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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

archive for July, 2007

A CHALLENGE TO GENE THEORY,
A TOUGHER LOOK AT BIOTECH,
AND A CORRECTION (DAMN)

by ~ July 2, 2007

My New York Times column yesterday used a new study from the National Human Genome Research Institute to illuminate one of the central issues of Intervention: that the reductionist scientific principles on which the biotech industry is founded — that is, the theory that one gene will reliably and predictably yield one function or trait in a cell — are long since out of date.

As a result, I opine, both its economic underpinnings, in the form of gene patents, and its declarations of safety should be revisited, ASAP.

I am getting a ton of email on this, and I will post some of them here if I get permission. They are worth hearing/thinking about.

Unfortunately, while I was attempting to trim my “50-plus years of history, in just 1300 words” essay, I inadvertently conflated a couple, three scientific theories.

Gack. I hate it when I do that.

I wrote:

The principle that gave rise to the biotech industry promised benefits that were equally compelling. Known as the Central Dogma of molecular biology, it stated that each gene in living organisms, from humans to bacteria, carries the information needed to construct one protein.

The offending paragraph was actually three paragraphs at one point, describing three, now largely outdated theories.

First, Central Dogma was actually Francis Crick’s (tongue-in-cheek) slogan regarding his observation that information flows only one-way from DNA to RNA to protein.

Second, the “one gene-one protein/function” theory is probably best attributed to Christian Anfinsen (Nobel Laureate, 1972). In the mid 1950’s Anfinsen started working on the relationship between structure and function in enzymes, and eventually proposed that the structure of a protein was determined by the chemistry of its amino acid sequence.

And third, there’s the standard, or universal, genetic code: the set of rules for creating proteins from the codes stored in DNA. The idea that the rules are virtually identical across virtually all organisms was another critical theoretical link, that set the stage for the technology of genetic engineering — i.e., recombinant DNA — that was invented by Cohen and Boyer in 1973.