Re-Thinking DNA


Re-Thinking DNA

Majid Ali, M.D.

In 1953, DNA was anointed as the ultimate arbiter of human biology. The scientists knew there were going to be lot of papers about it and more professorship would be tenured for this work than for any other. The men of money were not far behind. They recognized that billions of dollars were to be earned. The media always needs something to fumble around. So the “DNA era” was ushered in previously unknown splendor. Nobel Prizes for James Watson and Fracis Crick had to follow and they did. Rosalind Franklin, who actually first photographed the DNA crystals and identified DNA double helix was left to those few who insist on historical accuracy about who discovered what. (Watson stole glances at Rosalind’s DNA photograph while she was away from her desk, a lapse of ethics not rare in history of science).

In 1974, I became chief pathologist at Holy Name Hospital, Teaneck, New Jersey, and received my appointment in the department of pathology at Columbia University in New York. At about the same time, I became interested in search for the boundary between health and absence of health. I recognized that nature conferred a brain on me not only to cram what others what me to learn but also sometimes to use it following my own whims. That led to my interest in evolutionary biology with a focus on redox equilibrium and oxygen homeostasis and oxygen signaling. That is when I began to doubt the supremacy of DNA on everything else.

Molecular Evolutionary Proceeds At An Unltra-snail Pace

Molecular evolution moves with steps and counteesteps. s at an unltra-snail pace, an unending march of time with steps and counter-steps, for ever self-correcting, discarding what did not work, holding on to what worked. How could the all-powerful DNA have evolved except within a kaleidoscopic support structure of infinite diversity? How could it have acquired its fierce independence? Evolution does not recognize finality. How could finality have been conferred upon DNA? How could everything else have been subordinate to DNA but DNA have remained insubordinate? The term epigenetics had been in use then. From my oraganismic-holistic view of life and evolution, how could have DNA been crowned to the status of a supreme being, determining everything else but never determined by anything else? A superlord of biology, answerable to none?

A Part Can Be Known Only Through Its Relationships With the Whole

In 1970s, everything in biology was subordinated to king DNA. It was absolute, independent, potent, self-governing, and all intelligence. It was heretical at that time to challenge this king. Environment at that time had no currency among doctors. One could challenge the DNA deity but only at one’s great peril. My problem with this deity was: Like Greek deities, it seemed to have materialized from nowhere. To my knowledge then, evolution never did that.

Intuitively I knew that DNA needed to be de-throned, put back to its place, so to speak. So I waited patiently for my time – a time when DNA could be pulled down a few notches. It could be recognized that DNA does not exist in a vacuum. It could be seen by some others as I saw it – dependent, vulnerable, and chaperoned.

Science is a messy business. It is observation of natural order without any preconceived ideas. It has no agenda, nor any belief. It recognizes no gurus, nor any masters. It marches to its own drums, whistling its own tunes. In Nature’s Preoccupation With Complementarity and Contrariety. N (2005), the first volume of my textbook “The Principles and Practice of Integrative Medicine,” I devoted a large chapter to complementarity and contrariety in genomics. Writing that chapter added yet more doubt to my suspicions about the finality and independence of DNA.

I was stimulated to write this short article by the following text from the 25 April 2013 issue of Nature, in my view the top science journal in the world”

Barely a whisper of this vibrant debate reaches the public. Take evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ description in Prospect magazine last year of the gene as a replicator with “its own unique status as a unit of Darwinian selection”. It conjures up the decades-old picture of a little, autonomous stretch of DNA intent on getting itself copied, with no hint that selection operates at all levels of the biological hierarchy, including at the supraorganismal level2, or that the very idea of ‘gene’ has become problematic.” (Nature 2013; 496, 419–420)

Where do we go from here? To commonsense and an informed view of holism in evolutionary biology, keeping oxygen signaling in the center stage.

Oxygen Literacy

Oxygen, Not DNA, Occupies The Apex of Occupies Evolutionary Biology. A part cannot understood without a study of the whole. We need to make a switch to authentic and diligent studies of genetic and epigenetic networks. Letters make words. But words do not poetry make. Poetry is about images, metaphors, connectivity, and relationships between parts. We need a focus on healing literacy. We cannot have intelligent conversations about healing arts with literacy of diseases, drugs, and devices. To put DNA and the prevailing ideas of genetics, we need “oxygen literacy.”

For nearly four decades, I have been down on genes and up on environment. In health preservation and disease reversal, to focus on genes is to blame parents and to disempower self. Focus on environments—food is included here in the gene-environment context—is empowering. Oxygen adjudicates all conflicts between genes, epigenes, and nuclear energetics.


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