The Meaning of Life (Part I)

The Meaning of Life (Part I)” by Jonathan Latham, PhD was published on Tuesday 21st March, 2017 by Independent Science News.

From the author: This article is highly relevant to the food movement. We hope it will become (along with “Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life”) an essential text in the education of food producers, food activists, and environmentalists. The connections between food concerns and genetics are many:
1) a gene-centric view of life is a vast diminishment of biological possibilities, including but not limited to minimising or denying the possibility that you or your customers may be harmed by poisons and pesticides, or that your farming can be improved by changes to the system and not just by the genes in the crop. 2) A gene-centric view of life is inherently reductionistic.
3) Because a gene-centric view of life is reductionistic, like any reductionist concept, is easily twisted for commercial or political purposes because it removes the key elements of understanding from a form in which anyone can understand them (like overall health) into a formulation that can be misrepresented or mismeasured—this is the scientific basis of promoting “superfoods” and vitamin pills over natural foods, for example.

For reasons such as these I wrote in the article: “A genetically determinist society is therefore one not capable of understanding itself as directly at risk from irresponsible corporate activities and government indifference. It is fundamentally defenceless against polluters, junk food marketers, community dislocation, and other threats to human integrity.
In a wider political frame, the history of the 20th Century shows that a genetic determinist society is also vulnerable to fascists, racists, dictators, and warmongers. All this too is the product of a century and a half of the manipulation of biological science.”

Article Synopsis: In a previous article I showed that DNA does not deserve its reputation as a biological “master molecule” and that it has no special powers of organismal control. To prove it, in diverse disciplines of biology, compelling alternative explanations of biological phenomena—as properties of systems and not genes—are emerging that refute traditional thinking. This paradigm-shifting conclusion, outlined in “Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life”, nevertheless begs an obvious question. If the role of a master molecule was truly scientifically undeserved, how could DNA ever be considered to occupy it?
The answer, it turns out, is that DNA has a fascinating but little-known scientific history. It was consciously fashioned into its role by wealthy institutions who were helped by influential scientists. This remarkable historical manipulation of the science of genetics is solidly documented and it explains how DNA emerged as a master molecule even in the absence of the necessary scientific evidence. This aspect of DNA has been largely ignored by historians of science who have assumed that this manipulation was tangential to the history of biology and merely sped up the inevitable discovery and understanding of DNA. The new developments in systems biology show, instead, that this manipulation subverted the whole course of scientific history and turned biology, in effect, on its head.

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