DNA/ We depend on the code, but we are not determined by it
Depiction of the DNA double helix
On June 26, 2000, twelve years ago, the Sanger Center announced that it had sequenced the human genome, calculating the number of genes to be between 30 and 40 thousand. For some, and also as reported by the media that celebrates this day, it is such a significant date that it is called “the day they cracked the code of life”. Is it really so, and if so, what does this mean? The very definition of a human being, the ontological concept of what it means to be human, revolves around this question, as Professor Carlo Soave explained in a conversation with IlSussidiario.net.
Professor, does this day mean that we have the code of life in hand?
First of all, I am sorry for those who love to celebrate anniversaries like “DNA Day”, but I must make a clarification. The accurate and precise sequence of DNA was discovered on February 16 and 17, 2003, not on June 26, 2000. If one goes to look in journals like Science and Nature, the world's two leading journals on these topics, they refer to the former date as that of the true deciphering of the human genetic code.
Anniversaries aside, what does it mean to have cracked the code of life?
We must first understand what is meant by code. Already in the 40’s, scientists who were involved with this knew that genes were in chromosomes and also the DNA. These chromosomes are what contain the code of life, and they are themselves codes full of information. In saying this, the implicit concept is that our lives, and thus that of all living organisms, are defined by what is in our DNA. This is the idea that we are essentially determined by our genes.
And this is not true?
No, it is not true. The code of life is not a code, but is a tool in the hands of our living organism which uses another hundred thousand of these tools to conduct our lives. The organism as a whole has the information and not the DNA.
What does this change in the conception of DNA?
People imagine that our fate, our health and our sickness, is written in our DNA. This is not true. I will give you an example. Three or four months ago, a study was released that analyzed diseases, comparing the results of about 5 thousand monozygotic twins, twins with the same DNA. This study showed that the twins did not fall victim to the same types of diseases, but rather these depended on the style of life the twins led. It is not true that our destiny is written in our DNA, and it is not true for all organisms, including bacteria. A bacterium that migrates out of the colony is different from the ones that remain behind.