This is one of those rare times when my posts appear to overlap. In my last report, on the 7th March 2018, I wrote about the potential consequences of gene editing human DNA. The cover article of New Scientist Magazine, 10th March 2018 edition, describes the new discovery of a freshly minted term, Dark DNA. While this sounds an utterly tantalising prospect, and as exciting as the all-pervading Dark Matter that continues to elude physicists’ detection, it fills me with abject horror.
DNA, for those who are not aware, is made up of four chemicals that sit together in specific pairings, plus a couple of other chemicals attached to the double helix shape. Those four pairs are Adenine, Thymine, Cytocine and Guanine. Current sequencing techniques have found that stretches of DNA that are dense with C-G base pairing are tricky to decode. In some instances, this difficulty manifests as ‘missing’ genes, throwing spanners into the proverbial works of genetics studies.
This issue was recently highlighted when Adam Hargreaves and his colleagues at Oxford University, stumbled upon a diabetic sand rat with an apparently missing Pdx1 gene. This gene codes for a protein that, among other things, is important in pancreas development and in switching the insulin gene on and off. Hargreaves teamed up with scientists from across the world, including the Beijing Genomics Institute, to get to the bottom of this puzzle. Using tried and tested methodologies, they found entire chunks of DNA with up to ninety genes missing from a chromosome, where they should be present. Upon closer inspection, the missing chunk contained unusually dense clusters of C-G base pairs. The team then formulated a different analysis technique and hey presto, they found the missing chunk.
As a consequence, scientists across the globe are now excited by this, channelling their efforts into finding other species with ‘Dark DNA’. Thus far, it is proving more common than anticipated, being present in an estimated fifteen percent of bird genetics, and potentially many more.
So, what does this all mean? It means that biologists are celebrating this discovery as the next big bang theory, without looking at the wider picture. To me, it tells me that like Dark Matter, up until now, scientists simply did not have the equipment or technologies to detect its presence. It also tells me that the human, plant and animal genome is much more complicated and sophisticated than anyone has ever imagined. It tells me, that no one should be tampering with its natural order with say, genetic editing in humans, until it is fully understood.
This is no different to madam Curie tinkering about with radium before understanding its radioactive properties that led to her death. What genetic lobotomies will Doudna and her team inflict on unsuspecting humans in the name of scientific advancement. We shall see.
Sam Nash is the author of the FREE prequel sci-fi conspiracy thriller novella series, The Aurora Journals – Now available here https://www.samnash.org. The Aurora Conspiracies Series will be available soon. Release date TBA. You can find her at Facebook.com/samnash.author or on Twitter @samnashauthor .