November 07, 2003

Scientist uses loaded words, biased reporting, and outright falsehoods to misrepresent the truth. No one is surprised.

Gene recently linked to a Harper's article titled, "Unraveling the DNA myth: the spurious foundation of genetic engineering". In short, the article is absolute crap. Complete and utter nonsense. Which is inexcusable, because the author, Barry Commoner, is a biologist.

The article itself is 10 pages long, and it would take a similar amount of space for me to point out everything that is wrong with it. But let me summarize:

  1. "Known to molecular biologists as the 'central dogma,' the premise assumes that an organism's genome--its total complement of DNA genes--should fully account for its characteristic assemblage of inherited traits."
    WRONG. Absolutely, incredibly, inexcusably wrong. The central dogma states that DNA is read and used as a template to make RNA, which is then read and used as a template to make protein. But the dogma also recognizes that all manner of weird shit can take place between DNA (info) and protein (machine). To say anything else is embellishment and misinterpretation. The central dogma is one of the first things Freshman biology students learn. And somehow a career biologist managed to get it wrong. This leads me to....

  2. (paraphrasing) "Everyone was surprised when they found out that humans and flies had a similar number of genes, and now biologists don't know what to do".
    What the fuck is this guy thinking? We knew that the link between complexity and amount of genetic info was tenuous at best years before the various genome projects were underway. Any biologist who expected one gene to code for one protein has been living under a rock for the last decade. As for the idea that alternative splicing is a death-blow to the central dogma....that's the biggest load of crap I've ever heard in my life. It's a death-blow to Barry Commoner's incorrect statement of the central dogma. But it's easy to deal death-blows to straw men.

  3. "In genetic engineering it is assumed, without adequate experimental proof, that a bacterial gene for an insecticidal protein, for example, transferred to a corn plant, will produce precisely that protein and nothing else. Yet in that alien genetic environment, alternative splicing of the bacterial gene might give rise to multiple variants of the intended protein--or even to proteins bearing little structural relationship to the original one, with unpredictable effects on ecosystems and human health."
    Fuck you, Barry Commons. Fuck you. Stop assuming that the average reader will just nod and quote you at their next dinner party without worrying about whether or not you're actually correct. Splicing is caused by specific sequences at intron-exon junctions. Show me those sequences in bacterial genes, and I'll give you the nobel prize. They don't exist. When eukaryotic genes are spliced, it is because part of the gene reads, "splice me here in X number of ways, depending on what other signals are in the cell". To the best of my knowledge, prokaryotic genes don't contain this information. Just because Barry Commons says they do, doesn't make it true. Wringing your hands over the fantasies of the village idiot is not worthwhile.

I think that's all I'll say about this. Everyone has probably already lost interest, anyway. But please, if you think GMOs are a bad idea, don't quote Barry Commons to support your position. There are several reasons you might oppose genetic engineering. But outright falsehoods are not good reasons.

Posted on November 07, 2003 01:10 PM

hm. i've actually been using this article to support my claim that the apocalypse is nigh, since "a photogenic rhesus monkey recently was born carrying the gene of a luminescent jellyfish." now if that isn't apocalyptic, i dunno what is.

i mean, how many photogenic monkeys are born in normal times? answer: 0.

Posted by: didofoot on November 7, 2003 01:24 PM

I am glad that someone else found that article as offensive as I did. I just got pissed and didn't read it though after the first couple of paragraphs. Prokaryotes certainly don't do any alternative splicing or any RNA processing that I am aware of for that matter. Alternative splicing in eukaryotes does indeed require a very specific set of sequences in the mRNA. It is HIGHLY improbably that the specific combination of sequences required for splicing would be found in a bacterial gene merely by chance. Even if alternative splicing of the transcripts of the inserted gene did occur, it would be evident to the people engineering the GMO that something was wrong with the protein encoded by the gene they inserted into the engineered organism, and they would easily be able to see that the mRNA was being spliced by doing a simple Northern blot. The author of this article is truly an ass-goblin.

Posted by: Doug on November 7, 2003 02:35 PM