I was watching an episode of NOVA on television today titled “What Darwin Never Knew”. Actually, it turns out that there is very little that Darwin did not know. However, scientists can today provide evidence for the theories that Darwin propounded. They now have proof that all life is a process of evolution and natural selection. They even believe that all land animals have evolved from the fish. D-uh, isn’t that what we Hindus always knew? They have compared the DNA of various species and traced the path of evolution.
Scientists can now study the genetic code of animals and tell which gene is responsible for a particular trait in that animal. The study of the DNA is fascinating. All genetic code consists of an infinite number of patterns formed by the arrangement of four kinds of bases—Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G) and Cytosine (C). The particular arrangement gives us our unique traits. Cracking the genetic code has helped to isolate genes and their characteristics.
Researchers went back to the Galapagos Islands to do what Darwin did—study the different kinds of finches. They too found that the same species of birds may have different kinds of beaks depending on their habitat. What kind of beak they have is dictated by the DNA. The DNA has the ability to switch off certain genes and turn others on. The gene switches are not genes but can activate the genes that are responsible for the trait. Phew!! I hope I got it right. Nobody knows yet what makes the genes turn on and off. The most amazing part of this research was that all embryos—of all animals look alike initially—they compared the embryos of reptiles, birds, fish and mammals. It was really hard to tell them apart. The human embryo had vestiges of gills, and reptiles of limbs. The gills developed into the three inner bones of the human ear and the limbs of reptiles just vanished. The gene switches get active after a certain stage and turn things on and off in the embryo.
Given all this, why hasn’t anyone discovered what causes cancer? Scientists can cut DNA, inject glow into a fruit fly from a jelly fish and create new species of fruit flies—but they cannot isolate the trigger that produces cancer? I find that very hard to believe. They have isolated 23,000 different genes in the human body. They know which protein is responsible for muscle building, which is responsible for hair. What’s left to investigate?
Furthermore, it is scary that new species of animals can be created in a laboratory. How long will it be before we produce real life Frankensteins? Can science fulfil its responsibilities towards the human race and its role on the planet or will it become an uncontrollable instrument of mutilation/mutation?