Majid Ali, M.D.
In 1953, DNA was anointed as the
ultimate arbiter of human biology. The scientists
knew there were going to be lot of papers about it
and more professorship would be tenured for this
work than for any other. The men of money were not
far behind. They recognized that billions of dollars
were to be earned. The media always needs something
to fumble around. So the "DNA era" was ushered in
previously unknown splendor. Nobel Prizes for James
Watson and Fracis Crick had to follow and they did.
Rosalind Franklin, who actually first photographed
the DNA crystals and identified DNA double helix was
left to those few who insist on historical accuracy
about who discovered what. (Watson stole glances at
Rosalind’s DNA photograph while she was away from
her desk, a lapse of ethics not rare in history of
In 1974, I became chief
pathologist at Holy Name Hospital, Teaneck, New
Jersey, and received my appointment in the
department of pathology at Columbia University in
New York. At about the same time, I became
interested in search for the boundary between health
and absence of health. I recognized that nature
conferred a brain on me not only to cram what others
what me to learn but also sometimes to use it
following my own whims. That led to my interest in
evolutionary biology with a focus on redox
equilibrium and oxygen homeostasis and oxygen
signaling. That is when I began to doubt the
supremacy of DNA on everything else.
Evolutionary Proceeds At An Unltra-snail Pace
Molecular evolution moves with
steps and counteesteps. s at an unltra-snail pace,
an unending march of time with steps and
counter-steps, for ever self-correcting, discarding
what did not work, holding on to what worked. How
could the all-powerful DNA have evolved except
within a kaleidoscopic support structure of infinite
diversity? How could it have acquired its fierce
independence? Evolution does not recognize finality.
How could finality have been conferred upon DNA? How
could everything else have been subordinate to DNA
but DNA have remained insubordinate? The term
epigenetics had been in use then. From my
oraganismic-holistic view of life and evolution, how
could have DNA been crowned to the status of a
supreme being, determining everything else but never
determined by anything else? A superlord of biology,
answerable to none?
A Part Can
Be Known Only Through Its Relationships With the
In 1970s, everything in
biology was subordinated to king DNA. It was
absolute, independent, potent, self-governing, and
all intelligence. It was heretical at that time to
challenge this king. Environment at that time had no
currency among doctors. One could challenge the DNA
deity but only at one’s great peril. My problem with
this deity was: Like Greek deities, it seemed to
have materialized from nowhere. To my knowledge
then, evolution never did that.
Intuitively I knew that DNA
needed to be de-throned, put back to its place, so
to speak. So I waited patiently for my time - a time
when DNA could be pulled down a few notches. It
could be recognized that DNA does not exist in a
vacuum. It could be seen by some others as I saw it
- dependent, vulnerable, and chaperoned.
Science is a messy business. It
is observation of natural order without any
preconceived ideas. It has no agenda, nor any
belief. It recognizes no gurus, nor any masters. It
marches to its own drums, whistling its own tunes.
In Nature's Preoccupation
With Complementarity and Contrariety. N (2005),
the first volume of my textbook "The Principles
and Practice of Integrative Medicine," I devoted
a large chapter to complementarity and contrariety
in genomics. Writing that chapter added yet more
doubt to my suspicions about the finality and
independence of DNA.
I was stimulated to write this
short article by the following text from the
25 April 2013 issue of Nature,
in my view the top science journal in the world"
whisper of this vibrant debate reaches the public.
Take evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins'
description in Prospect magazine last year of the
gene as a replicator with "its own unique status as
a unit of Darwinian selection". It conjures up the
decades-old picture of a little, autonomous stretch
of DNA intent on getting itself copied, with no hint
that selection operates at all levels of the
biological hierarchy, including at the
supraorganismal level2, or that the very idea of
'gene' has become problematic." (Nature 2013; 496,
Where do we go from here? To
commonsense and an informed view of holism in
evolutionary biology, keeping oxygen signaling in
the center stage.
Oxygen, Not DNA, Occupies The
Apex of Occupies Evolutionary Biology. A part cannot
understood without a study of the whole. We need to
make a switch to authentic and diligent studies of
genetic and epigenetic networks. Letters make words.
But words do not poetry make. Poetry is about
images, metaphors, connectivity, and relationships
between parts. We need a focus on healing literacy.
We cannot have intelligent conversations about
healing arts with literacy of diseases, drugs, and
devices. To put DNA and the prevailing ideas of
genetics, we need "oxygen literacy."
For nearly four decades, I have
been down on genes and up on environment. In health
preservation and disease reversal, to focus on genes
is to blame parents and to disempower self. Focus on
environments—food is included here in the
gene-environment context—is empowering. Oxygen
adjudicates all conflicts between genes, epigenes,
and nuclear energetics.
* Re-Thinking DNA
Intelligent language of Genes
* Junk DNA or Treasure trove
Genes Know Their Neighbors
A Story of
Interleukins and Tumor Necrosis Genes
Genes and Aging
Of Genes, Chimps, and