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No. 135: MAY-JUN 2001

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Where Is The Maestro?

As we learn more and more about the gene complements of our planet's multitudinous life forms, the more it seems that the vaunted genome may not incorporate all of the information necessary to construct a living organism. Despite assurances to the contrary, we must ask if we really know the whole story.

These doubts manifest themselves as we see that creatures that are very much alike genetically may be radically different morphologically. In this vein, C. Ventner asserts that all higher vertebrates have roughly the same genes. The animals that result from these re-markedly similar genomes depend upon when specific genes are turned on and off. Ventner says, "We have the same number of genes as cats and dogs, but differently regulated."

The genes themselves are supposed to be simply protein factories. Somehow, they are turned on and off ("expressing" themselves) in just the right sequences to help build the target animal. In a far-stretched analogy, the genes are the instruments in an orchestra and the proteins they produce are the notes in a symphony. But where are the symphony's score and its conductor? Very similar orchestras, it seems, can play radically different symphonies given different scores as interpreted by a maestro.

Each living thing is likewise a symphony of proteins, each played by the genome at just the right time. But just where are the score -- doubtless an immense store of bytes -- and the conductor? Does the genome really hold all the information required to make a human rather than a mouse?

The foregoing paragraphs are doubtless naive, but what better place to express doubts about paradigms? The two articles referenced below merely stimulated the contrary musings; they were not blasphemous in themselves.

(Cohen, Philip, and Coghlan, Andy; "Less Is More," New Scientist, p. 6, February 17, 2001. Ackerman, Todd; "Genetically Alike, Yet So Different," Houston Chronicle, February 13, 2001. Cr. D. Phelps.)

From Science Frontiers #135, MAY-JUN 2001. 2001 William R. Corliss

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