The Sun Magazine |from Wrong Turn:Interview with Rupert Sheldrake

sheldrake

Sheldrake: If the information were carried only in the genes, then all the cells of the body would be programmed identically, because they contain the same genes. The cells of your arms and legs are genetically identical to those of your bones, cartilage, and tissues. If the genes are the same, then the development of some cells into arms and others into legs must depend on nongenetic influences. In my work I describe a “nested hierarchy” of morphogenetic units that coordinate the fields of limbs, muscles, and so forth.

There’s a lot about us that genetics can’t explain. In studies, identical twins separated at birth show remarkable similarities. Perhaps both develop a strong interest in stock-car racing and art. There are no “stock-car- and art-loving” genes.

The researchers who launched the Human Genome Project expected to find that we have a hundred thousand genes, but the final tally is more like twenty-three thousand. A fruit fly has seventeen thousand genes. A sea urchin has twenty-six thousand. Rice has thirty-eight thousand genes! Humans are more mechanically complicated than rice, so why don’t we have more genes?

Scientists have identified about fifty human genes associated with height, but research shows that together those fifty genes account for only about 5 percent of a person’s height. Most of the heritability is missing, and that’s a big problem for genetic theories of how the body works. My theories offer a better solution to the “missing heritability” problem. Geneticists say, “Give us another ten years, and we’ll have it all figured out. We just need more computing power and gene sequencing. That’s all.” I have a wager with developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert: if by May 1, 2029, he can’t predict all the details of an organism based on the genome of a fertilized egg, he loses.

The Sun is an independent, ad-free monthly magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to invoke the splendor and heartache of being human. The personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs that appear in its pages explore the challenges we face and the moments when we rise to meet those challenges. Writing from The Sun has won the Pushcart Prize, been published in Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays, and been broadcast on National Public Radio.

Source: The Sun Magazine | Wrong Turn

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