortician Douglas Wahlsten (2012) that “all hope has been lost” in the search for genetic effects on normal human behaviour (Greenberg, 2016).

The basic issue identified by Greenberg, Lerner, et al., is that, if several hundred billion dollars of searching finds no evidence for genetic influences (except for rare traits like Down syndrome), then the only reasonable conclusion is that genetic influences on those traits are absent or minutely small. Yet the genetic zombie, to their exasperation, lives on, and for the simple reason that it is lavishly funded.

It is not just the study of human behaviours for which the long-sought genetic evidence is chronically missing. In 2013, the head of the Broad Institute at MIT, which is the most prominent global institution in the study of human genetics, called genetic influence on human disease a “phantom” (Zuk et al., 2013). This U-turn followed a succession of compelling critiques that focused on 1) the lack of replicability of putative genetic predispositions in humans (Ioannidis, 2007); 2) lack of evidence of broad effects on health (Manolio et al., 2009Dermitzakis and Clark, 2009); 3) lack of effect size of all except a very few individual genetic predispositions (Ioannidis and Panagiotou, 2011); and 4) a general lack of experimental rigour of genetic methods and hypotheses (Buchanan et al. 2006Wallace, 2006Charney and English, 2012).

The media (including the science media) has barely reported these critiques, but they have left the discipline of human genetics in turmoil. Interesting as it is to watch billions of dollars of medical research funding generate nothing but negative results, (see Manolio et al., 2009), the really big question is the one now hanging over the underlying master molecule idea, since genetic determinism has become the central paradigm of all biology.

The fundamental defects of this master molecule concept were summed up perhaps most succinctly by Richard C Strohman of UC Berkeley; in a 1997 article “The coming Kuhnian revolution in biology“:

“[W]e have taken a successful and extremely useful theory and paradigm of the gene and have illegitimately extended it as a paradigm of life”. But, Strohman wrote, the broader paradigm “has little power and must eventually fail”.

Interestingly, the same logical flaw was identified by Lily Kay in her Rockefeller Foundation biography of 1993. In concluding, she noted the self-limiting nature of its reductionist method. “By narrowing its epistemic domain, the new biology has bracketed out important animate phenomena from its discourse on life”.

That failure is now fully visible. Thanks to emerging research findings such as those described in Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life, it is now hard to overlook that genetic reductionism has failed to explain “important animate phenomena” like: growth, self-organisation, evolution, consciousness, learning, health, and disease. These are the key elements of life that a successful paradigm ought to explain but somehow genetic determinism never has.

Its emerging replacement is a vastly different paradigm of life, one that conceives living systems as cooperatives and not dictatorships. To be clear, some facts about DNA are not in dispute. DNA exists. The mutation or addition of genes can have profound effects on the properties of organisms; but this doesn’t make DNA special. The removal or addition (where possible) of most other components of organisms, such as RNA, or proteins, even water, has the same effect. Thus even the use of GMO crops, which might look like clear examples of upward causation, are consistent with the new paradigm because introduced transgenes are carefully designed to act as isolated modules, traits that operate independently of all the system level controls that organisms typically use to manage and integrate gene activity and biochemical function.

But what ultimately motivates this new paradigm is the lack of conceptual necessity for DNA to animate organisms. Molecular biologists routinely propose that DNA has properties of “expression”, of “control”, and of cellular governance, in some sense that other molecules do not. These are the properties that a master molecule paradigm requires, but asserting them does not rescue genetic determinism, it is merely prescientific vitalism.

What science is telling us, therefore, is that, in living systems, everything depends on everything else, and life bootstrapped itself out of the ooze. DNA did not lead the way.

The societal consequences of genetic determinism

Whether true or not, all belief systems have consequences. When news of Darwin’s evolutionary theory reached Germany in the 1860s, Ernst Haeckel, German prodigy biologist, constructed the first trees of life, with humans (for no scientific reason) at the apex of creation. Much like Huxley, Haeckel also stretched the implications of Darwinismus into a genetic determinist struggle, in this case one that drove “peoples irresistibly onward”. Darwinismusforetold, he said, a new Teutonic destiny.

As early as the death of Charles Darwin (1882) it was said that his thought (which for the most part meant Huxley’s interpretations) could be found “under a hundred disguises in works on law and history, in political speeches and religious discourses…if we try to think ourselves away from it we must think ourselves entirely away from our age” (John Morley, 1882, cited in Desmond 1998)

Thus the belief system that humans are controlled by an internal master molecule has become woven into myriad areas of social thought. It is far beyond the scope of this article to describe the consequences of genetic determinism at either the personal or the societal level (see instead The DNA Mystique), but the two world wars, the holocaust, racism, colonialism, eugenics, inequity, are each stronger as a consequence of, or might never have happened without, the idea of genetic determinism. The reason is that genetic determinism moulded “higher” and “lower”, “normal” and “abnormal”, into intrinsic and unmodifiable scientific properties of biological organisms and groups, rather than being what they were previously: questionable prejudices and dubious conceits.

Genetic determinism thus became the defining idea of the twentieth century. Nothing was unmoved by it. It drove biology, it even drove science itself.

It began with the ability of outside institutions to impose long-term and overarching agendas on science. This alone is a breathtaking observation, both disturbing and profound, that wholly contradicts our normal presumption that science is driven by brilliant individuals, technical innovations, and collective intellectual rigour. Instead, to understand what occurred to DNA is as simple as following the money.

Science, and therefore all of society, was lured into a very specific DNA-centric interpretation of life that was predicated on magical thinking about the properties of genes. Once the initial conditions were set up, however, a key observation is that biological research fostered genetic determinist social thought and genetic determinist thought in turn made genetically determinist science seem more valid and desirable. A self-sustaining feedback loop was thus created.

One example of how genetic determinism participated in that loop was laid out in a 1975 letter from prominent geneticists to the NY Review of Books. They were replying to an uncritical review of EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: a New Synthesis. The geneticists’ letter lays out a rationale for why a political establishment might fund sociobiology and genomics: to furnish interpretations of human activity that create and therefore determine behavioural and social norms. As the authors wrote: “for Wilson, what exists is adaptive, what is adaptive is good, therefore what exists is good.” The authors were pointing out, well before the tobacco industry strategy had been unmasked, that any scientific assertion that a societal aberration such as “war”, or an individual misbehaviour such as “violence”, has genetic roots makes it seem natural or normal. Thus, what appears to be a simple and apolitical scientific “finding”, say of a genetic predisposition to obesity, generates inferences that are highly valued by institutions (such as the food industry) that cause obesity but wish to resist pressure on them for social change.

