- POPULAR CULTURE
- MENTAL HEALTH
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
- APPLIED SCIENCES
- PRINT & MEDIA
GENETICS: DESCRIBED AND DEFINED
Genetics is a discipline of biology. It is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms. Genetics deals with the molecular structure and function of genes, with gene behavior in the context of a cell or organism (e.g. dominance and epigenetics), with patterns of inheritance from parent to offspring, and with gene distribution, variation and change in populations. Given that genes are universal to living organisms, genetics can be applied to the study of all living systems, from viruses and bacteria, through plants (especially crops), to humans, as in medical genetics.
The fact that living things inherit traits from their parents has been used since prehistoric times to improve crop plants and animals through selective breeding. However, the modern science of genetics, which seeks to understand the process of inheritance, only began with the work of Gregor Mendel in the mid-19th century.(1) Although he did not know the physical basis for heredity, Mendel observed that organisms inherit traits via discrete units of inheritance, which are now called genes.
Genes correspond to regions within DNA, a molecule composed of a chain of four different types of nucleotides—the sequence of these nucleotides is the genetic information organisms inherit. DNA naturally occurs in a double stranded form, with nucleotides on each strand complementary to each other. Each strand can act as a template for creating a new partner strand. This is the physical method for making copies of genes that can be inherited.
The sequence of nucleotides in a gene is translated by cells to produce a chain of amino acids, creating proteins—the order of amino acids in a protein corresponds to the order of nucleotides in the gene. This relationship between nucleotide sequence and amino acid sequence is known as the genetic code. The amino acids in a protein determine how it folds into a three-dimensional shape; this structure is, in turn, responsible for the protein's function. Proteins carry out almost all the functions needed for cells to live. A change to the DNA in a gene can change a protein's amino acids, changing its shape and function: this can have a dramatic effect in the cell and on the organism as a whole.
Although genetics plays a large role in the appearance and behavior of organisms, it is the combination of genetics with what an organism experiences that determines the ultimate outcome. For example, while genes play a role in determining an organism's size, the nutrition and health it experiences after inception also have a large effect.
(1) F. Weiling, (1991). "Historical study: Johann Gregor Mendel 1822–1884." American journal of medical genetics, 1991, V40, N.1, pp. 1–25.
There are, of course, a great array of sub-topics within the field of genetics. Readers can access these topics at the Wikipedia site under the follwing headings: Chromosome, DNA, RNA, Genome, Heredity, Mutation, Nucleotide, Variation, History, Evolution, Population genetics, Mendelian inheritance, Quantitative genetics, Molecular genetics, Research, DNA sequencing, Genetic engineering, Genomics, Medical genetics, Branches of genetics, Personalized medicine, Biology portal, and Molecular and cellular biology portal. Go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetics
THE CENTURY OF THE GENE
In the London Review of Books(Vol. 23 No. 5, 8 March 2001), Adrian Woolfson reviewed The Century of the Gene by Evelyn Fox Keller(Harvard, 200 pages, 2000). Woofson writes: "when we observe a modest stick insect replicating its structure, almost exactly, to produce a collection of tiny, near-identical young, this is the marvel of nature, the characteristic that has, hitherto, been used to divide animate from inanimate forms. Modern biological thought has focused on four principal questions. (i) What is the nature of the mechanism that enables the ‘information’ required for the replication of biological structures to be transmitted across generations? (ii) How is a single cell able to differentiate into a complex organism? (iii) How are the structures of living things transformed across time? (iv) How did life originate in the first place?
