Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The British Invented DNA!

Today's a lazy day (I'm actually preparing for an interview) so I'm just reposting something from my other blog (when this one was just a twinkle in my eye), which was after watching David Cameron, on the Andrew Marr show, make a pretty bold claim.
Luckily someone has put said clip on youtube.

To give the clip a bit of context, when asked how Britain was going to get out of the economic slump Cameron pointed out we'd do this through innovation (a notion I fully agree with but find odd considering they have frozen funding on science, effectively cutting it over the next few years) and pointed out that we are a nation of inventors "we invented the Jet engine, DNA".
This is quite mind blowing as it means we didn't have DNA until 1953 when Watson (an american who clearly didn't have that much of an impact in Cameron's opinion although the inclusion of Rosalind Franklin would make it 2/3 British). It does raise the question of how genetic information was stored and passed on before 1953 though. Clearly the invention spread quicly and replaced whatever came before as it's pretty damn hard to find any life not using it with the exception of some viruses who decided to stick with RNA
It  make me wonder what went wrong in terms of patenting the invention though?  By now the license would have run out but surely the UK would have made so much money over the first 20 years that we could still be sitting on a mountain of cash? There's always been the controversy of the spin-off RNA inventors (Ochoa and Woese) claiming that DNA is just a rip off of RNA but even so the revenue from DNA should have been sufficient.

Maybe it was the "empire's" parting gift to the world in a "don't say we never gave you anything" gesture? There are some useful features thanks to DNA being invented by the British. Apparently you can tell the age of someone's DNA by using electron micrscopy and finding the picture of the queen, in the style of a stamp, on every chromosome and recognising her age. British geneticists are on a constant state of alert over what to do if Prince Charles were to become King. Many argue that the Elizabeth II chromosomes would gradually be phased out through recombination with Charles chromosomes but the more patriotic scientists feel a complete overhaul would be essential. Obviously the logisitcs of such an endeavour would be mind-boggling, although pioneering work using a virus which can insert and replace the Queen Elizabeth stamp with viral DNA containing an image of Charles has been developed. Phase I clinical trials are currently underway and some claim there are already Prince William vectors just in case.

There are also obvious negatives, which in hindsight makes it clear we were the inventors of DNA. Much like our rail, sewage,road and water systems the British attitude towards maintenance is very poor. We tend to rely on making it great initially and then using it until the whole thing falls apart. This is clearly the case with DNA as well. It works amazingly well but over time the errors start to add up, it may cause the occasional problem, like a mole, but it hardly seems worth spending the time and money on fixing. Then, before you know it, the DNA has gone to hell and you have cancer or some other unfortunate genetic disease. This may be the crux of why the British haven't made so much money from the invention of DNA. We convinced every living thing to use it on the premise it would last forever and it's now clear it wont. The amount of claims for compensation could potentially over-run the nation so maybe we let every living thing use it on the condition there were no returms? At the end of the day there isn't really a better alternative until someone invents a new method of hereditary (some say China may have something in the pipeline). Ironically, the eventual replacement may be binary code in the form of computers and robotics which was invented way back in the 1600s by the German Gottfried Liebniz an invention that was clearly several centuries ahead of its time.

All in all, I'd have to say it makes me proud to be British. Where would the world be without DNA? It inspires me to keep working in research, as maybe I'll "invent" something too. Let's not forget it's not the only essential thing the British have invented. Just as important, but with far reaching effects across the entire universe, was Newton's invention of Gravity in 1687. While most of us take it for granted now, it's hard to imagine how everyone got by witout it prior to its invention. Life on earth and the universe owes the British bad style!

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