It is scant wonder then that the publication of Sociobiology was followed by a funding boom in genetic research, in both the social and medical sciences. This boom happened even though human genetic research is rarely of value in the search for cures or the treatment of disease (Chaufan and Joseph, 2013). The bottom line is, even if genetic predispositions for obesity were to exist, everyone should exercise and not overeat.

Thus biological explanations have vastly expanded science’s intellectual realm, into the arenas of social affairs, economics, politics, religion, even philosophy and ethics. Bearing out the prediction of the NYRB letter, sociobiology has virtually driven out traditional academic interpretations of human activity, such as Marxism or Deconstructionism, that made life uncomfortable for the powers that be.

As Dorothy Nelkin and Susan Lindee observed for academia:

In the last few decades many universities have ceased to offer the grand survey courses in Western civilization that once seemed to explain so much about human culture and the human past. Postcolonialism, postmodernism, literary theory, and other trends in academic life called into question the legitimacy of the grand narratives that were built into the notion of “Western civilization”. Many college students will never take such a course. But most will take introductory biology……introductory biology has become the cultural equivalent of the old Western civilization curriculum: explaining human culture and the human past, biological knowledge is seen as deeply relevant to social concerns, economic development, international relations, and ethical debates. Introductory biology is presented as a valid, truth-seeking endeavour, untainted by religious, political, or philosophical commitments. It places human beings in a meaningful universe, providing ways of understanding relationships between ethnic and racial groups and between identity and the body” (Preface to the second edition, The DNA Mystique: The gene as a cultural icon, 2004).

Anyone not knowing the strategies of the Rockefeller Foundation and the tobacco industry might well imagine sociobiology to be “valid” and “untainted”. Plainly though, given their history, and the new scientific revelations, genetic explanations are just ones whose political commitments are better concealed, and it becomes highly relevant that genetic explanations are being made in academia, in policy circles, and in the public arena by scientists whose funders (whether governments or corporations) benefit from this neutering of public discourse.

The end result of Huxley’s proposed intellectual expansion of biology is arguably already here. Students unversed in the history of thought and stewed in unsupported or unverifiable genetic explanations have become the intellectual core of a miseducated and compliant society. One that creatively participates in its own delusion by self-describing illnesses as “genetic”, even in cases where the only clear evidence of causation is environmental. A genetically determinist society is therefore one not capable of understanding itself as directly at risk from irresponsible corporate activities and government indifference. It is fundamentally defenceless against polluters, junk food marketers, community dislocation, and other threats to human integrity.

In a wider political frame, the history of the 20th Century shows that a genetic determinist society is also vulnerable to fascists, racists, dictators, and warmongers. All this too is the product of a century and a half of the manipulation of biological science.

Is it too strong to argue this? I do not think so. Consider, as a case study, Adolf Eichmann and the transportation of the Jews to the death camps during the second world war. The world mostly blamed Eichmann personally and Israel executed him. Hannah Arendt, however, famously attributed his crimes to a mystical “banality of evil”.

They were all wrong. Adolf Eichmann and his superiors were following the dictates, as they saw them, of science and genetics. Jews were, to them, a genetic problem of racial purity and the only solution to a genetic problem is extermination and the prevention of reproduction (see especially The War Against the Jews: 1933-194). Given the premises, the final solution was perfectly logical.

But the perfectly logical question for us (and the subject of The Meaning of Life Part II) is, why does hardly anyone see this? Why is it so hard to critique or challenge genetics? Not only do we attribute to genes a wholly unwarranted privileged level of causation in biology, we also give them a privileged level of discourse in society. The dominance of genetics is thus a phenomenon that does not originate in science.

In the last essay of this series I will elaborate on this by proposing a novel theory to explain the fascination of our society for genetic determinism and master molecules. This theory explains the iconic status and scientific attraction of DNA in terms of its metaphysical role as a representative of the universe. Like that other representative of the universe, the Judaeo-Christian God, DNA confers the properties of leadership and authority on disorderly nature. DNA, as the true meaning of life, thus legitimates authority in our scientific society. Therefore, the historical actors, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, who helped create this role for DNA, were, just like everyone else, in thrall to forces they didn’t fully understand.

This theory has quite a few important implications. It suggests that ever since genetic determinism became established in the public mind, that Western societies have become locked into a downward spiral of authoritarian politics and genetic determinist thought. This spiral is already imperilling the functioning of democracy. Unhalted, it may extinguish democratic values entirely. More optimistically, the theory offers a conceptually simple way to reverse the spiral. That way rests on pointing out that all organisms are systems and not dictatorships. It becomes necessary, for the very survival of democratic society, to confront these habits of genetic determinist thinking which, after all, have no basis in reality.

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Jonathan Latham is co-founder and Executive Director of the Bioscience Resource Project and also Editor of the Independent Science News website. Dr. Latham holds a Masters degree in Crop Genetics and a PhD in Virology.

Why The Only Thing Influenza May Kill Is Germ Theory

Sayer Ji
April 16, 2017

Groundbreaking research indicates that nearly everything we once believed about the purportedly deadly properties of flu virus may be based on institutionalized superstition and myth. 

Germ theory is an immensely powerful force on this planet, affecting everyday interactions from a handshake, all the way up the ladder to national vaccination agendas and global eradication campaigns. But what if fundamental research on what exactly these ‘pathogens’ are, how they infect us, has not yet even been performed? What if much of what is assumed and believed about the danger of microbes, particularly viruses, has completely been undermined in light of radical new discoveries in microbiology?

Some of our readers already know that in my previous writings I discuss why the “germs as our enemies” concept has been decimated by the relatively recent discovery of the microbiome. For background, feel free to read “How The Microbiome Destroyed the Ego, Vaccine Policy, and Patriarchy.”

In today’s article, I will take a less philosophical approach, and focus on influenza as a more concrete example of the Copernican-level paradigm shift in biomedicine and life sciences we are all presently fully immersed within, even if many in the establishment have yet to fully acknowledge it.

Deadly Flu Viruses: Vaccinate or Die?

The way health policy makers talk about it today, flu virus is a deadly force, against which all citizens, of all ages 6 months or older, need to take an annual influenza vaccine to protect themselves against, lest they face deadly consequences. Worse, those who hold religious or philosophical objections, or who otherwise conscientiously object to vaccinating, are being characterized as doing harm to others by denying them herd immunity (a concept that has been completely debunked by a careful study of the evidence, or lack thereof). For instance, in the interview below Bill Gates tells Sanjay Gupta that he thinks non-vaccinators “kill children”:

But what if I told you that there isn’t even such a thing as “flu virus,” in the sense of a monolithic, disease vector existing outside of us, conceived as it is as the relationship of predator to prey?

