Note: This is the fourth installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This time, we take a closer look at her wacky ideas about DNA. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.
So far, Stasia Bliss has failed spectacularly in understanding the scientific background to cystic fibrosis, genetically engineered foods and the sun and the moon. Among her most absurd claims so far is the flawed notion individuals with cystic fibrosis have themselves to blame because they allegedly eat too much acidic foods and have too much negative foods, that microRNAs in genetically modified foods are dangerous despite the fact that these same microRNAs exist in conventionally bred plants as well and that staring into the sun for extended periods of time heals your eyes as well as gives you supernatural powers such as telepathy, astral projection and unaided human flight.
In this installment, we will be refuting the assertions made in her post about DNA. Contrary to the beliefs of Bliss, DNA is more like a recipe than a blueprint, a DNA double helix consists of two strands and not twelve, gene transcription do not transform you to a silica-based or a crystalline life-form, there are four space-time dimensions and not three, epigenetics is not the same as “activating non-coding DNA”, epigenetics is unrelated to traumatic growth and gene transcription does not give you psychic abilities.
DNA is a recipe, not a blueprint
In a blueprint, there is a 1:1 correspondence between one description or instruction on the blueprint, and one feature of the structure the blueprint is used to build. This is not true for DNA, as one gene can influence many different phenotypic characters (genes are often pleiotropic) and a given character is influenced by many genes (such characters are said to be polygenic). If you have a finished structure, you can reconstruct the blueprint. However, if you have the body of an organism, you cannot use its appearance to reconstruct its DNA. This is why, when Bliss claims that DNA is a blueprint, she is profoundly mistaken. DNA is more like a recipe than a blueprint (Dawkins, 2009, pp. 214-215).
The nature of non-coding DNA
Bliss makes a lot of noise about non-coding DNA, and this section will give a short background on the concept.
Non-coding DNA includes DNA that codes for functional RNAs, promoter sequences that can modify the level of gene transcription, introns that lie between coding exons, pseudogenes that are genes that have gotten broke during evolution, endogenous retroviruses are the evolutionary remnants of retroviral infections that have inserted sequences into our genome but had the mechanism for their escape mutated so it no longer works, and mobile genetic elements (such as transposons).
Let us see how Bliss characteristically makes this a big mystery while at the same time insinuating crank assertions by JAQing off:
We do know that some of that 98% has functions such as translation regulation of protein-coding sequences, but what is the rest for? Is it possible our DNA contains within it codes for our evolution as a species? Is it possible that by activating our noncoding DNA we would start to experience reality very differently?
No. The characteristics of many forms of non-coding DNA is already known and a lot of it appears to have no function whatsoever. For those that think that all non-coding DNA has a biological function, consider the onion challenge: if all DNA is functional, what function(s) makes onion require four times the amount of DNA as humans? (Graur et al, 2013)
The DNA double helix only consists of two strands
A nucleotide consists of a base, a sugar and a phosphate. A DNA strand consists of many nucleotides strung together. A DNA double helix consists of two (and only) DNA strands wrapped around each other. The cells of a given organism may have many DNA double helices if that organism have multiple chromosomes. However, a single DNA double helix only ever has two DNA strands. Never more. This is a basic fact of molecular biology and can be found in any introductory textbook.
Bliss obviously does not have the time and/or the interest to read about it, so she has bought into the woo-woo myth that humans really have 12 DNA strands. This has no connection to reality whatsoever and I would very much like to see Bliss explain the precise molecular structure of such a 12 strand DNA helix and what kind of empirical predictions such a model would imply and how it could be tested.
Transcription of genes do not transform you to a silica-based or a crystalline life-form
When a gene that encodes a protein gets transcribed, it acts as a template for the production of a messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA, in turn, is used as a template for protein synthesis. The transcription of genes and the translation of mRNAs occur constantly in the body, all the time. There is nothing supernatural or deeply mysterious about it.
Bliss, on the other hand, asserts the following about gene expression:
As evolution in consciousness occurs, and DNA ‘turns on’ it is speculated that this would mean a transformation from a carbon-based matter body, to a silica-based, and finally a crystalline liquid-light pre-matter state body, where the body would glow with light.
Since gene expression occurs all the time in the body, it is obvious that this process does not convert people from being carbon-based life-forms to one based on silica or “a crystalline liquid-light pre-matter state body” (whatever that is). That is pure, made-up nonsense with no rational or empirical foundation in reality whatsoever.
Gene expression is unrelated to the number of space-time dimensions
According to general and special relativity, there are four space-time dimensions. They are up/down, left/right, forward/backwards and time. This means that four coordinates is sufficient to specify the location of an object. Bliss have an opinion that differs from that of general and special relativity:
According to sources, most of us have approximately 3-3.5 strands activated, allowing for the experience of only three dimensions of reality.
