Scientists Detect Severe Cracks In the Idea of the Gene
We're at risk of mistaking the music for the piano in using a “jump to the gene” approach to biology. It's time for a more fitting view of genes to evolve.
1. Scientists have detected “severe cracks in the concept of the gene. Portin and Wilkin (P&W) say a more fitting view of genes must evolve.
3. P&W note the influence of a misleading “gene for X” view (that “there are individual genes responsible ‘for’ certain complex conditions, e.g., schizophrenia, alcoholism, etc”).
4. Their “crucial point… is that genes... exert their effects within… complex… genetic regulatory networks (GRNs).” They’re “not autonomous” as P&W say is implied by Selﬁsh Gene thinking. For more selfish gene critiques, see “Die Selfish Gene, Die,“ “Every Self is a Society,” “Survival of The Friendliest,” “Every Selfish Gene Must Cooperate.”
5. The GRN view “recognizes the long causal chains that often operate between genes and their effects.”
6. But every gene must be triggered and exquisitely synchronized—in the right sequence, at the right time… somewhat like music.
7. Imagine life’s processes as precision molecular music “played” on genes.
8. In humans that life-music is played by an orchestra of ~20,000 gene-instruments, or on a piano with ~20,000 keys played by hundreds of hands simultaneously (syncing tunes across trillions of cellular orchestras).
9. Ill-sounding music can arise from single bad instruments or keys, but also from iffy musical scores and how they’re played.
10. Here the metaphor weakens, those multi-gene long chained “scores” aren’t written out sequentially (in DNA) but arise from the embodied logic of molecular processes (+their cascading ramifying interactions).
11. But focusing on gene sequence variations (e.g., as single nucleotide polymorphism) is like looking only at the keys. Slight differences in key materials might not sour the music (and statistical correlations can’t untangle this easily, even genome wide association studies, GWAS).
12. Here’s a concrete example of this music-like complexity from a simpler industrial bacterial system. Tweaking to increase yields shows that “most of the output-boosting genes are not directly related to synthesizing the desired” molecule.
13. A “jump to the gene” focus can make for a misleading tune. Biology isn’t just like a souped-up more complex version of our technology.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
The pandemic reminds us that our higher education system, with all its flaws, remains a key part of our strategic reserve.
- America's higher education system is under great scrutiny as it adapts to a remote-learning world. These criticisms will only make higher ed more innovative.
- While there are flaws in the system and great challenges ahead, higher education has adapted quickly to allow students to continue learning. John Katzman, CEO of online learning organization Noodle Partners, believes this is cause for optimism not negativity.
- Universities are pillars of scientific research on the COVID-19 frontlines, they bring facts in times of uncertainty and fake news, and, in a bad economy, education is a personal floatation device.
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A debate is raging inside and outside of churches.
- Over 1,200 pastors in California claim they're opening their churches this week against state orders.
- While church leaders demand independence from governmental oversight, 9,000 Catholic churches have received small business loans.
- A number of re-opened churches shut back down after members and clergy became infected with the novel coronavirus.
An MIT system uses wireless signals to measure in-home appliance usage to better understand health tendencies.
For many of us, our microwaves and dishwashers aren't the first thing that come to mind when trying to glean health information, beyond that we should (maybe) lay off the Hot Pockets and empty the dishes in a timely way.