First, consider that the highly authorative Cochrane collaboration acknowledges there are many different flu viruses that are not, in fact, influenza A — against which flu vaccines are targeted — but which nonetheless can contribute to symptoms identical to those attributed to influenza A:

Over 200 viruses cause influenza and influenza-like illness which produce the same symptoms (fever, headache, aches and pains, cough and runny noses). Without laboratory tests, doctors cannot tell the two illnesses apart. Both last for days and rarely lead to death or serious illness. At best, vaccines might be effective against only Influenza A and B, which represent about 10% of all circulating viruses.” (Source: Cochrane Summaries).” [emphasis added]

This makes for a picture of complexity that powerfully undermines health policies that presuppose vaccination equates to bona fide immunity, and by implication, necessitates the herd collectively participate in the ritual of mass vaccination campaigns as a matter of social responsibility and necessity.

Even the use of the word “immunization” to describe vaccination is highly misleading. The moment the word is used, it already presupposes efficacy, and makes it appear as if non-vaccinators are anti-immunity, instead of what they actually are: pro-immunity (via clean air, food, water, and sunlight), but unwilling to subject themselves or their healthy children to “unavoidably unsafe” medical procedures with only theoretical benefits.

Why Flu Virus Doesn’t Exist (The Way We Were Told)

But the topic gets even more interesting when we consider the findings of a 2015 study entitled “Conserved and host-specific features of influenza vision architecture.” This was the first study ever to plumb the molecular depths of what influenza virus is actually composed of. Amazingly, given the long history of vaccine use and promotion, the full characterization of what proteins it contains, and where they are derived from, was never previously performed. How we invest billions of dollars annually into flu vaccines, and have created a global campaign to countermand a viral enemy, whose basic building blocks we don’t even know, is hard to understand. But it is true nonetheless.

The study abstract opens with this highly provocative line:

“Viruses use virions to spread between hosts, and virion composition is therefore the primary determinant of viral transmissibility and immunogenicity.” [emphasis added]

Virion are also known as “viral particles,” and they are the means by which viral nucleic acids are able to move and ‘infect’ living organisms. Without the viral particle (taxi) to carry around the virus DNA (passenger), it would be harmless; in fact, viruses are often described as existing somewhere between living and inanimate objects for this reason: they do not produce their own energy, nor are transmissable without a living host. And so, in this first line, the authors are making it clear that virion composition is also the primary determinant in how or whether a virus is infectious (transmits) and what affects it will have in the immune system of the infected host.

Influenza viral particles.

This distinction is important because we often think of viruses as simply pathogenic strings of DNA or RNA. The irony, of course, is that the very things we attribute so much lethality to — viral nucleic acids — are not even alive, and can not infect an organism without all the other components (proteins, lipids, extra-viral nucleic acids) which are, technically, not viral in origin, participating in the process. And so, if the components that are non-viral are essential for the virus to cause harm, how can we continue to maintain that we up against a monolithic disease entity “out there” who “infects” us, a passive victim?  It’s fundamentally non-sensical, given these findings. It also clearly undermines the incessant, fear-based rhetoric those beholden to the pro-vaccine use to coerce the masses into undergoing the largely faith-based rite of vaccination.

Let’s dive deeper into the study’s findings…

The next line of the abstract addresses the fact we opened this article with: namely, that there is great complexity involved at the level of the profound variability in virion composition:

“However, the virions of many viruses are complex and pleomorphic, making them difficult to analyze in detail”

But this problem of the great variability in the virion composition of influenza is exactly why the study was conducted. They explain:

“Here we address this by identifying and quantifying viral proteins with mass spectrometry, producing a complete and quantifiable model of the hundreds of viral and host-encoded proteins that make up the pleomorphic virions of influenza virus.  We show that a conserved influenza virion architecture, which includes substantial quantities of host proteins as well as the viral protein NSI, is elaborated with abundant host-dependent features. As a result, influenza virions produced by mammalian and avian hosts have distinct protein compositions.”

In other words, they found that the flu virus is as much comprised of biological material from the host the virus ‘infects,’ as the viral genetic material of the virus per se.

How then, do we differentiate influenza virus as fully “other”? Given that it would not exist without “self” proteins, or those of other host animals like birds (avian) or insects, this would be impossible to do with any intellectual honesty intact.

There’s also the significant problem presented by flu vaccine production. Presently, human flu vaccine antigen is produced via insects and chicken eggs. This means that the virus particles extracted from these hosts would contain foreign proteins, and would therefore produce different and/or unpredictable immunological responses in humans than would be expected from human influenza viral particles. One possibility is that the dozens of foreign proteins found within avian influenza could theoretically produce antigens in humans that cross-react with self-structures resulting in autoimmunity. Safety testing, presently, does not test for these cross reactions. Clearly, this discovery opens up a pandora’s box of potential problems that have never sufficiently been analyzed, since it was never understood until now that “influenza” is so thoroughly dependent upon a host for its transmissability and immunogenecity.

Are Flu Viruses Really “Hijacked” Exosomes?

Lastly, the study identified something even more amazing:

“Finally, we note that influenza virions share an underlying protein composition with exosomes, suggesting that influenza virions form by subverting micro vesicle” production.”

What these researchers are talking about is the discovery that virion particles share stunning similarities to naturally occurring virus-like particles produced by all living cells called exosomes. Exosomes, like many viruses (i.e. enveloped viruses) are enclosed in a membrane, and are within the 50-100 nanometer size range that viruses are (20-400 nm). They also contain biologically active molecules, such as proteins and lipids, as well as information-containing ones like RNAs — exactly, or very similar, to the types of contents you find in viral particles.

Watch this basic video on exosomes to get a primer:

When we start to look at viruses through the lens of their overlap with exosomes, which as carriers of RNAs are essential for regulating the expression of the vast majority of the human genome, we start to understand how their function could be considered neutral as “information carriers,” if not beneficial. Both exosomes and viruses may actually be responsible for inter-species or cross-kingdom communication and regulation within the biosphere, given the way they are able to facilitate and mediate horizontal information transfer between organisms. Even eating a piece of fruit containing these exosomes can alter the expression of vitally important genes within our body.


In light of this post-Germ Theory perspective, viruses could be described as pieces of information in search of chromosomes; not inherently “bad,” but, in fact, essential for mediating the genotype/phenotype relationship within organisms, who must adapt to ever-shifting environmental conditions in real-time in order to survive; something the glacial pace of genetic changes within the primary nucleotide sequences of our DNA cannot do (for instance, it may take ~ 100,000 years for a protein-coding gene sequence to change versus seconds for a protein-coding gene’s expression to be altered via modulation via viral or exosomal RNAs).

