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Thread: The Trouble with Genes

  1. #1

    The Trouble with Genes

    Deepak Chopra is best known for his books on brain function that have been best-sellers and have inspired millions of people. He recently published an article in The Huffington Post entitled "The Trouble with Genes" that has been severely criticized by several scientists. In that article, Dr. Chopra said...

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak...s_b_31118.html
    The Trouble With Genes

    It's amazing to realize that nobody really knows what a gene is or how it works, even though the word 'gene' has become the miracle of the hour. Almost every bit of important research in biology and medicine over the past decade has centered on genetics. After the successful mapping of the human genome, we were told that an enormous range of disease will prove curable through gene therapy.

    <snip>

    It comes as a splash of cold water, then, to realize that science doesn't really know what the all-powerful, all-promising gene actually is. This sounds like a rash claim, but the mystery is there for all to see. Time magazine's latest issue discusses this topic in What Makes Us Different?

    --No one knows how genes make inanimate chemicals like hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen come to life.
    --The ability of DNA to replicate has never been explained.
    --We don't know how genes time their actions years or decades in advance.
    --Having mapped the sequence of genes, we don't know what the sequence means, only that it exists.
    --Having found out that mice share 90% of human genes and gorillas over 99%, we can't explain how the tremendous differences between species should come down to such a tiny fraction of the genetic code.
    --We can't explain why people with the same genes (identical twins) turn out to be different in so many ways as they grow up and age.
    --We don't know why over 90% of genes are inactive at any given time.
    --We don't know why evolution developed genes that cause cancer, and why such genes weren't weeded out after they appeared.
    --We don't know if genes cause or prevent aging. In the same vein, we don't know if they cause or prevent cellular death, since there is evidence that they do both.
    --We haven't unraveled the significance of the space on the DNA strand, even though the blank spots in our genetic code may be just as important, if not more, than the genetic material itself.
    --Genes respond to the outside world as well as to behavior and thoughts, but we don't know how or why except in the most general terms.

    That's an awful lot of mysteries hanging around. None of them represent a novel, rebellious, or skeptical point of view. Only the most gung-ho geneticist would claim that any have been solved. The public reads about genes in glowing terms, and yet only a handful of gene therapies have actually cured anything. Last month, for example, researchers admitted near failure after implanting insulin-producing cells in diabetics. A few years ago such cells were used in rats that suffered from induced diabetes, and the rats could be weaned their insulin shots because the implanted cells took over the function inside their bodies.

    Hope arose that the same would work in humans, but the problems were many-fold. Some subjects got relief but had to go on insulin after a year or two. The implanted cells took but only for a while. Other subjects had too many side-effects. Others couldn't tolerate the various drugs to prevent tissue rejection. Such drugs, if the experiment had worked perfectly, would need to be taken for life.

    Suddenly, the promise of genes looks a lot more murky. Tissue rejection and side effects are critical in medicine. Not to mention the inexplicable way that some people simply don't respond to a given treatment without any explanation (call it the anti-placebo). Tissue implantation to prevent Parkinson's disease and other conditions has run into the same difficulties.

    A responsible scientist would have to admit that genetics at present is tinkering with Nature without full understanding of the results. Hanging over the whole field is the shadow of the atom bomb, the last catastrophic mistake of science. The atom bomb, to look at it with a cold clinical eye, was beautiful physics that had horrendous human consequences--and still does.

    <more>
    This article has attracted a great deal of criticism from scientists who claim that Dr. Chopra doesn't know what he is talking about. Many posted comments, tearing apart each one of his points. For example, PZ Myers posted in:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2...s_it_again.php
    Deepak Chopra really is an embarrassment. I've tussled with his weird arguments before, and now he's flounced onto the Huffington Post with another article (prompted by an article on human genetics in Time, but bearing almost no relationship to it) in which he reveals his profound ignorance of biology, in something titled The Trouble With Genes. Chopra is a doctor, supposedly, but every time I read something by him that touches on biology, he sounds as ignorant as your average creationist. He also writes incredibly poorly, bumbling his way forward with a succession of unlikely and indefensible claims. This latest article is one in which I think he's trying to criticize the very idea of genes, but it's more like he's criticizing his own lack of knowledge.

    <more>

    Myers was even more pointed in his criticism on earlier writings by Dr. Chopra on the subject, calling him a "Moonbat anti-evolutionist":
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2...s_it_again.php
    Moonbat anti-evolutionist: Deepak Chopra

    PZ Myers • 102 Comments (last page)

    All you conservatives will be relieved to know that we have sighted a moonbat anti-evolutionist. It's that New Age con-man, Deepak Chopra, and he says all the same stupid things the right-wing fundies do. He's complaining that we have to take Intelligent Design out of the hands of the fundamentalist Christians and those clueless scientists. You know, though, when someone says something like this…

    To say the DNA happened randomly is like saying that a hurricane could blow through a junk yard and produce a jet plane.
    …it doesn't matter whether he's right-wing or left-wing, he's just an idiot. Then he lists a collection of 'problems' that only reveal how uninformed he is.

