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No. 63: May-Jun 1989

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The Language Of Life

Popular writers on biology are fond of saying that the genes and their DNA carry all information necessary for the development of an organism and the transfer of inherited characteristics. With the advent of the multibillion-dollar project to map the human genome (our genetic inventory), we have been seeing this extreme claim more often. The truth is that a map of the human genome will not tell us everything. By way of confirmation, we quote the lead paragraph from a recent article in New Scientist:

"In the early days of molecular biology, during the 1950s and 1960s, scientists as much as journalists fuelled the euphoria that surrounded the cracking of the genetic code. The secret of life was revealed, so many people thought. As our understanding has grown, however, so has our awareness of our ignorance. Research at the forefront of the molecular sciences has shown that we can no longer regard DNA - the stuff of genes - as a direct and complete set of instructions for the synthesis of proteins. The evidence begins to suggest that messages in the DNA are, in themselves, no more precise than the symbols and sounds with which we communicate. As in the languages with which we are familiar, the correct sense of a message written in DNA seems to depend on the rigorous checking and correction of errors, and on the context in which they are read."

The final sentence of the article is really paradigm-shaking:

"Thus genetic and evolutionary changes are no longer confined solely to the genome at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of information and control, but reside also in the interplay between DNA and the other components of cells."

(Tapper, Richard; "Changing Messages in the Genes," New Scientist, p. 53, March 25, 1989.)

Comment. If DNA can be read in more than one way, depending upon the context, our current concept of evolution may be in jeopardy. For example, how does an organism transmit "context" to its offspring; the same thought applies to error-correcting capabilities.

From Science Frontiers #63, MAY-JUN 1989. 1989-2000 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