02 November 2010


A couple of recent articles at the New Atlantis and Time Magazine have caught my attention on the admittedly abstruse subject of molecular biology. 

What I understand this to be all about is that DNA is nowhere near as clear-cut as was originally supposed. The Human Genome Project meant to map the entirety of human genetic material and gain a complete understanding of what caused disease and dysfunction, as well as the processes that gave rise to organic diversity within the body. What has been discovered (and in fact was commonly known since the 1970s, but little attention was paid to it) is that the shape, arrangement, and cellular context of the DNA strands has as much to do with cellular function and genetic replication of proteins as the nucleotide bases of the DNA helix do. The level of complexity has been increased by several orders of magnitude--but what is most interesting is that it has provoked a re-evaluation of Lamarck's pre-Darwinian hypothesis, which insisted that species modification could happen in much less time than Darwin hypothesized (especially in times of stressful environmental factors). The giraffe could "stretch" its neck over the course of a few generations, whereas Darwin insisted (backing up his claim with strong scientific evidence) that such changes would take millions of years.  Needless to say, the word being tossed about is "paradigm shift".

A little teaser for you:
 When completed, the Human Epigenome Project (already under way in Europe) will make the Human Genome Project look like homework that 15th century kids did with an abacus. But the potential is staggering. For decades, we have stumbled around massive Darwinian roadblocks. DNA, we thought, was an ironclad code that we and our children and their children had to live by. Now we can imagine a world in which we can tinker with DNA, bend it to our will. It will take geneticists and ethicists many years to work out all the implications, but be assured: the age of epigenetics has arrived.

An admittedly popularized version of the concept, with the customary breathless predictions, but stirring nonetheless.

1 comment:

Imgenex said...

The development and maintenance of an organism is orchestrated by a set of chemical reactions that switch parts of the genome off and on at strategic times and locations. Epigenetics is the study of these reactions and the factors that influence them.The thought you have shared really appreciative.