Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 34: Jul-Aug 1984

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Dna Even More Promiscuous

It was a surprise when DNA sequences from mitochondria in yeast cells were discovered setting up shop in the nuclear genomes (i.e., the normal genetic endowment of the cell nucleus). Now biologists find that DNA sequences in many species regularly and frequently hop from one genome to another. Genetic material from cell chloroplasts mix with that of the mitochondria and that of the normal nucleus in what seems to be a free-for-all. This genome hopping has earned DNA the adjective "promiscuous."

The significance of DNA promiscuity is to be found in the general belief that the cell's mitochondria and chloroplasts were once independent biological entities that, in the course of life's development, invaded or were captured by cells and have led a symbiotic life ever since. The mitochondria and chloroplasts perform certain important functions in the cell but were thought, until now, to retain considerable genetic independence.

(Lewin, Roger; "No Genome Barriers to Promiscuous DNA," Science, 224:970, 1984.)

Comment. The promiscuity of DNA raises speculation that other DNA-bearing entities that invade the body, especially the viruses, may transfer their DNA to the host, and conceivably vice versa. With DNA apparently much more promiscuous than believed earlier, the role of disease in the development of life takes on a new importance. In other words, all species can potentially exchange genetic information with all others. In fact, in a broad sense, sperm are infectious agents, and pregnancy a disease! DNA will stop at nothing to spread itself around.

From Science Frontiers #34, JUL-AUG 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987