|Posted on August 21, 2015 at 10:50 AM|
AS THE old saying goes, it's good to have an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out. This week we report claims about the way that DNA behaves that are so astonishing that many minds have already snapped shut.
The experiments (see "Scorn over claim of teleported DNA") make three claims that will stretch most people's credulity:
under certain conditions, DNA can project copies of itself onto electromagnetic waves
these same waves can be picked up by pure water and, through quantum effects, create a "nanostructure" in the shape of the original DNA
if enzymes which replicate DNA are present in a "receiving" solution, they can recreate the original DNA from the teleported "nanostructure", as if DNA was really there
This scenario inevitably conjures up echoes of the "water memory" experiments in 1988 by the late Jacques Benveniste (New Scientist, 14 July 1988, p 39).
Back then, Benveniste reported that antibodies could leave a ghostly "memory" in water that made the water behave as if the antibodies were still there, even in solutions so dilute that no antibody molecules were left. Eventually, his findings were dismissed, as was he.
The main researcher behind the new DNA experiments is a recent Nobel prizewinner, Luc Montagnier.
But science should be no respecter of persons, and the researchers we contacted for comment rightly said his results should be ignored unless and until they have been repeated by independent groups. Nobel laureates are not immune from eccentric beliefs. Others believe in telepathy, have communed with fluorescent raccoons, and championed vitamin C as a cure for cancer.
There is also, not surprisingly, suspicion that Montagnier has been misled by contamination - a problem that has so far stymied the hunt for Jurassic DNA and for traces of life in Martian meteorites. Many other experiments have been wrecked by contamination with "impostor" cells.
Given such reasons for doubt, and the hard-to-believe explanations being put forward to account for the claimed effects, should we be reporting Montagnier's work at all? We decided to go ahead because any bona fide experimental result is worthy of scrutiny, and the claims are nothing if not interesting.
What's more, the latest paper follows earlier work by Montagnier. Given the remarkable implications of the claims and the relative simplicity of the experiments, other groups will almost certainly take a look and attempt to repeat Montagnier's results.
As one researcher told us:
"Twenty labs could do this within three months, so we'll soon know whether it's real."
Like many of the researchers we contacted for comment, we won't believe it till someone repeats it. But we do think they should try.
As with cold fusion in 1989, heretical findings with far-reaching implications are sometimes worth investigating, even if the chances that there is something to it all are remote. Back then it was harnessing the power of the sun in a test tube; in this case, our picture of infection might need a fundamental overhaul.
It shouldn't take long to find out whether DNA teleportation is mad or miraculous.
Either way, it's important to find out.
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