DNA May Not Be the Blueprint for Life – Just a Scrambled List of Ingredients

DNA Genetics Concept

DNA may not be life’s instruction book, but just a jumbled list of ingredients.

University of Maryland researcher develops potentially revolutionary framework for heredity and evolution in which inheritable information is stored outside the genome.

The common view of heredity is that all information passed down from one generation to the next is stored in an organism’s DNA. But Antony Jose, associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland, disagrees.

In two new papers, Jose argues that DNA is just the ingredient list, not the set of instructions used to build and maintain a living organism. The instructions, he says, are much more complicated, and they’re stored in the molecules that regulate a cell’s DNA and other functioning systems.

Jose outlined a new theoretical framework for heredity, which was developed through 20 years of research on genetics and epigenetics, in peer-reviewed papers in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and the journal BioEssays. Both papers were published on April 22, 2020.

Jose’s argument suggests that scientists may be overlooking important avenues for studying and treating hereditary diseases, and current beliefs about evolution may be overly focused on the role of the genome, which contains all of an organism’s DNA.

“DNA cannot be seen as the ‘blueprint’ for life,” Jose said. “It is at best an overlapping and potentially scrambled list of ingredients that is used differently by different cells at different times.”

For example, the gene for eye color exists in every cell of the body, but the process that produces the protein for eye color only occurs during a specific stage of development and only in the cells that constitute the colored portion of the eyes. That information is not stored in the DNA.

In addition, scientists are unable to determine the complex shape of an organ such as an eye, or that a creature will have eyes at all, by reading the creature’s DNA. These fundamental aspects of anatomy are dictated by something outside of the DNA.

Jose argues that these aspects of development, which enable a fertilized egg to grow from a single cell into a complex organism, must be seen as an integral part of heredity. Jose’s new framework recasts heredity as a complex, networked information system in which all the regulatory molecules that help the cell to function can constitute a store of hereditary information.

Michael Levin, a professor of biology and director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology and the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, believes Jose’s approach could help answer many questions not addressed by the current genome-centric view of biology. Levin was not involved with either of the published papers.

“Understanding the transmission, storage, and encoding of biological information is a critical goal, not only for basic science but also for transformative advances in regenerative medicine,” Levin said. “In these two papers, Antony Jose masterfully applies a computer science approach to provide an overview and a quantitative analysis of possible molecular dynamics that could serve as a medium for heritable information.”

Jose proposes that instructions not coded in the DNA are contained in the arrangement of the molecules within cells and their interactions with one another. This arrangement of molecules is preserved and passed down from one generation to the next.

In his papers, Jose’s framework recasts inheritance as the combined effects of three components: entities, sensors, and properties.

Entities include the genome and all the other molecules within a cell that are needed to build an organism. Entities can change over time, but they are recreated with their original structure, arrangement, and interactions at the start of each generation.

“That aspect of heredity, that the arrangement of molecules is similar across generations, is deeply underappreciated, and it leads to all sorts of misunderstandings of how heredity works,” Jose said.

Sensors are specific entities that interact with and respond to other entities or to their environment. Sensors respond to certain properties, such as the arrangement of a molecule, its concentration in the cell or its proximity to another molecule.

Together, entities, sensors, and properties enable a living organism to sense or ‘know’ things about itself and its environment. Some of this knowledge is used along with the genome in every generation to build an organism.

“This framework is built on years of experimental research in many labs, including ours, on epigenetics and multi-generational gene silencing combined with our growing interest in theoretical biology,” Jose said. “Given how two people who contract the same disease do not necessarily show the same symptoms, we really need to understand all the places where two people can be different—not just their genomes.”

The folly of maintaining a genome-centric view of heredity, according to Jose, is that scientists may be missing opportunities to combat heritable diseases and to understand the secrets of evolution.

In medicine, for instance, research into why hereditary diseases affect individuals differently focuses on genetic differences and on chemical or physical differences in entities. But this new framework suggests researchers should be looking for non-genetic differences in the cells of individuals with hereditary diseases, such as the arrangement of molecules and their interactions. Scientists don’t currently have methods to measure some of these things, so this work points to potentially important new avenues for research.

In evolution, Jose’s framework suggests that organisms could evolve through changes in the arrangement of molecules without changes in their DNA sequence. And in conservation science, this work suggests that attempts to preserve endangered species through DNA banks alone are missing critical information stored in non-DNA molecules.

