Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Genetic control of life (E O M - 8)


(Ref. Book – Excerpts from Spontaneous Evolution, Authors: Bruce H. Lipton and Steve Bhaerman)

As repeatedly propagated by Swami Vijnananand, we have been mentioning in these blogs the role of mind, the importance and inevitability of mind's role for inclusion in the scope of science. Such opinions are echoed by a few scientists and thinkers in the 21st century. Next blog to follow aso cover this topics.

When Darwin put forth his heredity-based theory of evolution, the premise that traits were passed from parent to child made perfect practical sense to anyone who bred animals, like beget like.

Because the Newton view at the time emphasized the primacy of matter, it was seemingly assured that the secret of life would be encoded within the body’s own molecule.

Shortly after the turn of 19th century, American geneticist and embryologist Thomas Hunt Morgan deduced that genetic factor that control heredity traits are arranged along the chromosome in a precise linear order. Further chemical analysis revealed that chromosomes are compresses of proteins and Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid (DNA). However the question as to whether the genetic key was the protein or the DNA remained until 1944 when Oswald Avery, Colin Mac Leod, and Maclyn McCarty (researchers from Rockefeller) determined empirically that DNA was the molecule that determined heredity traits. While this study was the first to distinguish DNA as the heredity-controlling molecule, it did not offer any insight into how DNA accomplished this feat.

In 1953, Watson and Crick changed the course of human history when their article was published in the British scientific journal ‘Nature’. Based on the nature of DNA coding mechanism, they posited (postulated) the concept known as ‘central dogma of molecular biology’. This is also referred to as ‘the primacy of DNA’. Central dogma mapped the flow of information in most biological systems being one directional: from DNA to RNA to protein.

Even before Watson and Crick were born, science had concluded that an assembly of physical molecules controls life. The only unanswered question was: “which molecule would it be”? When Watson and Crick reported their DNA results, the decision was a slam dunk (a task in which the success is deemed a certainty): DNA molecules control life.

Amazingly, biologists immediately adopted this central dogma hypothesis even though its validity was never assessed. But was this DNA primacy really true?

The key implication in this is: heredity information only flows in one direction, from DNA to RNA to Protein and never goes to the opposite direction. Which means protein cannot influence the structure and activity of the DNA code.

Here is the problem: the body that experiences life is made out of protein; because proteins cannot send information of life’s experience back to DNA, then environmental information cannot change genetic destiny. This means that genetic information is disconnected from the environment.

Genetic determination is the belief that genes control all of our traits-physical, behavioral, and emotional. Simply it is the belief that our fates are locked in our genes and because we cannot change our genes, we are truly, so they say, victims of our heredity.

However as the time went on, new discoveries undermined the surety of that belief. In the late 1960s, University of Wisconsin geneticist Howard Temin put forward his research publication which suggested that RNA information could flow backward and alter the host cell’s DNA code. Though Temin findings were not accepted initially, he ultimately shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology. Temin’s work broke the backbone of Crick’s central dogma by proving that hereditary information flows in both directions. The hereditary changes can be made by design or environmental influence and not only by accidental mutation as had been presumed.

By 1990, as reported by Duke University biologist H. Frederik Nijhout, genes are not ‘self-emergent’ and cannot ‘turn themselves on and off’. Genes are just like books. They don’t read themselves. Then who is responsible for reading genes? In Nijhout’s words: “When a gene product is needed a signal from its environment activates the expression of that gene”. Simply put ‘environmental signal controls gene activity’.


Biomedical sciences are being philosophically transformed by the new science of Epigenetic control. It describes how gene activity and cellular expressions are ultimately regulated by information from the external field or influence rather than by the internal matter of DNA.

Though this truth that genes do not control their own activity, was established more than 20 years back, basic science books, media, and especially the pharmaceutical industry continue to resist the movement away from the central dogma. They, thus perpetuate the layperson’s view that genes control their lives.

Mainstream media continues to focus on the concept that genes are controlling our lives. Every day new articles claim that gene has been found to control this trait or that trait. The concept of genetic determinism is so (deep and full of resonance) with the prevailing basal paradigm (basic pattern) that even irrefutable scientific proof cannot dislodge it.

Mind and Epigenetics:

The science of epigenetics recognizes that the environment, not the DNA in nucleus, determines the action of the cell. Information from the environment is translated into biological responses via the action of cell membrane, which acts as the cell’s skin as well as its brain. The description of the cell membrane is same as computer chip. The cell as well as the computer; both are programmable. And the programmer is always outside the mechanism. Who can be the biological programmer? Who or what is the genius behind the genes? The genius behind the genes is none other than our own minds, our own thoughts and beliefs.

The process of Nature and Nurture is what shapes human mind through thoughts and beliefs. The role of the mind assumes significant importance not only in personal health but more important holistic health. To make this role of mind more suitable, the scientific study of the mind and proper training to the mind should be the priority.

Here again we see that the new research in the initial years of the 21st century support the views Swami Vijnananand mentioned while he wrote about the evolution and the role of mind in his books published in 1960s.

Vijay R. Joshi.

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