Science Frontiers
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About Science Frontiers

Science Frontiers is the bimonthly newsletter providing digests of reports that describe scientific anomalies; that is, those observations and facts that challenge prevailing scientific paradigms. Over 2000 Science Frontiers digests have been published since 1976.

These 2,000+ digests represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Sourcebook Project, which publishes Science Frontiers, also publishes the Catalog of Anomalies, which delves far more deeply into anomalistics and now extends to sixteen volumes, and covers dozens of disciplines.

Over 14,000 volumes of science journals, including all issues of Nature and Science have been examined for reports on anomalies. In this context, the newsletter Science Frontiers is the appetizer and the Catalog of Anomalies is the main course.


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Compilations of back issues can be found in Science Frontiers: The Book, and original and more detailed reports in the The Sourcebook Project series of books.

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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 108: Nov-Dec 1996 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Those selfish genes may also be intelligent!R. Dawkins has proposed that we humans and other organisms are merely lumbering life-support systems for our genes. In this view, genomes are the masters, controlling our evolution and behavior to ensure their own survival and multiplication. In short, our genes are "selfish." J. Shapiro, at the University of Chicago, has gone a step further and ascribed still another human attribute to genomes. "Genomes function as true intelligent systems, which can be readjusted when conditions require. We still lack testable theories to explain how this can be done. ( Genetica , 84:4 , 1991)" Perhaps we see evidence of this "intelligence" of genes when bacteria and other microorganisms rapidly accommodate to environmental challenges, as in the application of new antibiotics. In this context, read below about the fast-evolving cichlid fishes of Lake Victoria. These fish must have macho genes! From Science Frontiers #108, NOV-DEC 1996 . 1996-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 114: Nov-Dec 1997 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Gene Wars In past issues, we have mentioned: Sperm wars. Where an animal's sperm are polymorphic; some of which attack alien sperm, some dash directly to the eggs, etc. (SF#78) Selfish DNA. Where animals are merely mechanisms by which DNA perpetuates itself and expands its domain. In other words, DNA calls the shots -- not us! (SF#11) Now we learn about "gene wars." As is well known, genes are thought to control much of what goes on in a living organism. But are they only carriers of hereditary information? Not according to a long, very technical paper by L.D . Hurst et al. It seems that, like selfish DNA, genes have their own agendas. The insidiousness of this is seen in the first sentence of the paper's abstract: "Self-promoting elements (also called ultraselfish genes, selfish genes, or selfish genetic elements) are vertically transmitted genetic entities that manipulate their "host" [as in "us'] so as to promote their own spread, usually at a cost to other genes within the genome." You may not sense it, but your genes are struggling with each other, and you and/or your progeny will carry out the dictates of the victors of the "gene wars." (Hurst, Laurence D., et al; " ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 115: Jan-Feb 1998 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Genes vs. memes Vital to the concept of "gene wars" (mentioned in SF#114) is the assumption that our destiny is controlled by "selfish genes" (or "selfish DNA"). The idea that evolution works only at the gene level has been championed by R. Dawkins, and today it dominates much evolution philosophy. However, this "genetic imperialism" is now being challenged by some scientists who insist that culture also affects an organism's evolution, be it a human or an insect. In fact, it was Dawkins himself who first proposed the term "meme" for the cultural counterpart of the gene. A meme, in other words, is an "element" of culture that can be passed along to progeny by imitation and/or cultural pressures. In reductionist thinking, environmental challenges are met by gene mutations plus natural selection. In meme theory, the same challenges are confronted by cultural changes (meme "mutation") plus natural selection. The meme approach is holistic rather than reductionist and is appealing because it allows us some control over our destiny. There are several phenomena in which some scientists profess to see memes overpowering the genes: Generations of female infanticide have led to more male births than female births. In dairy-farming societies, 90% of the population has the enzyme lactase that allows individuals to digest cows' milk. In other societies, 80% ...
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... you. Even so, you are a composite creature and cannot survive without these tiny hitchhikers and symbionts. Just as in the oceans, our bodies are battlegrounds. Each day we are thrice invaded by massive new armies of bacteria present our food. Water and air, too, bring more combatants into the fray. Our resident bacteria continually fend off the invaders or accommodate them. Some are pathogenic and must be killed; others are useful in many ways, as in digestion. Who's really in charge in our bodies: the 90 trillion bacteria or the 10 trillion cells we call our own? Probably, neither! (Hamilton, Garry; "Insider Trading," New Scientist, p. 42, June 26, 1999.) Comment. We hear a lot about "selfish" genes and "selfish" DNA, and that we humans exist only to further the goals of DNA -- whatever they might be. But are not all these living bacteria and nonliving viruses also "selfish" at different levels of complexity? Humans may be at the top of the food chain, but are we really in charge? From Science Frontiers #125, SEP-OCT 1999 . 