An epitaph for the gene. An obituary for genetics. An adieu for heredity.
Kothari MV, Mehta LA
Anatomy Department, Seth G.S. Medical College, Mumbai.,
Modern medicine has been researching on cancer cell, cancer, hypertension, heart attack and so on without once defining any of these clearly. It swears by these terms much like mankind swears by sunset and sunrise, which are just not there. It is possible that the pet hobbyhorses of modern times, namely, gene, genetics, and heredity may belong to the above mythical group-entities that are logically absent, but whose illogic is strong enough to sustain research and publication world over. Gene, genetics and heredity have outlived their utility and must be replaced in near future by new concepts and terms.
Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 1997, Volume : 43, Issue : 3, Page : 57-60. Open Access Article.
"Define your terms, Sir," used to be integral to any Aristotelian or Socratic dialogue. In absence of the intellectual precision that accompanies clarity of concepts and definitions, you could build an edifice Everest – high, except that the fundamental keystone may be missing. Modern medicine has been belabouring its research on immunity, infection, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart attack and so on without arriving at any definition for even once. The net result at the turn of millenium is that modern medicine knows that it knows nothing,.
A perusal of texts,,, ordinary or advanced on genetics have everything except a semblance of exactness on the key terms gene, genetics, and heredity. If you are gifted with an interest in etymology, you realize with a sense of shock that gene enjoys no etymological locus standi, and what you call gene is a fractured portion of the term pangene. The term heredity is from heir and is rooted in ownership of estate and the right over property and possessions and hence has nothing to do with transmission of characters.
Szent-Gyorgyi, the Nobel-laureate, while chairing a session on cancer was asked if he could define a cancer cell. And his considered reply was that he couldn’t define it for he didn’t know what is a normal cell in the first place. That is how a cancer cell is defined circumlocutionally: a cancer cell is what it is, for it does what it does, and it does what it does, for it is what it is. As of today, this is how you will have to define a gene.
The cardinal fault of geneticist and cytologist has been nucleism. They kept on investigating the easily accessible nucleus for they were forced to neglect the nebulous cytoplasm. Nuclear-transplantation and Dolly-making have shown that the embryogenic blue print resides not in the zygotic nucleus but in its cytoplasm. And cytoplasm has not as yet obliged a Watson and Crick team with a double helix. On the other hand, the nuclear double helix has genes of binary code (AT, GC) that fills up the DNA tape without any demarcation of one gene from another. Gene, genetics, and heredity raise far more questions than answers and will have to be given up.
Hans Eysenck, the noted British psychologist, waxes uncharitably eloquent over scientists: "Scientists, especially when they leave the particular field in which they have specialized, are just as ordinary, pig-headed and unreasonable as anybody else, and their unusually high intelligence only makes their prejudices all the more dangerous." Geneticists, currently the blue-eyed babies of medical research, are no exception to Eysenckean estimate. The monstrously oversized edifice of oncology rested on the keystones of cancer-as-alien-non-self and cancer-cell-as-abnormal-cell. Alas, both the keystones have been missing, for they were, in the very first place, never there. The edifice, like a Mumbai building, has collapsed leaving behind a clear vindication of August Bier’s generalisation in the earlier part of this century: "All that we know about cancer can be written on a calling (visiting) card." Little wonder that James Watson of The Double Helix Nobel-fame, summed up cancer research as intellectually bankrupt, therapeutically useless, and fiscally exsanguinating. If one could gather the invectives from an Eysenck, a Bier, a Watson and the like and hurl them at the promoters of gene, genetics and heredity, one could damn well be right.
Peter Medawar, an immunoNobelist, coined the term geneticism "to refer to a scheme of thought which extravagantly overestimates the explanatory power of genetical ideas. The pretended explanation on genetic lines of every aspect of human character and every nuance of personality, and the interpretation of the rise and fall of nations along genetic lines, may all be said to belong to geneticism, which has the ill effect of bringing GENETICS into undeserved discredit." The added italics in the foregoing are a confession by a Dictionary of Modern Thought that Genetics as a science stands discredited.
That the discredit is well-deserved can be gleaned from the plethora of apologetic terms and phrases that geneticists thrive upon to explain away whatever can’t be genetically explained. Here is a sampling: Polygenic/multifactorial inheritance; incomplete penetrance; variable expressivity; forme fruste; phenocopy; genetic heterogeneity; pleiotropy; sex-limited/-influenced trait; delayed age of presentation; non-allelic interaction; spontaneous point mutation; chromosomal polymorphism including multiple fragile sites, microdeletion, cryptic translocation; mosaicism; jumping/overlapping/split genes; sporadic case; illegitimacy; and incorrect diagnosis. Having told some basic lies, geneticists had had to invent many more to acquit themselves.