Besides being a regular contributor to LRB, Woolfson has written two books about genetics: (i) Intelligent person's guide to Genetics(Duckworth Press, 2006); and (ii) Life Without Genes: the History and Future of Genomes(HarperCollins, 2000). The books are always readable and absorbing. The last of the two uses a riot of metaphors to illuminate its point to lucidly explain what genes are and how they work. En route we learn not only about RNA, DNA, genes, how the crocodile holds its breath, slavery among ants, and much other zoology and botany to boot, but even what Puccini said to Caruso on first hearing him sing. Woolfson has his own website at: http://adrianwoolfson.com/
Any unifying theory must provide a plausible answer to all these questions and in so doing, offer tentative answers to two further questions: (v) what is life? (vi) And what will it be like in the future? In spite of recent advances, the answers to the last three questions remain unclear. The concept of genes and the notion that biological transformation is effected by a Darwinian process of evolution by natural selection have, however, brought us much closer to answering all these questions, especially the first three. The intellectual foundations, which placed genes at the centre of biological explanation, were established in 1900, with the simultaneous and independent rediscovery of Mendel’s principles by Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns and Erich von Tschermak. But the chemical nature of genes remained an enigma for some time, the consensus being that the information they carried was encoded in proteins. Eventually, experiments published in 1944 demonstrated that it is DNA and not proteins that encodes the information on which heredity depends. The jewel in the crown of gene theory, however, came in 1953, when, with the help of X-ray photographs taken by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, Watson and Crick elucidated the three-dimensional structure of DNA. For more of Woolfson's fine review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v23/n05/adrian-woolfson/so-much-for-genes
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF HUMAN GENETICS
Nature publishes high-impact peer-reviewed research in all fields of science along with insightful news and commentary on trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public. The European Journal of Human Genetics is hosted by Nature, an online magazine/journal which is a weekly distillation of the best in science and the only publication giving you a truly international perspective. I am not a subscriber due to the $200 annual cost, but for those with an interest, your personal subscription includes: (i) 51 issues of Nature in print and online at nature.com; (ii) access to Nature’s online archive back to January 1997; (iii) access to Nature via the Nature Journals app for iPad and the app for iPhone, and (iv) special collections such as Nature Outlooks - providing an in-depth picture of cutting-edge topics throughout the year. Go to this link for more info: http://www.nature.com/
Genetic Engineering and the GMO Industry: Corporate Hijacking of Food and Agriculture. When rich companies with politically-connected lobbyists and seats on government-appointed bodies bend policies for their own ends, we are in serious trouble. It is then that our democratic institutions become hijacked and our choices, freedoms and rights are destroyed. Corporate interests have too often used their dubious ‘science’, lobbyists, political connections and presence within the heart of governments, in conjunction with their public relations machines, to subvert democratic machinery for their own benefit. Once their power has been established, anyone who questions them or who stands in their way can expect a very bumpy ride. For more go to:http://www.globalresearch.ca/genetic-engineering-and-the-gmo-industry-corporate-hijacking-of-food-and-agriiculture/5317339
Can genes be patented? In early 2013, the Supreme Court of the USA will hear a case that may well decide the question, and the consequences for American biomedicine could be huge. Over three years ago, in May 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation (PPF) filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking to overturn the patents on DNA isolated from two human genes. Called BRCA1 and BRCA2, the genes significantly increase a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The main defendant was the Myriad Genetics Corporation, a biotechnology firm in Utah that controls the patents—and is legally entitled for the life of the patent, now twenty years, to exclude all others from using these genes in breast cancer research, diagnostics, and treatment. Other defendants were the University of Utah Research Foundation, which had come to own the patents, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which had granted them. for more on this subject go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/mar/07/can-they-patent-your-genes/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=February+19+2013&utm_content
THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN GENOME
In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of viruses, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA. For more of this general overview of the human genome go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genome
The following two books were reviewed in the London Review of Books back in January 2005. Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi(HarperCollins, 431 pages, 2004), and Jacob’s Ladder: The History of the Human Genome by Henry Gee(Fourth Estate, 272 pages, 2004). The review began as follows: "On 24 August 1848 an advertisement in the Brooklyn Eagle triumphantly announced a performance by ‘the most extraordinary and interesting man in miniature in the known world’. Charles Sherwood Stratton was a perfectly formed 25-inch-tall midget, who weighed only 15 pounds. It had been the idea of the Victorian freak show impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum to present him in the guise of ‘General Tom Thumb’. Before long, the general’s imitations – ‘in full military costume’ – of Napoleon Bonaparte and Frederick the Great, and a varied repertoire including a ‘Scotch song’ and a rendition of the polka, would make him a wealthy man. Following his hugely successful London debut at the Princess’s Theatre four years earlier, he had received three separate invitations to visit Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. His unexpected success spawned a host of copycat acts including ‘Anita the Living Doll’, ‘Leonine the Lion Woman’, ‘Chang the Chinese Giant’, ‘Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy’ and John Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’."