1999-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... because the earliest known fossils of metazoans date back to only about 1 Gyr and, therefore, the supposed pellets were obviously something else. Sager next makes a giant conceptual leap: Quite clearly the data prove that feces evolved before animals did!! He goes on: "In standard systematic reasoning, one assumes that the most widespread characteristic represents the primitive state. The fact that feces look so much the same from individual to individual strongly suggests that feces are the primitive condition. The variety of animal bodies, on the other hand, implies that bodies are secondary or derived features of the organisms. The expansion of genetic research in the twentieth century has led to the conclusion among many geneticists that bodies exist solely for the propagation and dispersal of genes. This perspective has been dubbed 'the selfish gene theory'. While the author acknowledges the insight and creativity that went into the selfish gene theory, it must be pointed out that the idea has not been carried far enough by the geneticists. Where did the genes come from in the first place? Who ever heard of a sea bottom made up of DNA ooze? It is obvious from the fossil data that feces were teeming in the Precambrian oceans well before DNA appeared on the face of the earth, and that feces were therefore the original driving force of life. Bodies exist for the propagation and dispersal of feces, and genes are simply the instructions used by feces in the manufacture of those bodies. This concept is best described as the 'selfish feces theory'." (Sager, J. Curt; "The ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 11: Summer 1980 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Hierarchies Of Evolution All organisms from man to mouse to amoeba are merely DNA's way of manufacturing still more DNA -- so goes the modern ramification of molecular biology and the Genetic Code. In other words, DNA and genes are selfish, and ultimate parasites, directing the evolution of life only to maximize the production of DNA. This theme is not the subject of this paper by Doolittle and Sapienza. Rather, they wonder about those nonsense DNA sequences that do not code for protein. The presence of these "useless" bits of genetic material is often explained in terms of gene "expression." Emphasis is always on maximizing the "fitness" of the organism (phenotype). Perhaps this seemingly excess genetic material actually maximizes the fitness (survivability) of the DNA itself. Evolution thus occurs at DNA and gene (genome) levels, despite what transpires at the organism (phenotype) level. (Doolittle, W. Ford, and Sapienza, Carmen; "Selfish Genes, the Phenotype Paradigm and Genome Evolution," Nature, 284:601, 1980.) Comment. We know that mitochondria and chloroplasts have their own genetic material; evolution may be occurring at this level, too, independent of pressures for change on the organisms. Waxing speculative, may there not be other hierarchies where systems are trying to maximize their own survivability, even at molecular, atomic, and subatomic levels? Don't laugh! ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 111: May-Jun 1997 Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Chromosome Choreography Every biology student has seen sketches of the "dance of the chromosomes" that is performed when eukaryote (nucleuscontaining) cells divide. Because chromosomes are composed of genes and their DNA -- the information carriers of inheritance -- it reasonable to suppose that they are the "dance-masters." This expectation is enhanced if one holds that the genes are "selfish;" that is, they have their own evolutionary agendas, and all life forms exist only to execute their "will." But cell division would not occur at all without the action of the cell's bipolar spindle. This spindle is composed of microtubules -- rods of the protein "tubulin." Somehow , when cells are about to divide, they synthesize these microtubules, which then seem to organize themselves into orderly arrays (the bipolar spindles). Then, the microtubules sort out and separate the two sets of chromosomes required for the two new cells. So, far, our description conforms to what biologists have known and accepted for decades; but there is something more mysterious going on. In 1996, researchers discovered that they can actually substitute DNAcovered beads for the chromosomes, and the microtubules will still go through the motions of sorting and separating the chromosome-less strands. Actually, the microtubules will perform their act even without the DNA-covered beads. In a sense, the bipolar spindle is a puppetmaster, and the ...
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... Science Frontiers ONLINE No. 108: Nov-Dec 1996 Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues Last Issue Next Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Contents Archaeology More evidence of precolumbian contacts from asia Deflating a paradigm: brazil's pedra furada Astronomy Life forms in meteorites? Sunspots and planetary alignments Biology Those selfish genes may also be intelligent! Lake victoria's cichlid fishes: can random mutations explain them? Hair rarity The glow below Geology Earthquakes and mima mounds The motor of the world* Geophysics Heard above cayuga's waters A BLUE FLASH Unclassified An innovative computer Are we reall robots? Nominative determinism ...