This does not mean they are “all good,” either. Sometimes, given many conditions outside their control, their messages could present challenges or misinformation to the cells to which they are exposed, which could result in a “disease symptom.” But with the caveat that these disease symptoms are often if not invariably attempts by the body to self-regulate and ultimately improve and heal itself.

In other words, the virion composition of viruses appears to be the byproduct of the cell’s normal exosome (also known as microvessicle) production machinery and trafficking, albeit being influenced by influenza DNA. And like exosomes, viruses may be a means of extracellular communication between cells, instead of simply a pathological disease entity.  This could explain why an accumulating body of research on the role of the virome in human health indicates that so-called infectious agents, including viruses like measles, confer significant health benefits. [see: the Health Benefits of Measles and The Healing Power of Germs?].

Other researchers have come to similar discoveries about the relationship between exosomes and viruses, sometimes describing viral hijacking of exosome pathways as a “Trojan horse” hypothesis.  HIV may provide such an example.

Concluding Remarks

The remarkably recent discovery of the host-dependent nature of the influenza virus’ virion composition is really just the tip of an intellectual iceberg that has yet to fully emerge into the light of day, but is already “sinking” ships; paradigm ships, if you will.

One such paradigm is that germs are enemy combatants, and that viruses serve no fundamental role in our health, and should be eradicated from the earth with drugs and vaccines, if possible.

This belief, however, is untenable. With the discovery of the indispensable role of the microbiome, and the subpopulation of viruses within it — the virome — we have entered into an entirely new, ecologically-based view of the body and its environs that are fundamentally inseparable. Ironically, the only thing that influenza may be capable of killing is germ theory itself. 

For an in-depth exploration of this, watch the lecture below on the virome. I promise, if you do so, you will no longer be able to uphold germ theory as a monolithic truth any longer. You may even start to understand how we might consider some viruses “our friends,” and why we may need viruses far more than they need us.

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Is Babylon Five’s Anti-Agapic Here?

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell Ph.D.
March 31, 2017

Most people know I am a fan of the 1990s classic sci-fi television series, Babylon Five. In the first season of that series, a war criminal named Warmaster Jha-dur (a leader of an extinct race named named the Dilgar which was wiped out in a war) missing for years and presumed dead, suddenly turns up on the space station to the horrified shock of the various races she oppressed and murdered. She was a kind of alien Doctor Mengele, performing horrible experiments on the sentient species that her own species had conquered, until the Earth Alliance intervened and, apparently, wiped out the Dilgar. With the exception of Jha-dur.Her sudden appearance on the space station brings the predictable demands for justice and a war crimes trial from the various races that were victims of her experiments. Unfortunately, Jha-dur brings with her a serum, a universal anti-agapic or anti-aging drug with which she hopes to barter for her freedom. She offers it to Earth, which, of course, promptly tosses morality and justice aside, and makes a deal with her for the drug. Indeed, the drug appears to work, since Jha-dur has not aged one day since the last known picture of her from years previously. All DNA tests confirm: its her. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately, depending on ones lights), the ship carrying Jha-dur is blown up by another advanced alien race (the Vorlons), who tell the humans that youre not ready for immortality. So why the lengthy introduction? Well, Mr. V.T. shared this article about a similar drug that is now being tested by NASA; indeed, I blogged about this drug some time ago, which was then in development. Now, it appears there has been enough success with it in mice that it is now moving to human trials: Would YOU choose to live forever? Age-reversing pill that Nasa wants to give to astronauts on Mars will begin human trials within six months. Now this is extremely interesting, for note what is claimed for the drug:

Scientists have made a discovery that could lead to a revolutionary drug that actually reverses ageing.

The drug could help damaged DNA to miraculously repair and even protect Nasa astronauts on Mars by protecting them from solar radiation.

A team of researchers developed the drug after discovering a key signalling process in DNA repair and cell ageing.

The work has drawn the attention of Nasa, which is considering the challenge of keeping its astronauts healthy during a four-year mission to Mars.

Even on short missions, astronauts experience accelerated ageing from cosmic radiation, suffering from muscle weakness, memory loss and other symptoms when they return.

On a trip to Mars, the situation would be far worse: Five per cent of the astronauts cells would die and their chances of cancer would approach 100 per cent.

(Emphasis added)

Let that cluster of claims sink in: a drug that can accelerate radiation-damaged cell repair, and hence, conceivably ward off radiation-induced cancers. A few years ago, there was a story about an Israeli developed drug which had similar restorative properties for radiation-attacked cells. The bottom line here is that up to a point, one might have a cure for radiation sickness and damaged cells, with the possible high octane speculative potential of perhaps being able to undo severe radiation exposure, such as the type caused by thermal neutrons to individual cells. One would, of course, have to administer such a drug very quickly after such exposure, before the damage had set in past the point of no return. But it is just barely conceivable as a possibility.

The benefits for extended space voyages, as the article points out, are quite high, for one would be able to repair radiation exposure as-it-happened so to speak, effectively neutralizing one persistent problem with long space voyages.

Which brings me to my high octane speculation of the day: just how long might this technology have existed? In the Daily Mails presentation, not very long at all; its relatively recent and just now being set for human trials. But consider: weve often remarked on this site about the weird longevity of the elite, and in part, this has been explained by the process of taking blood transfusions of the very young. The thinking is that some sort of genetic mechanism exists that repairs cells. And this drug would certainly seem to fill the bill. And if one had taken blood transfusions and noticed a marked improvement and restoration of youth and vigor, one would want to know why, and perhaps then privately and very secretly funded studies into what made it work, and found the mechanism being claimed for this drug. Far-fetched? Certainly, but it would not be the first time that public technologies and disclosures of such followed a long period of private and hidden development. And its incredibly interesting that it occurs in connection with space travel (Apollo, anyone?).

Oh, and to complete the Babylon Five version of the story, Jha-dur, in a final moment of supreme triumph, discloses that her drug was made possible by the millions of lives she sacrificed in her experiments, and that the drug only works because it contains the dna of all those species… think of it as the Babylon Five version of the blood transfusion story.

It makes you wonder…

See you on the flip side…

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About Joseph P. Farrell

Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and “strange stuff”. His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into “alternative history and science”.

Biological Nanobot Responds To DNA Signals: New Meaning To…


Dr. Joseph P. Farrell Ph.D.
March 15, 2017

Nanotechnology has taken another significant step in the technology tree to becoming a reality for medicinal (and other) purposes, according to this article shared by Mr. V.K.:

Shape-shifting molecular robots respond to DNA signals

Note some intriguing things here, from the beginning of the article:

A research group at Tohoku University and Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a molecular robot consisting of biomolecules, such as DNA and protein. The molecular robot was developed by integrating molecular machines into an artificial cell membrane. It can start and stop its shape-changing function in response to a specific DNA signal.

