Article It’s time to admit that genes are not the blueprint for life (Feb 2024)

Michael Harrop

Active member
Jul 6, 2023

When the human genome was sequenced in 2001, many thought that it would prove to be an ‘instruction manual’ for life. But the genome turned out to be no blueprint. In fact, most genes don’t have a pre-set function that can be determined from their DNA sequence.

Instead, genes’ activity — whether they are expressed or not, for instance, or the length of protein that they encode — depends on myriad external factors, from the diet to the environment in which the organism develops. And each trait can be influenced by many genes. For example, mutations in almost 300 genes have been identified as indicating a risk that a person will develop schizophrenia.
Genetics alone cannot help us to understand and treat many of the diseases that cause the biggest health-care burdens, such as schizophrenia, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. These conditions are physiological at their core, the author points out — despite having genetic components, they are nonetheless caused by cellular processes going awry. Those holistic processes are what we must understand, if we are to find cures.

Ultimately, Ball concludes that “we are at the beginning of a profound rethinking of how life works”. In my view, beginning is the key word here. Scientists must take care not to substitute an old set of dogmas with a new one. It’s time to stop pretending that, give or take a few bits and pieces, we know how life works. Instead, we must let our ideas evolve as more discoveries are made in the coming decades. Sitting in uncertainty, while working to make those discoveries, will be biology’s great task for the twenty-first century.

This is relevant to microbiome discussion because there is still widespread misunderstanding that genes are somehow set in stone and any inherited traits are genetic. As the article points out, and as is documented in the wiki, this is a false notion.
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One of the genetics talks I went to in grad school, they discussed this. That there was an original debate between dna vs microbiome being the most explanatory of biological functions. But with the Watson and Crick discovery it just led science down the path of DNA.
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In 2021 a geneticist insisted to me that the microbiome was just a fad.
I mean genes have explained some things but like there have been so many more things that genes (even epigenetics) haven't been able to explain. Not to mention the microbiome is one of the most important environments that would affect genes turning on or off. Not sure who that geneticist was, but fortunately I think he is in the minority (well in my academic circles at least). Hopefully, better understanding and testing of microbiome well continue to develop to help with large gap of knowledge.