This is the second paragraph of the review: "By the turn of the century, though, the mood of the public had changed and the public display of such ‘human prodigies’ – as they preferred to be called – had become unacceptable in many countries. The profession of ‘museum freak’ was in terminal decline. Such discontinuous variations on the human form are rare, but we are used to the continuous everyday variations that comprise the full spectrum of the ‘normal’. They leave the basic body plan intact, and are the stuff of evolution by natural selection. The more ‘monstrous’ variations are unlikely to be of direct significance in evolutionary processes, but they do offer invaluable insights into the way animal form is generated. For the rest of this review of the above two books go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n01/adrian-woolfson/make-your-own-monster
THE CREATION OF GENETIC IDENTITY
The implications for the biological control of society have periodically been of great interest since the first decades of the 20th century, if not before. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the study of human heredity consisted of the applied science of eugenics and the theoretical science of genetics. Geneticists studied the mechanisms of heredity, while eugenicists sought to apply this knowledge to manage society. Professionally, the two groups shared technical strategies, professional associations, and social aims. After the First World War, however, many geneticists in the US consciously insulated themselves from the thriving eugenics movement. Still, it stands as one of the tragic episodes in the history of biology that eugenic practices, now almost exclusively remembered from the Nazi program of racial hygiene, were popularly supported in the US and sanctioned by scientists the world over.
Scholars have provided competing explanations for this cleavage of professional interests. Daniel Kevles concentrates on the individuals within the eugenics movement. He characterizes the split between the professions as due to an increasing trend toward pseudo-science among eugenicists, and a realization by geneticists that the strategies utilized in agricultural breeding as prescribed by the eugenicists would take too long to totally eliminate genes from the population. Since many harmful genes were found to be recessive genes, individuals that did not express these genes could carry a copy of the harmful gene lying latent in their genome. Artificial selection, however, could only select for genes that had been expressed during development. It had no way of directly visualizing the unexpressed recessive genes.
Although his study presents an interesting perception of the union between genetics and eugenics, Kevles fails to recognize that the growing complexity of the genetic component of heredity has as much to do with the geneticists' perception of the eugenics movement as increasingly based on pseudo-science as with the 'perversion' of the discipline of eugenics. In this paper, Phillip Thurtle, outlines how experimental strategies of heredity research helped define visions of human biological social control. Eugenics and genetics shared professional institutions, scientific techniques and social goals in the first decades of the twentieth century. The new experimental strategies of Mendelian analyses were eagerly adopted by agricultural breeders, eugenicists, and geneticists because these strategies promised greater control over life. For more on this paper in the Stanford Electronic Humanities Review(V. 5, N. 2, 1996) go to: http://web.stanford.edu/group/SHR/5-supp/text/thurtle.html
SOME OF THE GENETICS OF POETRY
Appreciation of poetry can be, and mostly is, quite independent of theory and criticism, but there are several features of the literary theory I draw on for my own personal literary architecture. First, mine is an individual synthesis, drawing as it does on many literary theorists. Daniel T. O'Hara says that literary theory and criticism are aimed at creating "the critical language in which men will speak for a thousand years." I like to think, although one can never know for sure, that my work will fit into this futuristic perspective. I call the literary theory underpinning White's poetry and my analysis of it Baha'i literary theory and criticism.
Baha'i literary theory is, if nothing else, in its very early days. It stands in contrast to Marxist literary theory and the other major literary theories with their associated disciplinary support systems that have arisen in the last half century, since the 1950s and 1960s. It shares with them, though, various specific features. It really requires, as I indicated above, a separate essay and it is not my intention to deal with it fully here, but I will sketch its outline briefly because it seems to me that the future of the White industry, the industry of poetic analysis that has grown out of the poetry of Roger White(1929-1993), will be involved in an elaboration of this theory in different directions.
Baha'i literary thoery is teleological; it is based on a belief in progress through Providential control of the historical process. It views human beings as essentially both historically and socially determined. This determinism in the result of a complex interaction of genetics and environment. It sees man as a composite being whose nature is basically spiritual and also capable of change. Primacy is given to becoming over being, to relationships, to process, to diversity, to the relativity of truth as the basis for and essence of any unity and harmony in human life.
Baha'i literary theory possesses a vital and dynamic theoretical structure with a deep historical consciousness which assumes that all of reality is in a continuous state of flux. It is based, too, on an explicit and unequivocal dialectical method in which "a concept passes over into and is preserved and fulfilled by its opposite." Finally, the philosophical principle of unity, a "structure of mutual and reciprocal interdependence of diverse elements within a system," which transcends both simplicity and diversity, "implies the dynamic movement of history in the direction of increasing complexity and integration." These concepts are the domain where the ontological and normative principles at the base of the philosophy of history that this literary theory draws on or is based on. These are some of the coordinating principles behind my critical evaluation of White's poetry. As I indicated above, it is not my purpose here to explicate a detailed outline of Baha'i literary theory and some of the other literary theories behind which White's work and my interpretation of it is based. The art of poetry is greater, I believe, than its interpreters; not even the greatest critics can pin down all its kinds of significance and value. In the end, all criticism is tentative, partial and oblique.
