SIXTY YEARS OF A DNA WORLD VIEW

The passage of 60 years since James Watson and Francis Crick published their paper in Nature describing the double helical structure of the DNA molecule. It unleashed a genomic worldview and led to the central dogma of genetics and biology, the linear flow of cellular information from DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) to RNA (ribonucleic acid) to protein within cells, which seemed elegant in its simplicity, captured the imagination of many and is by now enshrined in science. Ever since, largely through miscommunication by many parties, “there is a gene for condition xyz” has been taken to mean, “the gene causes xyz and the gene alone causes it.” This idea has trapped the general thinking on genetics in numerous ways, building an edifice for a molecule that supposedly unzips all by itself, self-replicates, has the blueprint for all the components of a single cell and organism, causes all diseases and defines all characteristics. Its power and hold are strong also because the idea and its implications fit like a glove within culturally inscribed, fatalistic beliefs of all hues and shades in different societies.

The strength of this acceptance is so extreme that these days it is quite normal to hear people refer to some of the deeply engrained practices within an organisation, in a business, or even in a community, having nothing to do with genes, as being “in their DNA.” Nevertheless, this popular notion of DNA being the central and the only player in cellular and genetic information is quite flawed and scientists have known this for a long time even as new evidence continues to mount opposing the perception of DNA as the master molecule. It is also no longer a simplistic genes vs environment argument, nor do genes provide a map or blueprint that is merely set off one way or another or slightly modified by the environment; indeed “what is a gene?” is a hotly debated and unsettled question in science. China’s First ‘Blue Book’ on India Sees a Govt. in ‘Serious Crisis’ The first ever ‘blue book’ on India released in China by a prominent official Beijing publisher has portrayed a government in “serious crisis,” but expressed the belief that India would likely emerge as a stronger country by conquering its current obstacles.

DNA Chinese think tanks release ‘blue books’ every year on a number of issues. While not representing the government’s view, the books are put together by official think tanks and the projects are understood to be given tacit backing by the government. The first ever blue book on India was released by the Social Sciences Academy Press, detailing political, economic, foreign policy and defence issues for the year 2011-12. The book runs into more than 300 pages, and was compiled by Yunnan University, which has one of China’s biggest South Asia programmes. According to a brief summary, the book sees India as weighed down by a number of crises — particularly corruption scandals — but also details India’s rising military strength, which it sees as being partly directed at China. It ultimately expresses the optimistic view that India would emerge stronger from the current period of difficulty. “The Chinese saying which says ‘many difficulties can make a country prosperous’ reflects India’s problems and hope,” the book concludes.

The book, however, sees India today as a country beset with numerous challenges, saying the current Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was facing its most serious crisis since it came to power in 2009. It pointed to frequent corruption scandals, divisions within the UPA and public anger at the economic situation as leaving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government with a tarnished image amid declining public trust. It saw the year 2011-12, which the report covers, as among the worst since India’s “remarkable achievements” after reforms in 1991. The book estimates that by 2030, India’s population will exceed that of China’s. On the foreign policy front, the blue book notes that India has focused on boosting relations with its neighbours in South Asia, pushed forward peace with Pakistan and developed strategic relations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal — countries with which China has also recently deepened economic ties. It sees the United States “pivot” to Asia and strengthening of alliances in the region — viewed by most analysts in China as being directed to “contain” Beijing — as accelerating India’s “Look East” policy, observing that India’s defence cooperation with the U.S., Japan, Vietnam and Australia has warmed.