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... Not all of these bacteria are content to wait around until we eat something that they like. Molecular biologist P. Falk and colleagues discovered that some of the bacteria inhabiting the intestines of mice send chemical directives to the mouse's intestinal cells, causing them to synthesize those sugars the bacteria require. Since the bacteria that make a living in the intestines of mice are very similar to those in humans, the same phenomenon is probably occurring in your innards as you read this. (Anonymous; "Bac Talk," Discover, 18:23. February 1997.) Comments. There doesn't seem to be much you can do about your presumptuous intestinal bacteria. Maalox won't dissuade them. Even though we are infected with bossy bacteria and bend to the commands of "selfish genes", we still imagine we possess free will! From Science Frontiers #113, SEP-OCT 1997 . 1997-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... , working at Leicester University with globin genes from man and related primates, has been studying how these genes direct the blood cells to make the alpha and beta chains of hemoglobin. Jeffries' analyses seem to indicate that the genes now coding for these hemoglobin chains are almost identical to those existing in human ancestors some 500 million years ago. Two curious facts have cropped up, however. First, about 200 million years ago, these genes were modified very slightly and relocated to entirely different chromosomes. Second, 95% of the DNA associated with these genes is "junk" -- with no known use. Why did nature conserve junk for 500 million years? Are vital genes in the habit of jumping from one chromosome to another? (Yanchinski, Stephanie; "DNA: Ignorant, Selfish and Junk," New Scientist, 91:154, 1981.) From Science Frontiers #17, Fall 1981 . 1981-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Issue Contents Other pages Home Page Science Frontiers Online All Issues This Issue Sourcebook Project Sourcebook Subjects Cancer: a precambrian legacy?Throughout much of Precambrian time until the onset of the Cambrian period some 540 million years ago, single-cell organisms dominated the planet. The goal of each individual cell was to prosper and proliferate. Competition with other cells, including those of the same species, was intense. Altruism did not exist. The most successful species were those that were tough and aggressive. Nevertheless, as the Cambrian began, some single cells suppressed their mutual antagonisms and formed partnerships. Thus were born the first metazoans -- the multicellular species. The road was now open to the evolution of what we term "higher" life forms. But before really complex organisms could evolve, the selfish, aggressive characteristics inherited from the ancestral single-cell species had to be tamed. Unfortunately, some of the controls that evolved -- and which we have inherited -- do not always work. Conversely, they sometimes work too well. J.M . Saul has described how the appearance of cancer in complex multicellular organisms may be the consequence of the failure of biochemical controls evolved to curb cell aggression: "Such failure may be seen as reversion to ancestral cellular behavior, or as failure of a cell with a monocellular heritage to perform metazoan tasks for which it was not originally designed. In such instances, the resultant types of wild and indiscriminate proliferation and variation would resemble pathologies classified as 'cancer.'" Furthermore, Saul speculates, overcontrol could lead to autoimmune diseases: ...
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... forms (Hoyle's space viruses and bacteria), meteorites, icy comets, etc. Likewise, the earth can contribute life-forms to the cosmos via impact and volcanic ejecta. Where does geocorrosion fit in? Life-as-a -whole could control terrestrial magnetic field reversals geochemically. This sounds more and more like science fiction, but life-as-a -whole must "want" to evolve to make itself more adaptable and capable of controlling and exploring the cosmos. (These are anthropomorphic desires we assign to life-as-awhole, which may have completely different objectives!) By occasionally reducing the earth's field to zero, bursts of space radiation would be admitted to stir the earth's pot of genes. We could also work in "selfish genes" and God, but it is time to go back to anomalies once more. From Science Frontiers #48, NOV-DEC 1986 . 1986-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... Before Its Time," Nature, 309:400, 1984.) Comment. This is an appropriate time to suggest that "psychoevolution" may be physiologically possible. If the brain can fight disease and even control cell growth, why not a role for the mind in stimulating the development of new spe cies, perhaps in response to extreme environmental pressures, and perhaps not on the conscious level? The body's sensory system would detect great external stresses, the brain would process the information, and direct some astute genetic shuffling. The genetic inheritance of an organism is not sacrosanct. Radiation, chemicals, and various others mutagens are recognized. There seems to be no a priori reason why the brainbody combination cannot generate mutagens -- possibly not randomly but intelligently! (We ignore here selfish DNA and Sheldrake's morphogenic fields.) Does this mean that if we wish to mutate, we can? Well, it's probably not as simple as wishing warts away, but Maddox's editorial underscores the complexity and subtlety of the brain-body combination. From Science Frontiers #35, SEP-OCT 1984 . 1984-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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... bring on the Industrial Revolution. The most controversial facets of the theory are: (1 ) The tight genetic control over human culture with little room for free will; and (2 ) The rapid blossoming of many cultures as genes shift about. As one scientist remarked, this book is "dangerous." Others describe it as marvelous. The Science article deals not so much with the book as with the reactions to it -- and the reactions have been powerful, both pro and con. (Lewin, Roger; "Cultural Diversity Tied to Genetic Differences," Science, 212:908, 1981.) Comment. The impression one gets from the synopsis of the book is that humankind is diversifying rapidly into new cultural configurations not through human volition but because of those imperious "selfish genes" we all carry. From Science Frontiers #16, Summer 1981 . 1981-2000 William R. Corliss ...
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