Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue #163                                                    May 13, 2005
                   A Publication of The Nature Institute
             Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (

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Editor's Note

Quotes and Provocations
   Mystery Inheritance
   Practical Reductionism
   The Barren Global Vision of Thomas Friedman


About this newsletter


                              EDITOR'S NOTE

The essay, "Logic, DNA, and Poetry" from NetFuture #160 has been published
in The New Atlantis (spring, 2005).  You'll find this always
interesting journal at


Goto table of contents


                         QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS

Mystery Inheritance

A recent finding reported in Nature (March 24) has elicited
exclamations from geneticists worldwide:  "marvelous", "spectacular",
"unprecedented", "a really strange and unexpected result".  "Something
weird is definitely going on", adds Gerald Fink, a professor of genetics
at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

The finding (as biologists are currently conceptualizing it) is that
plants can somehow gain access to and employ information derived from
their ancestors -- information that has completely disappeared from the
genomes of their parents.  They use this information to correct "errors",
or mutations, in the genes they receive from their parents.

"We think this demonstrates that there's this parallel path of inheritance
that we've overlooked for 100 years, and that's pretty cool", remarked
Robert Pruitt, the botany professor who oversaw the study.  Another member
of the research team, Susan Lolle, noted that the work "adds a level of
biological complexity and flexibility we hadn't appreciated".  And, in the
words of geneticist Fink, "This gives the lie to the idea that you know
everything once you sequence the genome.  You don't".

Citing the ongoing series of revelations that have disturbed the reigning
notions in genetics, Pruitt comments that "biologists have gotten used to
the unexpected".  So we can hope.  Geneticist Elliott Meyerowitz, noting
various discoveries that have modified traditional Mendelian genetics,
reminds us that "There are different sorts of scientists.  Some like to
ignore the exceptions, and others like to concentrate on them".

Of course, exceptions are only exceptions w