Before science became mainstream, natural phenomena were explained in terms of things like witchcraft, magic, and miracles. The same thing applied to biology. Animals had “instincts”. The eating instinct, the breathing instinct, the “fill in the blank” instinct. At one time, cells were considered to be little more than bags of protoplasm with the occasional amorphous inclusion body, like the nucleus. Then came along the tools necessary to unlock the secrets of the cell like never before. Slowly but inexorably, protoplasm gave way to a vast complex of intricate organelles and sophisticated macromolecules displaying ever increasing hierarchical levels of complexity and interactions. The cell wasn’t just a bag of enzymes floating around in a sea of saline anymore. There were enzyme complexes that worked together like an assembly line to go through the myriad steps to convert substrate A into product G. There were cables and molecular motors pulling things from point A to point B. There was organization on nanoscale levels. The cell was starting to look more and more like some kind of factory…or perhaps even a city. Suddenly, all of the inventions, machines, and factories man has generated begin to look like just mere extensions of what had already come before. Before man, before animals, perhaps even before the very first animal cell. On the surface, human civilization does appear to be an extension of what came before in a biological sense. However, humans can also be their own worst enemies. Some of them can be jealous and petty to the point of being obstructionist and “destructionist”. If they didn’t create it, think of it, or discover it…watch out! These same kind of people also tend to be charismatic, self-promoting, narcissistic, close-minded, uncompromising, and even ruthless. The quintessential qualities of true “leadership”. Look at the Taliban as an example. They destroyed ancient buddhas created by a civilization not of their own making. Examples of civilizations ground into the dustbin of history by other civilizations abound.
Are practitioners of the scientific method somehow above the fray that plagues other forms of human endeavors? A nice thought, perhaps, but unrealistic. Scientists are afflicted with the same kinds of human frailties as everyone else. They may be trained to “overcome” them to a certain degree, but such training has its limits, especially when confronted with some of the human qualities mentioned earlier. So as with other forms of human endeavors, the steady flow of scientific knowledge has come in halting steps. “Potholes” have been created to stop or divert this flow into a direction more in agreement with current dogma and self-interest. Gasp! Scientists can have self-interests beyond the acquisition of pure knowledge? You bet they can! Publish or perish is one of them. Scientists need to eat and have shelter just like everyone else. In order to get published, one must take the road most traveled. Scientists must follow in the footsteps of those before them, lest the ladder be pulled up before they can reach the end. This tactic rarely leads to discovery. Instead, it is used to “validate”, perpetuate, and further entrench the current dogma of the “masters” who are the gatekeepers for deciding whom may climb the ladder of success. The longer this road is traveled, the deeper the entrenchment becomes until a point is reached where discovery must be filtered, massaged, and manipulated in order to protect the dogma. If it cannot, then, it must be ignored and swept into the dustbin of history, hopefully, never to raise its ugly head ever again. Sounds very much like religion, does it not? The creationists may have a point when they accuse scientists of practicing religion by “believing” in evolution.
So what has all of this got to do with our chromosomes? After all, that is really what this blog is all about. Well, frankly speaking, chromosome structure as stated in the literature hasn’t “evolved” much beyond where it was in the 19th century. It is still considered to be little more than a string of beads (genes) dispersed along a simple rope of chromatin, much like pearls in a necklace. These beads have now been resolved down to the level of DNA and are considered to be super wound coils of protein coated linear DNA. When wound further, they form the physical structure of a metaphase chromosome. In other words, a fully unraveled chromosome minus its protein coat is considered to be nothing more than a single continuous strand of uninterrupted DNA. Simple. Easy to understand, and probably dead wrong. When you observe how cells and their nuclei fall apart under conditions of stress, the results are nothing less than astonishing. All manner of underlying complex substructures begin to unfold, right before your very eyes. Some of them even pulsate and move, guided by some unknown power. Yet none of this is even considered or questioned in terms of how it fits into current theories about chromosome structure. Considering we are now well within the 21st century, this is quite the pothole. Perhaps, more like a gigantic sinkhole or even a black hole. The cardinal sin of scientific inquiry is when you force the data to fit the theory, instead of forcing the theory to fit the data. Chromosomes are anything but simple coiled ropes of DNA. They are factories within factories, working together in much the same manner as the rest of the cell. It’s time to give them the credit for which they are long overdue. You can start by clicking on this link that takes you to photomicrographs where you will see images that are both beautiful and breathtaking in their complexity.