This is the first time that a molecular robotic system has been able to recognize signals and control its shape-changing function. What this means is that molecular robots could, in the near future, function in a way similar to living organisms.

According to the article, this little nano-bot is only one millionth of a meter in diameter. This may seem significant, until one recalls in his 1986 nanotechnology classic, Engines of Creation, Eric Drexler noted that IBM had been successful in spelling its name with 35 xenon atoms, and, even more breathtakingly, AT&T had constructed the first artificial atom. That was in 1986!

But to return to the article, why is a shape-changing nanobot significant? The answer:

The realization of a molecular robot whose components are designed at a molecular level and who can function in a small and complicated environment, such as the human body, is expected to significantly expand the possibilities of robotics engineering. The results of this study could lead to technological developments that could help solve important medical issues — such as a treatment robot for live culturing cells and a monitoring robot for checking environmental pollution.

“The paper by Nomura and coworkers represents a major step towards the development of autonomous soft microrobots,” says Dr. Friedrich Simmel, professor at the Technische Universität München. “Based on this achievement, in the future similar systems could be developed that display artificial phototaxis or chemotaxis, or similar ‘intelligent’ behavior.”

Indulging in a bit of high octane speculation, one can envision that such technologies could be made to change shape and latch onto various pathogens, which have their own peculiar shapes that some believe allows then to attack human cells; AIDS and cancer cells could thus, by the DNA signals that they give, attract such nanobots which could then attach themselves to the disease cells and literally attack them, injecting them with terminal drugs. In short, a major step in the technology tree has been taken, proven, and the door is open to modifications of the basic technology that would conceivably usher in a very new and very different kind of chemotherapy.

And of course, if one indulges high octane speculation a little further, this is the ultimate biological weapons possibility, for programmable nanobots could conceivably be designed to attack only certain kinds of genetic signatures. One might go so far as to envision such technologies that could be injected into a target population and activated at a later date by the introduction of chemical triggering agents or electromagnetic signaling, giving a new, literal, and terrifying meaning to the term “sleeper cells.”

And if we can think of it, one can rest assured “they” have as well. In this respect, it’s worth recalling once again what my co-author Scott deHart and I wrote in Transhumanism: A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas, for we pointed out there that a key area of research for DARPA, the Defense Advance Projects Research Agency, or as we like to call it following a suggestion of Mr. J.B., the Diabolically Apocalyptic Research Projects Agency, is nanotechnology.

…and with enough black funds, and people, and time…

See you on the flip side…

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About Joseph P. Farrell

Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and “strange stuff”. His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into “alternative history and science”.

Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life

Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life
Jonathan Latham Ph.D.
February 8, 2017

Originally published on

Test your understanding of the living world with this simple question. What kind of biomolecule is found in all living organisms? If your answer is “DNA”, you are incorrect.

The mistake is very forgiveable though. The standard English-language biology education casts DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) as the master molecule of life, coordinating and controlling most, if not all, living functions. This master molecule concept is popular. It is plausible. It is taught in every university and high school. But it is wrong. DNA is no master controller, nor is it even at the centre of biology. Instead, science overwhelmingly shows that life is self-organised and thus the pieces are in place for biology to undergo the ultimate paradigm shift.

The mythologising of DNA

Highly respected scientists make very strong claims for the powers of DNA. In his autobiography, Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis called it “The King of molecules” and “The big one”. Maybe he read DNA: The Secret of Life, a popular science book that calls DNA the molecule that “holds the key to the very nature of living things”. Its author should know. He is Nobel Laureate, James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. Even institutions have strong opinions when it comes to DNA; the website of the US National Institutes of Health claims “Genes are at the center of everything that makes us human”.

My edition of The Secret of Life features on its back cover Eric Lander. Lander is the celebrated brains behind modern human genetics. He is also the head of the Broad Institute at MIT. In his blurb, Lander endorses “The secret of life” trope. Just below him on the jacket is Professor of genetics Mary-Claire King. She writes: “This is the story of DNA and therefore the story of life, history, sex, money, drugs, and still-to-be-revealed secrets.” According to Prof. King, DNA is life.

The Watson view of genetics dominates education too. The standard US high school biology textbook “Life“, of which we own the 1997 edition, frames the entirety of biology around DNA, thereby giving it the biochemical status of life’s centrepiece.

Meanwhile, Francis Collins, longstanding head of the National Institutes of Health, has published bestselling books about DNA with titles like The Language of Life and the Language of God. It should be no surprise then that the idea of DNA as a master molecule is one of the dominant ideas of our age.

Some biologists will say that these views are extreme and unrepresentative. They are, and part of this article is to explain why extreme views about DNA dominate the public discourse. But its main purpose is to contrast the portrayal of DNA by virtually all biologists with the narrow scientific treatment they apply to other biological molecules. Our existence also depends on proteins, fats, carbohydrates and RNA (Ribonucleic Acid); but no one says “it’s in my protein”. But here is a question: is it any less scientifically preposterous to say something “is in my DNA”?

To take a ruthless look at that question is thus the purpose of this article. Does DNA have any claim to being in control? Or at the centre of biological organisation?

The answer is that DNA is none of the things Watson, Lander, and Collins claim, and that even the standard nuanced biologist’s view of life is wrong. This is provable in many ways but mainly by a new science of life that is emerging from almost complete obscurity. This new science explains the features of living beings in productive new ways that DNA-centric, genetic determinist, biology has not, and cannot. DNA is not the language of God. It is not even the language of biology.

Organisms are systems

The evidence that DNA is not a biological controller begins with the fact that biological organisms are complex systems. Outside of biology, when we consider any complex system, such as the climate, or computers, or the economy, we would not normally ask whether one component has primacy over all the others. We consider it obvious that complex systems are composed of subsystems, each being necessary for the larger whole. Each subsystem has its specific niche but no one subsystem exerts a privileged level of causation.

The same applies to living organisms. At the level of the physiology of an individual organism we do not apply an exclusive or special causative role to the heart, the liver, the skin, or the brain, because a body is a system. All parts are necessary.

At the smaller biological scales of organs too, distinct cell types maintain, operate, and repair themselves and each other. Similarly, at the cellular level, no one disagrees that organelles and other molecular structures are interacting but independent subparts of the whole.

At the level of macromolecules, however, a curious thing happens. Biologists abandon systems thinking entirely. Instead, we apply the famous central dogma of biology, which is that DNA makes RNA makes Protein (Crick, 1970). This formulation creates an origin story that begins with DNA.

