Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Nobel Nonsense

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A recent publication which has sparked a lot of controversy and anger in the scientific community is a scientific paper by Nobel prize winner Luc Montagnier 1. His paper made claims that DNA was able to make a “quantum imprint” in water, and so fool enzymes and replication machinery in to replicating what is not there, in a kind of teleportation effect. Geneticists are outraged, as this is clearly impossible and a purely ridiculous claim.  A variety of ‘experiments’ were carried out, including applying weak electromagnetic fields in order to allow the ‘teleportation’ of DNA from one tube to another neighboring tube containing only water, but only if the DNA had undergone several serial dilutions first.  Also claims were being made about water having ‘memory’ and that the structure could be imprinted and recovered later.
Filtrations ‘experiments’ were also carried out, where the filter was so find it would not allow bacteria to pass through it and yet the filtrated solution contained infectious organisms, this was thought to again be due to the waters memory and ability to produce ‘ghost molecules’. This is probably one of the most ridiculous pieces of pseudoscience in recent memory. The 12th Jan issue of New Scientist 2 gave an unbiased view of this article, however promoting these idiotic ideas in a scientifically respected magazine is dangerous. What is curious is that Luc Montagnier has already received a Nobel prize for his work with HIV, and so this paper gains credibility because many people are willing to listen and accept what a respected scientist has ‘discovered’, without questioning it. There are many fundamental flaws in the study, firstly, it is not explained why they are examining electromagnetic ‘imprints’, no one in the field of genetics uses electromagnetic fields to study DNA, because it doesn’t make any sense. All though the shape and structure of the DNA is very important to its function and interaction, and this could, in theory, be replicated by vibrations, the most important detail is the specific hydrogen bonds which form between the bases of the two strands which form the helix. These bases carry the genetic information and require the machinery to add complementary base pairs in order to replicate the DNA. This is the principle behind PCR 3, which was the technique used to amplify any DNA present in the sample. The fact that a PCR product was formed from the ‘water’ tube simply shows that one of the reagents must be contaminated, because scientists use water controls when carrying out PCR replication of DNA. The method of replication relies of the DNA physically being there and changing shape to allow replication, so even if you suppose that a structure could be formed from electromagnetic waves in the water, it would not be preserved during the heating and cooling cycles of PCR, and would not be able to alter its shape to allow for DNA replication. It is simply ridiculous that any respectable scientist would entertain such ideas. Secondly, diluting the DNA makes no sense, because it would be quite dilute anyway, and diluting it would surely only reduce the effect seen. Serial dilutions are used in biology in order to take chemicals  or bacterial solutions from a highly concentrated form to a lower concentration which contains the desired number of particles to make studying them easier. However, this paper was hailed as support for homeopathy, which is illogical, because homeopathy uses so many serial dilutions that would be physically impossible to have a single molecule present in the final solution. The idea of water memory is also illogical, because what would stop water having memory of all the other things it has been in contact with? And how would it be able to transfer its memory in to positive therapeutic effect?

Fortunately, this paper has been met with much skepticism, as well as gaining the attention of James Randi and other well known debunkers of pseudoscience 6. The article “Delusions and dilutions never cease” 4 on the JREF website, beaks down the arguments from the paper and expose the bad science within. The paper was also critically examined by the website Science – Based Medicine 5, and found to be wanting. If only New Scientist could have been more faithful to the scientific community and exposed the paper as the unscientific report it is. It is likely that with the current media attention, within the scientific community at least, the paper will gain no ground and will not mislead people with false claims for water memory. 

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