No, humans have two DNA strands in their DNA helices and humans experience four space-time dimensions. On a side note, what exactly is half a DNA strand?
Epigenetics is unrelated to post-traumatic growth
Epigenetics is crucially about changes in gene expression unrelated to changes in the DNA sequence. Epigenetic factors include DNA methylation and demethylation, histone acetylation and deacetylation and chromatin remodeling. If the chromatin (DNA + proteins) adopt a looser conformation, more gene transcription occurs. The effects of this depends on what genes are being transcribed and it is not always physiologically beneficial. It also has nothing to do with the number of DNA strands that a double helix has. Bliss clearly misunderstands the science when she writes that:
Our DNA is bundled, often ‘packed’ in there, and scientists speculate that because of this tight bundling we are unable to gain access to some of it. Recent research reveals “When the body is ‘stressed,’ as scientists euphemistically put it, these bundles sometimes come unpacked. They de-tangle themselves, and make themselves available.” This could be likened to what they call post-traumatic growth. Yes, post-traumatic growth. I just became familiar with this concept while researching an article about healing through virtual reality. Game creator Jane McGonigal discovered the ‘post-traumatic growth’ phenomenon while studying what causes people to express more of their fullest potential. So in our application here it is suggested that stress may actually help to unbundle dormant DNA. Hmmm. This is news to me.
Yes, physiological stress can cause DNA to adopt a looser conformation and initiate more gene transcription. One classic example is the transcription of heat shock genes during heat stress. This eventually lead to an increase in the amount of heat shock proteins in the cell, and these help to prevent proteins from losing their tertiary structure and biological function.
However, this has absolutely nothing to do with the flawed claims about “DNA strand activation”. Completely unrelated. This seems to be an uncontroversial example of Bliss pretending that the nonsense she asserts is based on science, thereby making it a clear-cut case of pseudoscience. In addition, the activation of gene transcription just means that a gene that is currently not transcribing very much starts transcribing a lot more. That gene is certainly a coding gene, and this kind of epigenetic modification does not convert a non-coding DNA sequence to a coding gene.
Finally, physiological stress on a cellular level is not the same as psychological or cognitive stress, so Bliss is performing the fallacy of equivocation.
The basics of evolution is variation, heredity and non-random differential reproduction
Evolution by natural selection requires three key things: variation among the organisms of a population, offspring resembles its parents and some kinds of organisms produce more viable offspring than others because they have more advantageous traits for finding food, escaping or defending themselves against predators, attracting mates, resisting pathogens and so on.
Bliss, on the other hand, describes it like this.
If you look at basic physical evolutionary theory it states that adaptation to environmental changes is key in the survival of a species. It is not the strongest nor the fastest that survives, but the most adaptable to stresses. This must be true as well for the evolution of consciousness. So, it is not just the stress itself that causes growth, but instead, like the creation of diamonds, adaptations must occur in order to use the stress for evolution.
She flirts with the degenerated paradigm of group selection and makes another fallacy of equivocation: biological evolution of organisms is not the same as the changes in beliefs and perspectives that occur in the human mind over a short period of time.
Gene transcription does not produce superpowers
Gene transcription means that more mRNA transcripts are produced. Usually, this means that you get more of the corresponding protein. However, this does not give you any kind of superpowers. Contrary to Bliss, gene expression does not automatically give you psychic abilities, release a negative mind-set or allow you to use more of your brain capacity (as we saw in a previous post in this series, humans use all of their brain) etc.
Look at an image of baby platypus!?
Do yourself a favor, as you finish up this article, reach out to someone, stand up and stretch, blink your eyes exactly 25 times and look up baby platypus on a Google image search.
Bliss should do herself and all of us a favor and go read an elementary textbooks on molecular biology. Some can even be found online, such as an earlier edition of Molecular Biology of the Cell.
Stasia Bliss misunderstands the basic structure of the DNA double helix when she claims that humans have 12 DNA strands. She confuses non-coding DNA with coding DNA that is not transcribed at the moment. She fails to understand the basics of evolution and epigenetics. She performs the fallacy of equivocation several times throughout her post on DNA. Finally, she continues to push for the delusional belief that certain activities give humans superpowers.
Dawkins, R. (2009). The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. London: Bantam Press.
Graur, Dan, Zheng, Yichen, Price, Nicholas, Azevedo, Ricardo B.R., Zufall, Rebecca A., & Elhaik, Eran. (2013). On the Immortality of Television Sets: “Function” in the Human Genome According to the Evolution-Free Gospel of ENCODE. Genome Biology and Evolution, 5(3), 578-590.