Thursday, April 26, 2012

One Man's Junk Gene Is Another Man's Treasure Gene?

"I Don't Get Any Respect"
Regular readers of Dredd Blog know that we take no prisoners when it comes to junk religion masking as science (e.g. Heretics Deny The Dark Matter of Faith).

In that post I waxed "philosophical", because cosmologists have been telling us that the great bulk of matter (90-96%) in the universe is unseen, unfelt, undetected in laboratories, or anywhere else, but "we are looking really hard for it", even as other experts on "geistmatter" said things to the contrary, such as "forget it, you won't find geistmatter here" (ibid).

So, throw away the truckloads of dark matter textbooks, forget about all that memorization you did between university parties, and pray for dark matter?

A comparable episode has been coming into focus in another part of the vast universe of science, associated in part with the human genome project.

I say comparable, because, like the cosmologists who tell us tales of dark matter, geneticists have also been telling us, almost since Darwin's Ark landed at Galapagos Island, that genes control everything about us that matters.

Some of that dogma engendered the horrid "Social Darwinism" (Ayn Rand: Patron Saint of The Plutocracy) as well as "Advanced Eugenics" (The Criminally Insane Epoch Arises).

Anyway, the dark matter hypothesis and the comparable dark gene hypothesis have similar quantities of "numerological genes" it would seem:
More problematic is the reality that the human genome is still a vast catalogue of the unknown and scarcely known. The Human Genome Project’s most startling finding was that human genes, as currently defined, make up less than 2 percent of all the DNA on the genome, and that the total number of genes is relatively small. Scientists had predicted there might be 80,000 to 140,000 human genes, but the current tally is fewer than 25,000 — as one scientific paper put it, somewhere between that of a chicken and a grape. The remaining 98 percent of our DNA, once dismissed as “junk DNA,” is now taken more seriously. Researchers have focused on introns, in the gaps between the coding segments of genes, which may play a crucial role in regulating gene expression, by switching them on and off in response to environmental stimuli.
(Lost On The Gene Map, emphasis added). That "junk DNA", as these geist hunters would find out upon getting out of their labs more often, is actually microbial in origin:
... some 90 percent of the protein-encoding cells in our body are microbes ... 99 percent of the functional genes in the body are microbial ... exchanging messages with genes inside human cells ... microbes cohabitating our body outnumber human cells by a factor of 10, making us actually “superorganisms” that use our own genetic repertoire as well as those of our microbial symbionts ... We just happen to look human because our human cells are much larger than bacterial cells ... no matter how you look at it, it’s high time we acknowledge that part of being human is being microbial ... Microbes may indeed be subtly changing our brain early on — and for what purposes we cannot yet say ... the mere fact that microorganisms can shape our minds brings up many more questions about how humans develop their identity ... these findings call for a complete re-examination of human physiology and immunology. Attributes that were assumed to be human traits have been shown to result from human–microbe interactions.
(The Human Microbiome Congress). Golly, who knew that microbes really are not junk, that they are the most abundant life form on Earth, that they are the oldest life form on Earth, that they can do science, that they can make and use molecular machines, that they are symbiont with us, and therefore that a lot of science-religion textbooks are going to be garbage, jetsam, and flotsam in the ocean gyres?

Furthermore, humans would not exist at all if it were not for some helpful work of that 98% "junk" (microbial / viral) DNA:
If not for a virus, none of us would ever be born.

In 2000, a team of Boston scientists discovered a peculiar gene in the human genome. It encoded a protein made only by cells in the placenta. They called it syncytin.
What made syncytin peculiar was that it was not a human gene. It bore all the hallmarks of a gene from a virus.

Viruses have insinuated themselves into the genome of our ancestors for hundreds of millions of years.
It turned out that syncytin was not unique to humans. Chimpanzees had the same virus gene at the same spot in their genome. So did gorillas. So did monkeys. What’s more, the gene was strikingly similar from one species to the next.
(Are Toxins of Power Machines or Organisms?). So get off the proverbial high horse, and learn from a scientist of the type Dredd Blog tends to identify with:

Link To Dr. Fallon's TED video

As you can see in the video above,  Dr. James Fallon informs us that he is arguably a "successful psychopath", and that he was informed that he is a sociopath because of some of his behavioral characteristics, genetic map, and revelations via PET scans.

Never-the-less he says, he is an average good guy, and I believe it.

I think this because he knows that our genetic theories are half-baked, and that knowledge in this area is growing by leaps and bounds away from conventional teaching:
Epigenetics is just one of many disciplines supercharged by the Human Genome Project. Another is proteomics, which focuses on the structure and function of proteins within an organism. It shows us more clearly how our genes and proteins coexist and interact with the genes and proteins of the trillions of microbes each of us hosts. Indeed, our bodies contain ten times more microbial cells than human cells. Human microbiomics studies the approximately three million microbial genes in the human body, a genetic load so massive it is almost nonsensical to talk about “our” bodies at all. The food we eat, the drugs we consume, our emotional and social environments, or whether we get vaccinated (“vaccinomics,” of course) — all these factors affect how our genes are expressed. Each action sets in motion a Rubik’s cube of metabolic variables we have only begun to comprehend.

As medical science struggles to apply these new discoveries to society’s benefit, human genome research, now unstoppable, continues to evolve. Ironically, though, this initiative to tailor health care to the individual genome — the touchstone of the Human Genome Project and personalized medicine — increasingly reveals that our genes, and we as individuals, do not function in isolation from other life forms and the environments we all inhabit. Whatever secrets genes contain, our book of life and that of a microbe remain written in the same language.
(see Lost On The Gene Map, link above; emphasis added). The good I see coming out of this work and the powerful insights of Dr. Fallon, is an enhanced understanding of what it means to be human (see On The New Meaning of "Human").

The lyrics of the following song can be perused here.

Some scientists think academia is thwarting scientific creativity:
The creative impulse is of particular importance to scientific research. Without it, the same obstacles, ailments, and solutions would occur repeatedly because no one stepped back and reflected to gain a new perspective.

Unfortunately, in the academic world—where much of today’s scientific innovation takes place—researchers are encouraged to maintain the status quo and not “rock the boat.” This mentality is pervasive, affecting all aspects of scientific research from idea generation to funding to the training of the next generation of scientists.
(The Scientist). Within the scientific establishment, there is also resistance to new ideas or challenges to old ideas (Tyranny of Dogma In Science).


  1. Discoveries that will cause textbooks to end up in the garbage gyres in the oceans is coming from many quarters: Link.

  2. The Guardian has a book review that is in accord: Link.