    <more>
    The critical comments go on for pages and pages. On Huffington Post itself, there were over 25 critical commentators whom Dr. Chopra inflamed with his response re-iterating
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak...s_b_31564.html
    Despite the vehement objectors, I still believe that geneticists are far from understanding how DNA replicates, because the word "how" connotes more than observing a molecular process of chemical binding. Most explanations of DNA--not just its ability to replicate but many other factors--are post facto. We observe the process, therefore we think we understand its purpose. This is like observing the brain of someone who is depressed without knowing that the person had a child die that day. We cannot explain grief as a brain function. It is a human response that uses a physical organ to mediate it, just as an artist uses his hand to mediate his artistic vision. A chemical analysis of Michelangelo's hands can't explain the Pieta.

    <more>
    Dr. Chopra knows how to get geneticists really upset (Source). It is not common that scientists get so exorcised over the writings of another scientist. It is fun to take a ring-side to watch.

  2. #2
    Dr. Wise,
    What does genetics as is what the title of the article is highlighting..have to do with pancreatic cells taken from donated pancreas of cadavers?

    Isn't that what was used in the trial he is referring too?
    The trial didn't transplant the entire organ as I understand it. Just specific cells.


    Dr. Chopra is on alot of media..talking everything from the afterlife..to religion..to medicine.

    I like him. But he surely acts as an expert on just about everything. Is that possible?
    Life isn't about getting thru the storm but learning to dance in the rain.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Lindox
    Dr. Wise,
    What does genetics as is what the title of the article is highlighting..have to do with pancreatic cells taken from donated pancreas of cadavers?

    Isn't that what was used in the trial he is referring too?
    The trial didn't transplant the entire organ as I understand it. Just specific cells.


    Dr. Chopra is on alot of media..talking everything from the afterlife..to religion..to medicine.

    I like him. But he surely acts as an expert on just about everything. Is that possible?
    Dr. Chopra doesn't seem very knowledgeable regarding genetics and he is taking on the whole genetics field by claiming that they don't know how genes work. I agree with most of the comments about his ignorance. People know a lot about genes. Yes, there is a lot that is not known but Dr. Chopra's claims really bite the dust because he is really showing his own ignorance of how far molecular biologists have come. What he says may have been true twenty years ago. I don't buy his argument that because geneticists don't know everything they know nothing. His appeal to examples like genetics not being to explain how an artist can create wonderful works of art misses the point entirely. Yes, there are many marvelous things about the human mind and experience but it is gratuitous to go from there to saying that all the knowledge of genetics is meaningless.

    To tell you the truth, I have not been a fan of his attempts to explain how the brain works either. He focuses on interesting neurological phenomena and makes fanciful conjectures concerning what is responsible for the phenomena. Most of the time, he has little or no evidence for what he is proposing. I have tried to read several of his books but have been turned off by his frequent failure to acknowledge what others have done and his profound ignorance of major advances in science. In my opinion, he does not understand science and takes advantage of the public's ignorance to foist his fanciful theories on them. For example, his application of quantum mechanics to mind-body healing is nonsense. Wikipedia has a very critical article on Chopra http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepak_Chopra

    Wise.

  4. #4
    Yes. He makes the BIG bucks with all his promoting of himself..while the hardworking, brilliant young scientists in the field work 80-90 hours a week in their labs and in the field for less then half of what he gets off just his book royalties. What a world.

    If you ever want a good easy interesting read while on one of your flights try Tears of the Cheetah.

    It most likely won't teach you much as it did me..but it is a flowing, often fascinating read.
    Life isn't about getting thru the storm but learning to dance in the rain.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Lindox
    Yes. He makes the BIG bucks with all his promoting of himself..while the hardworking, brilliant young scientists in the field work 80-90 hours a week in their labs and in the field for less then half of what he gets off just his book royalties. What a world.

    If you ever want a good easy interesting read while on one of your flights try Tears of the Cheetah.

    It most likely won't teach you much as it did me..but it is a flowing, often fascinating read.
    Lindox, I will try to get the book and read it on my next flight! I just saw a wonderful program about a boy who has a cheetah and his adventures getting the cheetah back to his home after the boy's father died. It taught me a lot about cheetahs.

    Wise.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Young
    Lindox, I will try to get the book and read it on my next flight! I just saw a wonderful program about a boy who has a cheetah and his adventures getting the cheetah back to his home after the boy's father died. It taught me a lot about cheetahs.

    Wise.
    Darn I could have lent it to you. It went threw my reading circle quickly due to only two others interested in genetics and animals..now it's in the local public library.

    Doctor O'Brien includes more then the cheetah in this book. And it is the type of book I went into the book and into the places he so wonderfully describes.

    There's whales, orangutans, mice, pandas, panthers a wide variety of animals. And even I could follow the genetic lingo due to his down to Earth explanations of everything. Which he does explain everything and that may be one part that might bore you. But even then the story telling is super. It's a book that you don't want to put down and feel a bit lonely when your finished with it.
    Life isn't about getting thru the storm but learning to dance in the rain.

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