Symposium Brings Legends in DNA Research to State
Dr. Jay R. Stein, THE JOURNAL RECORD
Because of a tiny double spiral ladder discovered by scientists James Watson and Francis Crick in a laboratory in 1953, prosecutors in Los Angeles in the next few months hope to prove that a world-famous football star did indeed murder his ex-wife and her friend.
Because of discovery of that spiral ladder, or double helix, physicians can replace flawed genes with healthy ones in human cells and correct horrible diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and some cancers.
That double helix _ the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA _ has propelled scientific advancement into "fast forward," as my colleague Dr. Fred Silva would say.
DNA is part of just about everybody's vocabulary nowadays. Consider the runaway movie hit "Jurassic Park," where scientists used ancient DNA to create real live dinosaurs. What would Watson and Crick think of that?
On March 2, students and scientists statewide will have the opportunity to hear Watson lecture at the Civic Center Music Hall, along with seven other internationally renowned specialists in the new molecular biology. This is equivalent to hearing Benjamin Franklin discuss electricity, Albert Einstein explain his relativity theory or the Wright brothers expound on aerodynamics.
Bringing the celebrities of the genetic science world to Oklahoma City for a symposium is Presbyterian Health Foundation's way of celebrating its 10th anniversary. The foundation invests millions of dollars each year in scientific research projects in Oklahoma, with the grand total more than $35 million for its first 10 years.
Silva, chairman of the Pathology Department at the OU Health Sciences Center, is a frequent lecturer on molecular biology and has spent a lot of time helping to plan the symposium. The March meeting not only will address the fabulous opportunities made possible by the new biology, but also the challenges and responsibilities that go with it, he said.
"DNA is the vast and ancient script in every one of the cells in our body which contain a nucleus. The reason DNA is the ultimate biologic identifier is that, just as your mother told you, you are unique," he said. "There has never been, nor will ever be, a person on this planet with your same DNA unless you have an identical twin."
Moreover, the DNA in every one of your cells is the same, and remains relatively stable throughout your lifetime.
The new biology presents three major challenges. First, who will have this most intimate personal information about us, and what will it be used for?
"A lot of people would love to have your DNA on file because it may tell what diseases you are predisposed to," Silva said. "That has profound implications in jobs, education and insurance."
Second, as we manipulate more and more genes, at what point do we stop modifying people with biotechnology?
"What we're talking about here is options for humankind," said Silva. "We can continue to see our loved ones die terrible, painful deaths or we can try and choose to prevent that."
Third, this biotechnology challenges our self-understanding. By decoding the entire DNA structure of humans and lots of other organisms, our history will be revealed.
"We will see that we have a common chemistry and heritage with all other life forms on this planet," he said. "It's kind of interesting that western science _ that is, molecular biology _ has discovered that eastern philosophy _ the inexorable intertwining of life on this planet _ is right. …