genetic engineering, the alt med way…

Consider this a PSA for aspiring biohackers: gene therapy does not work if you literally drink the genes.

snake oil

Did you know that nature has a recipe for super-health that can improve your memory, strengthen your bones, and even fight the ravages of aging? If you answered no, you haven’t met the folks at Homeovitality®, who are standing by to take your money after giving you a pseudoscientific lecture and promising to give you the latest and greatest development in alt med: liquid DNA strands intended for your consumption. And just in case you want to know precisely you’re supposed to be ingesting on a daily basis, they’ll even include a complete gene sequence from a public NIH catalog. So not only will you be drinking your way to a better heart, more efficient kidneys and longer life, you can also keep track of exactly how many adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine pairs you’re going to swallow. Well, at least you’ll be getting a detailed ingredient list with your snake oil…

Think about this for a second. For you to take advantage of the latest genomics research, you’re supposed to swallow genes that play a role in certain growth and developmental functions, much like some priests would eat the hearts of brave warriors from other tribes to absorb the raw essences of their courage and vitality. And somehow, after you ingest some deoxyribose, purides and pyrimidines, break them down in the hydrochloric acid of your stomach, these strands of DNA are supposed to do wonders for your health, even though you already have the same genes in every cell of your body.

Of course if you’re a homeopath who subscribes to the idea of vitalism, held by doctors before germ theory proved itself and paved the way for modern medicine, something like this makes perfect sense. Somewhere between all the phantom energy fields and radioactive nanocrystals, there has to be a resonance between the gene strands you’re ingesting and the same genes in the trillions of cells composing your body, thus amplifying the effects of eight drops worth of genetic strands. Meanwhile, back in the real world, where scientists know that even if you were able to introduce another copy of an existing gene into our chromosomes just by drinking it, this extra gene couldn’t really do anything since it wouldn’t be spliced into the genome or allowed to be read by the tRNA.

Really, what Homeovitality is selling is classic pseudoscience for which you can whip out your crank checklist and tick off red flag after red flag. Not only do they expect you to get stronger, smarter and to live longer just by taking a swig of raw genes, they also sell this as promoting hybrid vigor. The funny thing is that the writers can and do provide a legitimate definition for this term, specifying that it’s used for selective breeding in agriculture and animals, then turn around and say that drinking their snake oil will promote hybrid vigor in you. Huh?

Are you a product of breeding experiments? Probably not. Will drinking a compote of genes remotely involved in a number of complex processes affecting dozens of other genes suddenly optimize your evolutionary history for the benefit of your health and vitality? I wouldn’t bet on it. But sadly, I know that plenty of people would be more than willing to pay for the benefit of thinking that they’re taking advantage of the latest discoveries in genomics while real personalized medicine, in which treatments are prescribed by genomes, is still a long way away.

# health // alt med / genetic engineering / pseudoscience

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