An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Gung-ho on Genetic Engineering Without Knowing what a Gene is!

Here is a great post from Deepak Chopra. Usually scientists claim knowledge. Its unusual for the scientists to claim ignorance of the direction of their path. This post is about the many claims on genetics by various scientists and apparent lack of the very basic and foundational information. Is it important or scary? I think so. But then everyone is a judge. Write in with your thoughts:

Genetically engineered foods promise corn crops that are immune to pests (literally carrying their own pesticides inside the corn cell), trees that grow as fast as grass (thanks to replacing a slow-growth gene with a fast-growth one), and rice with built-in vitamins. Thus genes will end malnutrition around the world, once we get over certain glitches and fears about tampering with Nature at such a fundamental level.

It comes as a splash of cold water, then, to realize that science doesn’t really know what the all-powerful, all-promising gene actually is. This sounds like a rash claim, but the mystery is there for all to see. Time magazine’s latest issue discusses this topic in What Makes Us Different?

–No one knows how genes make inanimate chemicals like hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen come to life.
–The ability of DNA to replicate has never been explained.
–We don’t know how genes time their actions years or decades in advance.
–Having mapped the sequence of genes, we don’t know what the sequence means, only that it exists.
–Having found out that mice share 90% of human genes and gorillas over 99%, we can’t explain how the tremendous differences between species should come down to such a tiny fraction of the genetic code.
–We can’t explain why people with the same genes (identical twins) turn out to be different in so many ways as they grow up and age.
–We don’t know why over 90% of genes are inactive at any given time.
–We don’t know why evolution developed genes that cause cancer, and why such genes weren’t weeded out after they appeared.
–We don’t know if genes cause or prevent aging. In the same vein, we don’t know if they cause or prevent cellular death, since there is evidence that they do both.
–We haven’t unraveled the significance of the space on the DNA strand, even though the blank spots in our genetic code may be just as important, if not more, than the genetic material itself.
–Genes respond to the outside world as well as to behavior and thoughts, but we don’t know how or why except in the most general terms.

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