Saturday, July 21, 2007

let. to ed. re. "A Challenge to Gene Theory, a Tougher Look at Biotech" -- NY Times

Here's a letter to the Times (in response to their one mention of ENCODE) that wasn't published:
As a participating scientist in the consortium cited in the July 1st Sunday
edition, I was excited that the Times covered some of the findings of our
project (ENCODE). The article discussed how the consortium's work is changing
the definition of a gene, and it was fascinating to see how scientific findings
ripple over into commercial and legal contexts. One of the interesting things
about genes is how plastic their definition has been over time. The current
definition, which is being recast by the ENCODE project's findings, derives from
the cracking of the genetic code in the 1960s. However, before that, a gene had
a more abstract definition as a unit of heredity, divorced from the physical
molecules actually encoding it. One of the amazing things about successive
redefinitions of a gene is that they have all been "backwards compatible" in a
scientific sense, still allowing old findings to apply to the current
definitions, with a bit of mental gymnastics. However, maybe we will find that
this backwards compatibility only applies in a scientific sphere and that a
redefinition of the gene will require substantial changes outside of it, in our
notions of commercially viable entities.
(Also, you might note that this subject is quite related to some recent publications, viz: )

Letter in response to:
A Challenge to Gene Theory, a Tougher Look at Biotech - New York Times
July 1, 2007
A Challenge to Gene Theory, a Tougher Look at Biotech
THE $73.5 billion global biotech business may soon have to grapple with a
discovery that calls into question the scientific principles on which it was
founded. Last month, a consortium of scientists published findings that
challenge the traditional view of how genes function. The exhaustive four-year
effort was organized by the United States National Human Genome Research
Institute and carried out by 35 groups from 80 organizations around the world.
To their surprise, researchers found that the human genome might not be a "tidy
collection of independent genes" after all, with each sequence of DNA linked to
a single function, such as a predisposition to diabetes or heart disease.
Instead, genes appear to operate in a complex network, and interact and overlap
with one another and with other components in ways not yet fully understood.
According to the institute, these findings will challenge scientists "to rethink
some long-held views about what genes are and what they do."...