The first mistake of the dogma, however, is to call it “central”. If an organism is a system, then there is no centre. The second error is that the pathway described is factually incorrect. The pathway should be a loop since the DNA does not come from nowhere: to make every DNA molecule requires proteins and RNA and DNA. More broadly, the synthesis of DNA cannot be done without a whole cell, just as the making of any RNA or any protein also takes a whole cell.

If we wanted to be more accurate still, we would say it takes a whole organism to make each of these components. Even this description would be incomplete, since, undeniably, it takes an ecosystem, including, in the case of humans, a gut microbiota and a food supply. The full formulation of the central dogma is therefore a loop embedded in a web. But the central dogma taught to millions of students every year takes an entirely different intellectual path. It arbitrarily confers on DNA a special place: firstly, by not closing the loop, and second, by placing DNA at its beginning. The central dogma is thus merely a representation formed from arbitrarily constructed boundaries. It is not biological reality.

Geneticists, and sometimes other biologists, make this linear interpretation seem plausible, not with experiments—since their results contradict it—but by using highly active verbs in their references to DNA. DNA, according to them, “controls”, “governs”, and “regulates” cellular processes, while nouns like “expression” are also commonly used to ascribe functions to DNA. Biologists thus confer activist and willful superpowers on DNA. Ultimately, this can create circular arguments. DNA controls embryonic development or organism health because genes express themselves. QED.

However, there is no specific science that demonstrates that DNA plays the dominant role these words imply. Quite the opposite. For example, a recent publication in Nature magazine posited “An emerging consensus that much of the protein constituent of the cell is buffered against transcriptional variation.” i.e. is insulated from direct genetic quantitative influence (Chick et al., 2016). This buffering is nicely demonstrated by many experiments. One is the demonstration that the circadian rhythm of a bacterium can be reproduced, in the absence of any DNA, by just three proteins mixed together in a test tube. The rhythm was maintained for three days, even in the face of temperature changes (Nakjima et al., 2005).

Inevitably, any language used to describe DNA will necessarily be metaphorical and be of limited accuracy, but words like “govern” and “control” literally invent attributes for DNA (Noble, 2003). A much more precise metaphor for DNA would compare it to the library of Congress, since cells use DNA primarily as a storehouse of information. Consider that  biologists could apply more neutral verbs such as “use”, as in “cells use DNA to create proteins”. If so, they would have created a very different status for DNA. Only librarians would have T-shirts saying “its in my DNA”.

If we shed the wild metaphors and the central dogma, a more accurate way to think about biology emerges. If every molecule and every subsystem, regardless of scale, constrains and potentiates the other parts, then there is no need to infer a central controller. We can replace the DNA-centric model of biology with a relational model of complex interplay of feedback systems and emergent properties, of which the library of DNA is just one component. In this model, RNA is simply one of the inputs needed to make proteins and DNA is just one of the inputs needed to make RNA, and so on. Unlike the central dogma, such a proposition is consistent with the known facts of biology.

The formulation encapsulated by the central dogma and by biology textbooks is therefore an illusion. They are a classic case of what microbiologist Carl Woese has called the “reductionist fundamentalism”. Reductionist fundamentalism differs from simple reductionism in that whereas simple reductionism is a valid scientific method, the former is an ideological preference for a simplistic explanation when a more holistic one is better supported by the evidence. In this case, the assigning of superpowers to DNA to explain observed biological activities when a better explanation would accept that many biochemical events have multiple causes and contributors. Oxford physiologist Denis Noble describes this fallacy as conferring on DNA “a privileged level of causation”.

If not DNA, is there a “molecule of life”?

Many plant-infecting viruses lack DNA. They base their lifecycles on protein and they use RNA as their heritable material.

There are also plant pathogens, called viroids, that lack both DNA and protein. Viroids are thus composed solely of non-coding RNA. Lifeforms can therefore exist without either DNA or proteins—but there are none that that lack RNA.

Therefore, the answer to the opening question: “what kind of biomolecule is possessed by all living organisms?” is RNA. RNA stands for Ribonucleic Acid and for many reasons it is a better candidate for being a universal biomolecule than DNA.

RNA and DNA are chemically very similar. Even scientists confuse them, but their modest chemical distinctions confer very different properties. RNA is structurally very flexible (bendy), whereas DNA is highly inflexible; RNA is unstable and chemically reactive, whereas DNA is highly inert. A key difference is the number of chemical modifications that cells are able make to their four bases. In the case of DNA (whose bases are the nucleotides A,C,G and T), just two modifications are possible in most cells. These modifications are called methylation and acetylation. These two modifications alter the properties of DNA bases and they are the primary basis of the fashionable science of epigenetics.

RNA also has four bases (A, C, G, and U). But cells make more than one hundred comparable chemical modifications to them. The roles of these modifications are essentially a mystery, but presumably they help RNA perform its many cellular tasks.

RNA is also misunderstood. In a typical human cell, less than 1% of it makes proteins. The remaining 99% has a huge variety of structural, regulatory, and enzymatic functions. Most biologists though might as well be slaves to the central dogma in thinking that RNA is just the intermediate between DNA and protein. Only recently has RNA begun emerging from the shadow of DNA as a far more interesting molecule.

The deep explanation of these molecular differences is that RNA existed long before DNA. RNA probably predated even the invention of cells. It is enormously old. In consequence, it is so deeply and structurally embedded in living systems that it is very hard to study. Thus the paradoxical reason why we don’t know much about RNA is not because it is unimportant, but because, unlike DNA, RNA is too important to cell function to selectively remove at will.

Consequently, to conform with current evolutionary understanding, we should really invert standard teaching and insist that the proper way to think about DNA is that it is a specialised form of RNA. DNA evolved structural rigidity and chemical inertness to make itself a more staid librarian for the safe storing of heritable information.

So, over evolutionary time DNA was chosen as a better librarian (this library metaphor originates with Colin Tudge and his excellent book Why DNA isn’t selfish and people are nice); proteins turned out to be superior catalysts of chemical reactions; but RNA is more likely to have been the biomolecule around which life was really built. But RNA is no more a controller than is DNA.

Nor is DNA the centre of evolution

A common explanation for organising biology around DNA, and the one given by the authors of “Life“, the textbook, is DNA’s supposed role in the theory of evolution. For two reasons this explanation is highly questionable, however. Both reasons exemplify pervasive misunderstandings of the theory of evolution. One of these misunderstandings exaggerates the significance of Darwin’s theory and the second, once again, gives to DNA credit it doesn’t deserve.

