Beam me up, Mr DNA

By Miguel Ramirez

A behind the scenes look for a clash between two renowned researchers, with fringe science.

Science is amazing, as you probably believe if you’re reading this. Science history, everything that is set in the textbooks, can be even more amazing. Let this humble post be a little insight into educational systems. Please give some time as students to read about Science history. Why? Because Science is made by people, and people are flawed, or at least not a simple computer instruction that always gives you the same output. Here’s one story, about onescientist, and the scientific method.

Luc Montagnier (1932) is definitely not just an average person. He received, along with Barré-Sinoussi, half of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of HIV. Well, the story of HIV discovery probably deserves a post of its own, but here’s basic outline. Montagnier’s team in the Pasteur Institute (Paris) discovered in 1983 what would be known as HIV (by then, Lymphadenopathy Associated Virus, LAV). The next year, Robert Gallo established the casual relationship between AIDS and the Human T-Lymphotropic Viruses (HTLV). Both published results were about the same virus, which led to a scientific struggle, culminating in political intervention. Montagnier and Gallo buried the hatchet years ago, but the latter was not awarded with the Nobel Prize.

At this point it is important to look at the big picture. One may consider that such a discovery is enough for an impressive CV, but Montagnier kept working inscience once the HIV controversy was over. And sometimes, restless minds may face troubles. This is what happened to Montagnier in 2011.

It is not unusual that laureate scientists get media attention for unrelated and even polemical activities. Kary Mullis is a textbook example of this. If you have worked in molecular biology, you probably should be very thankful to Dr Mullis for developing the PCR protocol. What you may not know is that Mullis, after being awarded in 1993, has supported both AIDS and climate change denialism. Mullis, definitely an enfant terrible, does not believe in the current grant and funding scientific system, whiles promotes UFO searching and astrology.

Turn your scientific point of view off now. Montagnier maintains that DNA can project electromagnetic signatures able of leaving some sort of imprinting in fluids. Things get weird when this imprinting can, in presence of enzymes and nucleotids, act as a mould for generating a new DNA chain. For this research, he isolated two vials with water, with only one of them containing DNA. The vials were put into a faraday cage, for protecting against possible uncontrolled forces. If you read about pseudoscience you know that everything inevitability leads to electromagnetism. After a DNA replication assay, both vials contained genetic material. Yes, the empty tube, what would be the negative control of your PCR assay, contained also DNA. The enzymes use these ghostly echoes as a DNA template.

“DNA teleportation”. That was how some brave (yet sceptic) newspaper called it. Actually, this would not be mere teleportation Star Trek-style. This is more about distant duplication. Like in that movie starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale (and no more details, spoilers). The aim of his research is giving insights into viral and bacterial infections, but media eventually linked it to the enemy. One of the most infamous and potentially dangerous trends of the modern world: homeopathy. Because it’s rather easy to find similarities between the protocols Montagnier uses and the ones homeopathy has, the supporters of the latter often cite Montagnier’s last lectures.

And it gets worse. Unfortunately for Montagnier, his other recent works have only fuelled the mocks against this research. Two years earlier, in 2009, he had announced the detection of this presumed electromagnetic signals coming from bacterial DNA. The article, “Electromagnetic Signals Are Produced by Aqueous Nanostructures Derived from Bacterial DNA Sequences” was published in “Interdisciplinary Sciences: Computational Life Sciences”. This journal, founded the same year under Springer, seems just another peer-reviewed scientific journal. Detractors of Montagnier needed little effort for finding his name under the chairman of the Editorial Board. A role that hestill holds today.

“Why, Montagnier?” many people ask. Well, the example of the negative control has not been random. Montagnier discusses several possible outputs for this discovery, mainly about improving viral and bacterial detection. The most immediate consequence, however, is that you cannot trust your PCR assays anymore.

Remember who created the PCR protocol? Yes, Karry Mullis. And if you remember what you just read, Dr Mullis is a member of the AIDS denialist community, as you already know. Of course, his claims include that Montagnier´s Nobel prize is a fraud.

The circle is closed.

*If you are asking yourself, the title nods to one of the most popular, yet misquoted, phrases of Star Trek

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