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No. 112: Jul-Aug 1997

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You May Become What You Eat

When we scarf down a hamburger, we ingest bovine DNA. The textbooks say that this alien DNA is destroyed during digestion. Otherwise, it might "somehow" be incorporated into our own DNA, leading in time to our acquisition of some bovine characteristics! You'll recall that cannibals thought to acquire the virtues of their slain enemies by grabbing a bite or two! But this all sounds pretty farfetched, doesn't it?

Maybe not. When W. Doerfler and R. Schubbert, at the University of Cologne, fed the bacterial virus M13 to a mouse, snippets of the M13's genes turned up in cells taken from the mouse's intestines, spleen, liver, and white blood cells. Most of the alien DNA was eventually rejected, but some was probably retained. In any event, alien DNA in food seems to make its way to and survive for a time in the cells of the eater.

(Cohen, Philip; "Can DNA in Food Find Its Way into Cells?" New Scientist, p. 14, January 4, 1997.)

Comment. We are only half-kidding when we ask if food consumption could affect the evolution of a species. After all, our cells already harbor mitochondria, which are generally admitted to have originally been free bacteria that were "consumed" by animal cells. The process even has a name: "endosymbiosis." See: SF#47/189.

From Science Frontiers #112, JUL-AUG 1997. 1997-2000 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