The first misunderstanding is to assume that evolutionary theory is an explanation of life. Life, however, began long before Darwinian evolution and some of its fundamental patterns (cells, proteins, energy metabolism) emerged—so far as we can tell—long before DNA became the molecule of heredity (Carter, 2016). This distinction is important. In a textbook about “Life“, for example, it is important to separate the origin of life from its maintenance so as not to unhelpfully exaggerate (i.e. confuse) what Darwin’s theory explains; but in conflating the two, “Life” is only reflecting the misunderstanding of most biologists.

Second, the pre-Darwinian life of cells and metabolism arose thanks to the fact that complex systems have emergent and self-organising properties (e.g. Kauffman, 1993; Carter, 2016). The advent of DNA into these systems allowed Darwinian evolution to accelerate, but it did not eradicate emergent and self-organising properties. Rather, it colluded with them and helped create new ones. This means such properties are the likeliest explanation of large areas of biology. “Self-organization proposes what natural selection disposes” is how Batten and colleagues quaintly summarise alternatives to standard evolutionary theory which is pretty much rigidly genetic determinist (Batten et al., 2008).

A classic emergent property is the folding of proteins. DNA encodes the linear sequence of amino acids that constitute proteins, but every protein adopts one (or usually more) highly complex three dimensional shape (Munson et al., 1996). These shapes, along with charge and solubility, are largely responsible for a protein’s properties. It is habitually, but lazily, presumed that DNA specifies all the information necessary for the formation of a protein, but that is not true. All protein shapes depend also on the integration of multiple sources of information. These sources include temperature, other cellular molecules like water and mineral ions, pH, energy molecules like ATP, protein folding aids called chaperones, and so forth. Beyond this, many proteins have functions, such as to be molecular channels and pumps, that emerge only at higher levels of structure, such as in the presence of other proteins.

Thus DNA specifies proteins and their functions only up to a very limited point. It is possible to disregard all such non-genetic contributions and ascribe to DNA all the properties of a protein or a process (or a whole organism). Most scientists do, but doing so is an ultra-determinist position. It writes emergent properties, such as protein folding, entirely out of the functioning of life. It again confers onto DNA superpowers it does not have.

Emergent properties are only one example of why the relationship between DNA and evolution is much more tenuous than is normally portrayed. Patrick Bateson of Cambridge University, whose perspective is not emergent properties but animal behaviour, explained evolution much more accurately than most when he wrote: “Whole organisms survive and reproduce differentially and the winners drag their genotypes with them. This is the engine of Darwinian evolution“.

Thus we can explain why Charles Darwin invented his theory of evolution without knowing DNA even existed, because, even for evolution, DNA still is not “The big one”, but it is standard for biologists to teach that DNA is more important to evolution than any other component of living organisms.

Explaining genocentric biology

When Dorothy journeyed to the Emerald City she discovered that The Wizard of Oz was only “a common man”. He was devoid of magic powers and so could not help her friends. But there was at least something behind the facade. The same is true for DNA.

Most cellular molecules are highly reactive and transient chemical substances. That means they are difficult to extract, and hard to study. So it is with RNA and proteins.

DNA, however, is a much more practical point of intervention in biology. It is stable and robust and simple enough to be isolated on a reproducible basis and copied precisely. With an hour of training, high school students can do it. With a bit more training, DNA can be altered and, in some species, replaced. Hence the alarm over garage hacking of DNA.

This explains, in a nutshell, why our understanding of gene regulatory networks runs far ahead of our understanding of other disciplines of biology. It is because DNA is the low hanging fruit of biology.

Scientific dissent around DNA

“The human body completely changes the matter it is made of roughly every 8 weeks, through metabolism, replication and repair. Yet, you’re still you –with all your memories, your personality… If science insists on chasing particles, they will follow them right through an organism and miss the organism entirely.”

Mathematical biologist Robert Rosen is supposed to have said. And indeed, examine any multicellular organism and concealed under its relatively calm surface are circulatory systems, churning stomachs, lymphatic drainage systems, electrical impulses, biomolecular machines and so forth.

These systems cause every part of an organism to continuously move, contract, twist, vibrate, strain and grow. What defines living organisms, in the final analysis, is their dynamic and  animate nature. This is why, when we want to know if an organism has legally died we don’t examine its DNA, we measure its heartbeat or brain function. Animate properties require animate components, like RNA and proteins.

Yet by organizing our understanding of life largely around DNA (recall Mary-Claire King’s “DNA is life”), biologists have curiously chosen the cellular constituent that is probably the least representative of life’s dynamic nature.

For this reason there are dissenters in biology. Some are prominent. Some are not. They all have questioned whether biology is not much more complex and interesting than our present DNA-based framing can make room for (e.g. Kaufman, 1993; Strohman, 1997; Rose, 1999; Woese 2004; Annila and Baverstock 2014; Friston et al., 2015).

These dissenters like to note, for example, the general absence of medico-scientific breakthroughs following the sequencing of the human genome and the ever-more-detailed-analysis-of-tiny-scraps-of-human-DNA (Ioannidis, 2007Dermitzakis and Clark, 2009Manolio et al., 2009).

Some go much further in their critiques than others. Carl Woese, perhaps the best known bacteriologist since Pasteur, argued before his death that genetic determinism is a dead end, its vision of biology is “spent” (Woese, 2004).

There perhaps is no finer example of this than the field of tissue engineering. Tissue engineers claim to have made “incredible” progress making whole human organs in vitro for transplanting and other medical uses, yet these organs are all non-functional (Badylak, 2016). They don’t have blood vessels or immune systems or nerve networks, they are just human cells on an ear-shaped scaffold or a hand-shaped scaffold and so, among their many deficiencies, they are short-lived because they have no regenerative properties.

Many biologists suspect at least part of this paradigm problem, but they rarely act on it. The sole noticeable official response to the obvious fact that organisms are highly complex systems has been to shovel modest funding in the direction of ‘systems biology’.

One is bound to note that even this systems biology is rarely the study of systems. Instead, biologists have overwhelmingly used systems biology funds not to further the understanding of complex systems but to scale up and mechanise their reductionism.

Thus no scientific specialism or institution has articulated the profound inadequacy of viewing organisms as collections of gene regulatory networks or moved towards assembling an alternative paradigm (or paradigms) to replace it (Strohman, 1997).

This intellectual near-vacuum is nevertheless being steadily filled by individual scientists, mostly on the margins, with promising, even revolutionary, theoretical developments and experimental findings that explain biological phenomena in ways that transcend genetics.

A short guide to alternative paradigms of life

A Helmholtz machine is a sensory device that makes a prediction about reality and crosschecks it against that reality. It then estimates the difference between the two. Bayesian statistics is a mathematical method of doing the same: estimating differences between expectation and reality.