"A work of literature-a poem, for example," writes David Daiches, "is an immense complex of meaning which is nevertheless often simple and immediate in its impact, and it is impossible to account for its impact." Criticism and theory can help but, in the end, however useful and helpful they may be, there is a larger truth unexplored. As Baha'u'llah writes, "myriads of mystic tongues find utterance in one speech and how many are the mysteries concealed in a single melody, but alas there is no ear to hear or heart to understand." Perhaps this is one of the meanings of this verse.
1. Northrop Frye writes that criticism requires some coordinating principle. See Lionel Trilling, Beyond Culture, NY, Viking Press, 1965, p.58.
2. David Daiches, Critical Approaches to Literature, 2nd edition, Longman, London, 1981(1956), p.396.
3. David Daiches, op.cit., p.397.
4. Baha'u'llah, Hidden Words
A JEW GENETICALLY BUT NOT IN PRACTICE
Yesterday, January 13th 2006 I listened to an interview with the American writer Norman Mailer. The interview took place at the Edinburgh Writers’ Festival in 2005. Mailer made a number of comments that were relevant to my life as a writer. I summarize those comments here before writing a prose-poem. Mailer said he thought truth was like a space station. It was a place from which to launch out into the world of greater truth. One is always approaching truth but never arriving. It was essentially a journey. Mailer went on to say he was a Jew, but in blood only, not a practicing Jew, not a believing Jew. I, on the other hand, am a believing Baha’i in mind and heart, but not in blood. Although my parents were Baha’is, the first generation in my family to identify with this new movement/religion, I do not see my belief as a question of blood, genetics, race, et cetera. This is because of the Baha'i principle of the independent investigation of truth. One does not inherit one's belief system in this new Faith. One comes to it indpendently. At least that is the theory. the reality is more complex. Mailer was asked if he considered himself wise. He said yes. Any wisdom I have acquired I see in terms of this belief system. The Baha’i Faith is the primary source of my wisdom, my meaning, my very survival as a human being.-Ron Price with thanks to “Interview With Norman Mailer,” ABC Radio, 11:05-12:00, January 13th 2006.
My first memory was making
mud pieces in about 1947/8
when your life was transformed
with The Naked and Dead,
your therapy, your self-indulgence,
your self-absorption, preoccupation.
This was the beginning, you said, of
the punishing monotony of writing.
You kept bringing yourself back in
book after book, getting yourself in
shape day after day—not in a fitness
studio but at your desk—3 or 4 hours
of putting words down—6 or 7 hours
reading and pondering, working out
the cerebration, the capacity to take
chances, occupying thematic places,
territories, for the most part familiar,
implementing old thoughts in new
contexts—and then the brain is tired
and contemplates nothing happily.
I did not have the early success
you had, but I still perceived it all
through the mirror of my soul;
I punished myself differently than
you, Norman, discarding roles,
calcifying selves, inventing new
personas with self-dramatizating
talent in the theatre of life, for it is
indeed a performance enacted before
an audience with a plot and script
composed of details from history.
With the power of the director,
with some fidelity to the script,
I have set this actor in motion
Resolutely and unreservedly,
to play my part, however small,
in the greatest drama in the world’s
spiritual history, widening my vision
and deepening my comprehension.
January 14th 2006
THE GENETICS OF THE WASTELAND
To students of twentieth-century modernism, 1971 was the year when Valerie Eliot published a facsimile edition of The Waste Land’s pre-publication manuscripts. 1971 was a significant year in my own life for it was the year I left Canada and moved to Australia. Thirty-six years later it looked like I would lay my bones in that vast and significantly dry dog-biscuit of a continent. The publication of the pre-publication manuscripts of The Wasteland was an event which invited new accounts of the poem’s genetics and fresh assessments of how those might bear on our understanding of the poem. My move to Australia invited a different set of life studies and interpretations of my life-narrative and as the decades advanced fresh assessments of their meaning. -Ron Price with thanks to Valerie Eliot, ed., T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound, Harcourt Brace, NY, 1971.
By 1988 when I studied this poem
to teach it at matriculation level,
a quarter century after studying it
in English Literature so I could get
into university in Ontario at age 18,
pre-publication dates for the poem's
writing were defined as far as possible.
This central poem, this determinant
of our modern consciousness, which
told us something of who we are was
finished just after the Great War, after
millions died of influenza, foundations
for the old world crumbled unbeknownst.
1 Lawrence Rainey, "Eliot Among the Typists: Writing The Waste Land," Modernism/modernity, Volume 12, Number 1, January 2005.
12 January 2007