Biology is the most exciting area of all scientific study areas. It is advancing owes it advancement to genetics, which has developed faster than any other sciences since about 1950 or so. The advancements have been so rapid and sweeping in scope that huge segments of our culture, even the most learned elements, are not capable of taking advantage of the plethora of knowledge. For example, within genetics we have the generally accepted theory of ‘epigenesis’; “an embryo develops progressively from an undifferentiated egg cell”. Yet, within the general subject of genetics, we have the rapidly developing science of epigenetics; the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.
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The emphasis of the definitions seem to conflict with one another even though I took both from the same source, Wikipedia. One definition deals with the “broad” subject of embryo development, a theory or concept, and the other deals only with detailed mechanisms of that theory, which are biochemically induced gene modifications. This seems a “bridge too far”. For geneticists to understand their subject they are required to have a working knowledge of biochemistry. Suddenly, they have to understand nanochemistry and nanoshape, enzymology and hydrophobicity, detailed physical chemistry such as chemical bond angles, and other esoteric things as van der Waal forces or interactions. Why does methylation happen to only cysteine and certain amino acids. On top of this, like other scientists they are required to understand advanced data manipulation such as statistics and bioinformatics. One of the most advanced biologists—my opinion—is a man named E. O. Wilson. He coined, really redefined, the term ‘consilience’ or the unity of knowledge, which is what is happening in genetics. However, Wilson used the term to describe the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor, which included the humanities and reached into such controversial things as evolutionary psychology, which got him in trouble with many of his colleagues.
I stand with Wilson. As an example of the fault line between genetics and culture, we can look at abortion. Consider the question so often asked in the abortion controversy; when does life start? Preformationists believe that organisms developed from miniature versions of themselves found in the zygote or fertilized egg; science, specifically developmental genetics, debunked preformationism theory over a century ago. Geneticist are way beyond this and are at a point of dealing with nanoshape and substrate binding affinity as it relates to enzyme function, mutation, and methylation of RNA transcripts while congress, not just a few, but a majority, are passing laws to “prevent killing of human” being by preventing implantation of zygotes in the uterus. They treat the zygote as if it is a little person is all curled up in that microscopic sized egg. Where or where is consilience when we need it the most?
I find it hard but can understand the social forces at play in the abortion issue but have a hard time understanding how geneticists can say that human behavior and culture is not a product of genes, when clearly it is. I have what I call “learned” selection in mind; long before Darwin, humans started to manipulate themselves and animals in term of physical shape and behavior by selecting traits. Culture is a result of manipulation of our social behavior which is genetic. There is no change in classic genes by mutation or any other way but is a way of selecting the manner of expressing previously preserved genes and making the selection without the long tedious trial and error of transgenerationally “survival of the fittest”. To me, posttranscriptional modification of DNA, including ribosomal and spliceosome biochemical activity, is genetic; it evolved over 3 billions years and for scientists to try to separate suddenly this process from what classic genetic have in their mind as evolution is obviously impossible. For scientists to create this artificial and insurmountable barrier between genetics and epigenetics is an exercise that is clearly stifling progress as the abortion example points out. Of course, proteins are the workhorses of biology; thus, are the way genes are expressed. We are the protein products of 3 billion years of continuous interaction of random sequences of DNA and RNA and not just DNA because it codes were deciphered first.
The unanswered question in evolution is how it all started. We went thorough pre-scientific periods of “God did it to no he didn’t”. Even a moment of reflection tells us that if God didn’t do it, this means that life started as a random process, which in turn means DNA and RNA started as random sequences from which meaningful genetic codes were selected. DNA and RNA codes were not selected and preserved by probability alone. They evolved because the problem of formatting their randomness result of their interaction with positive feed back. As Darwin so cleverly deduced, “natural selection” played a big part; if the “code” that gave rise to proteins, and the protein did not positively contribute to survival, the code could didn’t survive: to Darwin it was intuitively obvious but, at his time in history, to most people it was sacrilege. Read between the lines of Darwin; he was scared to death of having the fickle finger of blasphemy pointed in his direction. How many atheist politicians do you know; why is that? This is 2014 isn’t it?
Recently, epigenetic enthusiasts tell us that there is such a thing as genetic “environmental engineering”; according to them our genomes selects “with purpose” the best expression of our genome for that environment. The book title, Epigenetics: How the Environment Shapes Our Genes by Richard C. Frances makes my point. It is complete distortion of Darwin’s concept of adaptation to the environment. Selection with a purpose is complete nonsense but reputable scientists are accepting it. The job of scientists is to challenge all theories and living in fame is your reward if you are the one who can topple a giant—in this case Darwin. It is a powerful driving force but also leads to serious missteps. I see interpretation of findings revealed by epigenetics as a form of blindness to consilience.
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