Jose acknowledged that there will be much debate about these ideas, and experiments are needed to test his hypotheses. But, he said, preliminary feedback from scientists like Levin and other colleagues has been positive.

“Antony Jose’s generalization of memory and encoding via the entity-sensor-property framework sheds novel insights into evolution and biological complexity and suggests important revisions to existing paradigms in genetics, epigenetics and development,” Levin said.


“A framework for parsing heritable information” by Antony M. Jose, 22 April 2020, Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2020.0154

“Heritable Epigenetic Changes Alter Transgenerational Waveforms Maintained by Cycling Stores of Information” by Antony M. Jose, 22 April 2020, BioEssays.
DOI: 10.1002/bies.201900254

Research in Antony Jose’s laboratory is supported by the National Institutes of Health (Award Nos. R01GM111457 and R01GM124356). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the view of this organization.

4 Comments on "DNA May Not Be the Blueprint for Life – Just a Scrambled List of Ingredients"

  1. “Beings of Light are we…not this fleshy substance” -Yoda, and other “enlightened” folks through time.
    A substantial amount of credible modern scientific research has been done on this subject. It is ignored by “mainstream” folks, who make money off selling you pharmies, the biggest and post profitable industry in the world.

    The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life -Robert Becker: he explains research from the 1970s that demonstrates a pulsed DC signal that travels along the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve cells and regulates growth, and after studying this in how some lizards can regenerate limbs or tails that are cut off, he induced the same pulsed DC signals in frogs with amputated limbs, and they also regenerated.

    The Infinite Mind -Valerie V. Hunt: she did substantial research in the late 1970s and 1980s on the human bio-electric field (a.k.a. “Aura”) and in the early 1990s, with the help and funding from the US-NIMH, built “rooms” that blocked the Earth’s electromagnetic field, in which were computer-controlled sensors that could “read” a person’s Aura (providing data that directly corresponded with reports from people who claimed to be “Auric Healers” who could “see” and “manipulate” the Auras of others, in real-time, as they were doing their “healing”) and then powerful electromagnets in the room, also computer controlled, could manipulate the Auras of the “patient” in said room and “cure” them. Technology that was “quietly forgotten”, yet is in the hands of government. (remember the Star Trek movie in which the humans create the “Genesis” project that can transform a barren planet into a living biosphere? – it was considered a weapon by the non-humans. In his book “Behold a Pale Horse,” former U.S. Navy Intelligence Debriefing Officer William Cooper says that the US-NIMH [and all gov’ment agencies located in Bethesda, MD for that matter] is just an extension of the old “MK-Ultra” project that aims to control the human mind and human condition for “espionage” purposes.) [both of these books were published in the early 1990s]

  2. B W Oelofsen | May 23, 2020 at 1:12 pm | Reply

    This tie in with the concept in quantum mechanics that all “material” is concious. This universal conciousness permeates everything and bear the blueprint of “everything” in the world we experience. In some way it echoes the “resonance” idea of Richard Sheldrake in “The Science Delution”

  3. Elias Mulenga | May 24, 2020 at 3:19 am | Reply

    I am no scientist but I follow scientific developments. I hold the view that, looking at the quantum particles, every particle has a distinct behavior and responds in a distinct fashion to specific stimuli, and there lies consciousness of particles. Consciousness is information to begin with, and DNA is a collection of information of of particles relevant to life. DNA stores this information in a complex fashion about how to assemble particles into complex molecules which are building blocks for life. DNA contains central information, but to build life, the information must also exist in the particles that respond to DNA instructions to fashion complex melecules that form life.

    DNA contains all the information about the particles that are relevant for life and environment in which life should exist. DNA fashions life forms in resonance with the prevailing environmental conditions. Environmental changes trigger activation of certain parts of the DNA which appear dormant, which in turn trigger changes assembly line of molecules necessary to thrive in the changing environmental condition.. Such changes are what we call evolution. The secrets of DNA are coded in the DNA, specifically in the genes that appear to be dormant currently. Environmental changes triggers some genes on and triggers others off, depending on the environmental stimuli.

  4. Jason Morgan | May 25, 2020 at 6:34 am | Reply

    UGH, this is why I stop reading after the MORE ON SCITECHDAILY links.

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