A new theory of neurobiology, called the Bayesian brain theory, proposes that the brain is the biological equivalent of these (reviewed in Clark, 2013). Brains make predictions, measure the mismatches with their expectations and pass those mismatches up to higher neural circuits. These higher circuits repeat the process and if mismatches persist then these are passed on to yet ‘higher’ mental levels.

The Bayesian brain hypothesis is quite new and predictive neurons might seem superficially improbable, yet the hypothesis appears to explain numerous aspects of brain structure and brain function; for example, how the brain can treat widely different stimuli (visual, sensual, oral, aural, etc.) essentially with the same neural mechanisms and structures. It also appears to show how the brain can integrate action and perception. The theory also provides a substantive explanation of learning: learning is the updating of the predictive model. The Bayesian brain hypothesis may even  explain how brains evolved higher levels of consciousness over evolutionary time periods: by adding new layers of prediction.

A particular strength of the Bayesian brain hypothesis is that it corresponds to the actual spatial organisation of neurons in the primate cortex in which ranks of “predictive” neurons and “sensory” neurons send signals in opposing directions which lets them cancel each other out (except for the mismatches).

The structure-based predictive learning system proposed by the Bayesian brain hypothesis is of interest here because it relegates detailed genetic explanations of many phenomena, including arguably all consciousness, to the margins (Friston, 2010). Genes and proteins may fill in the details but many of the key elements of brain function: learning, action, and perception, derive primarily from structure alone. I.e., like protein folding, they are emergent properties of organisation.

Emergent properties are equally important in other areas of biology. An example is the vascular system of plants. Trees can transport water from unsaturated sources hundreds of feet into the air. Transpiration, as it is called, requires no energy input. Rather, it takes advantage purely physical properties of hydrophilic xylem tissues (tubes) and the properties of water itself. Without transpiration, which already operates, but only very weakly, in soils, plants could not exceed a couple of inches in height, nor tolerate dry conditions (Wheeler and Stroock, 2008). Thus, the defining characteristic of plants (apart from photosynthesis) is their clever exploitation of a simple physical property of water.

A further example is the arches of the human foot. These are longitudinal and transverse diaphragms composed of bone and connective tissue whose emergent property is both to dissipate forces at impact and operate as springs to transfer energy from impact into forward motion. Arches reduce the energy needed to walk or run.

In the discipline of biochemistry, a recent development is the proposed existence of metabolons. Metabolons are three-dimensional spatial arrangements of enzymes. Metabolons explain how the product of an ostensibly minor metabolic pathway can nevertheless constitute 30% of the weight of a seedling and so drive away pests (Laursen et al., 2017).

A more conventional class of self-organising properties found in biology are homeostatic feedback loops. They too are phenomena largely independent of gene functions with key roles in explaining the activities and properties of living organisms. The three proteins noted earlier that can recreate a bacterial circadian rhythm are just one example (Nakajima et al., 2005).

At more elemental and universal levels of life are unifying theories of cells and metabolism, many of which relate life to the operation of fundamental physical forces. The father of all such theories was arguably Nicolas Rashevsky, who died in 1972. He is survived by his students Robert Rosen and AH Louie. Others include physicist Erwin Schrödinger, author of “What is life?“; Stuart Kauffman, author of “The Origins of Order” (1993); Steven Rose “Lifelines: Biology beyond determinism” (1997); Enrico Coen “The Art of Genes” (1999); Denis Noble, “The Music of Life” (2003) and Dance to the Tune of Life: Biological Relativity (2017); and Annila and Baverstock who argue life is the inevitable outcome of the second law of thermodynamics (Annila and Baverstock, 2014; see also Friston et al., 2015). These, and other omitted thinkers, have gone far in assembling the potential raw material for a scientific revolution. One that leaves the framework of gene regulatory networks far behind.

The closest that of any of these theories come to definitively falsifying genetic determinism as a life-concept, however, would be a theory of the origin of life itself that positions metabolism at the centre.

Readers may be familiar with the concept of the RNA world, which is theorised to have predated the supposed “modern DNA world”. But more convincing than an RNA world, for which there is little evidence, is a new theory, the peptide-RNA world.

The central piece of evidence of the peptide-RNA origin thesis (Carter, 2016) is that the enzyme (called aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase) that nowadays links RNA to proteins—and which therefore connects the RNA world to the protein world—comes in two basic forms (in all organisms). The evolutionary origin of these two forms (called Class I and Class II enzymes), however, is strangely irreconcilable. Class I and II molecules perform almost identical functions (though with different amino acids) yet have nothing structurally in common. Except for one thing. Their most conserved aminoacids, those at their active catalytic centre, can be derived from opposite strands of the same small RNA molecule (Carter 2016). In other words, the two proteins that let RNA make all modern proteins are derived from opposite strands of a single very primitive small RNA molecule that encoded them both.

The implication of this compelling observation is to intimately link metabolism and replication at a very early stage of life’s origins. RNA was the assembler of primitive proteins and the purpose of those proteins was catalysis, i.e. to guide and enhance metabolism. What the peptide-RNA origin thesis therefore does is to replaces the RNA world—which is a replication-first theory—with a metabolism-first theory in that RNA is enhancing a metabolism that already predated it.

DNA and politics

“Human biology is actually far more complicated than we imagine. Everybody talks about the genes that they received from their mother and father, for this trait or the other. But in reality, those genes have very little impact on life outcomes. Our biology is way too complicated for that and deals with hundreds of thousands of independent factors. Genes are absolutely not our fate. They can give us useful information about the increased risk of a disease, but in most cases they will not determine the actual cause of the disease, or the actual incidence of somebody getting it. Most biology will come from the complex interaction of all the proteins and cells working with environmental factors, not driven directly by the genetic code”. (Anand et al., 2008)

This quotation, spoken (but not written), by Craig Venter, the legendary genome sequencer, suggests that even many geneticists secretly appreciate a clear need for alternative paradigms.

At the same timethe Venter quote prompts a deep question: How is it that, if organisms are the principal objects of biological study, and the standard explanation of their origin and operation is so scientifically weak that it has to award DNA imaginary superpowers of “expression” and “control” to paper over the cracks, have scientists nevertheless clung to it?

Why is it that, rather than celebrating and investing in Rashevsky, Kauffman, Noble, et al., as pioneers of necessary and potentially fruitful and unifying paradigms, have these researchers been ignored by mainstream biology?

What is the big attraction of genetic determinism?

A compelling and non-intuitive explanation for the monomania of biology does exist. It is set out in a second and forthcoming article: The Meaning of Life. It is an explanation that requires going behind the window dressing of science and examining its active and symbiotic relation to power in modern political systems.


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