Series Charged with "False Claim" on "Universal Genetic Code"
September 10, 2001
National Desk, Science, TV Review, & Education Writers
Contact: Mark Edwards 206.292.0401 x107 / firstname.lastname@example.org
SEATTLE--Viewers of PBS's upcoming series EVOLUTION [Sept. 24-27] will
be told of the "fact" that all living things share the same genetic
code. They also will be assured that the universality of the genetic
code provides "powerful evidence" that all living things "evolved on
a single tree of life."
What viewers won't be told is that this so-called "fact" is not true.
"The supposed 'fact' of the universal genetic code is based on outdated
science that has been invalidated by more recent research," says biochemist
Michael Behe a Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University
in Pennsylvania and a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow. He is also
author of "Darwin's Black Box".
"Back in the early 1970s, evolutionary biologists did think that a given
piece of DNA specified the same protein subunit in every living thing,
and that the genetic code was thus universal," explains biologist Jonathan
Wells, another Discovery Institute Senior Fellow. "This was unlikely
to have happened by chance, so it was interpreted as evidence that every
organism had inherited its genetic code from a single common ancestor.
In 1979, however, exceptions to the code were found in mitochondria,
the tiny energy factories inside cells. Biologists subsequently found
exceptions in bacteria and in the nuclei of algae and single-celled
"It is now clear that the genetic code is not the same in all living
things, and that it does not provide 'powerful evidence' that all living
things 'evolved on a single tree of life,'" concludes Dr. Wells, who
holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California
at Berkeley. He is author of the new book "Icons of Evolution".
A current listing of exceptions to the genetic code can be found at
"The false claim about the genetic code is only one of many scientific
misstatements, errors, and omissions in the PBS series EVOLUTION," says
Stephen Meyer, director of Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal
of Science and Culture. "We plan to point out many of the series' other
scientific shortcomings during the coming week at a special website
which will premier this Wednesday."
Founded in 1990, Discovery Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan public
policy center for national and international affairs. Its programs deal
with a range of issues, including science, technology, regional development,
environment, and defense. More information about the Institute and its
activities can be found at www.discovery.org.