This story was sent by several regular readers here - and again, a big thank you to all of you sending articles and comments - and it's a story that caught my eye for several reasons, most of them of my usual "high octane speculation" nature. But, for the sake of saving time, rather than post all versions of it, this succinct version of it is probably the best for our purposes(this version of the story was found by Mr. V.T., and again, a big thank you!):
The crux of the story is fairly staightforward and simple enough:
"There are, in addition to the four main bases, two other bases. These are methylated forms of other DNA bases. Methylation is a form of alkylation with a methyl group. These two other bases have epigenetic implications. Epigenetics refers to further information layered on top of DNA's sequence of letters, acting as external modifications to DNA that turn genes "on" or "off." These modifications do not change the DNA sequence; however they affect how cells "read" genes."To give an example, as mentioned by Live Science: "epigenetics is the reason why a skin cell looks different from a brain cell or a muscle cell. All three cells contain the same DNA, but their genes are expressed differently (turned "on" or "off"), which creates the different cell types."
"A fifth base was identified a few years ago. This was named methyl-cytosine (mC), this is derived from cytosine. The find was regarded as important because mC can switch genes on or off depending on the physiological needs of each tissue. There is a probable link between alterations to this base and the risk of developing cancer.
"Now comes the news, via the University of Barcelona, that there could be a sixth base: methyl-adenine (mA). This base could be key in the life of the cells. The base was identified using advanced screening methods."
To put that even more succinctly, while genetics was working with the four base pairs, it was confronted with the problem that, yes, these pairs and their coding could explain, or rather, describe the genetic content of any individual living creature's DNA, it could not, and did not, yet explain how the genes were expressed or manifested into blood vessel walls, nerve cells, and so on. Enter the field of epigenetics, and new base pairs.
What caught my eye here were the "high octane speculative implications", for one long term implication would seem to be that of giving genetic engineers new tools in the arsenel of genetic engineering by allowing them a new tool to tinker with gene expression. Let our imaginations run wild for a moment, imagine such a technology being commonplace, and, imagine one is a fan of, say, the old science fiction tv series Babylon Five: one could perraps engineer the expression of genes to have humans growing bones out of their heads, like the series' fictional species of Minbari, a humanoid species with distinctive bones growing on their heads, like horns on cattle, so to speak. With gene-splicing and epigentics, the limits would only be on imagination, and with a variety of ancient texts lying around Mesopotamia that contain bizarre tales of "fish-men" and "scorpion-men," and the chimerical creatures of Egyptian hieroglyphs, there would seem to be ready-to-hand a whole "cookbook" to inspire the imagination. After all, if they are now putting honey bee brains into drones and touting it as the "sollution" for the declining honey bee population(see yesterday's blog), they will do just about anything.
Or, allowing our imagination to run even wilder, I recall an episode from one of the early seasons of Chris Carter's The X Files, an episode titled "The Ehrlenmeyer Flask", wherein a sample of DNA was discovered by the indefatigable Mulder and Skully. Skully took the sample to a laboratory to be analyzed, and the bewildered geneticist reported back to her that they had discovered within it a fifth and sixth base pair, which would, the geneticist informed Skully, occurred nowehere on earth and would therefore have to be, by definition, extra-terrestrial. Granted, it's not methyl-pairs of the newly emerging "epi-genetics". This, of course, the conspiracy hiding the existence of ET life could not permit, and a variety of plot twists unfolds as the sample is swapped to save Mulder's life, only after the geneticist was discovered to have died suddenly in a car accident.
So what's our high octane speculation? Simply this: as the field of epigenetics advances, it might provide the key - hinted at in Carter's X Files episode - for determining the expression of genes, and hence, determining the species of a sample. And then the question arises, "suppose they found such an expression? Would they disclose it?" Probably not. In fact, they would more than likely obfuscate any data and make it look like it was not all that significant, and fit neatly and tidily into the dogmas of their standard theory or theories.
And perhaps they already have...
But that part of the story will have to wait until tomorrow...
See you on the flip side...