Navigating the agricultural biotech minefield: When an MIT study is not an MIT study

| May 6, 2013 |
Applying glyphosate to clear grasses. (Credit: Flickr/MyFWC Research) Applying glyphosate to clear grasses. (Credit: Flickr/MyFWC Research)

Despite what you have read on the Internet, an MIT study has not shown that glyphosate, the herbicide used in conjunction with Monsanto’s line of Roundup Ready genetically modified seeds, is behind “most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet,” including “gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Last week, an overly credulous Reuters article summarizing a study by non-experts in a “pay for play” journal with no credibility among scientists quickly spread around the web, under headlines that almost invariably cited “an MIT study” and linked the herbicide and the biotech plants it is used with to a litany of diseases and disorders. Respected science journalists Keith Kloor and Paul Raeburn have written thorough take downs of the paper and Reuters article in question. In short: It’s not a study (no data is presented); the “MIT” comes from the fact that one of the researchers happens to be affiliated with the university in a way that has nothing to do with genetics or chemistry;  and shame on Reuters for propagating such sketchy journalism masquerading as “science.”

I should be used to credulous journalism and suspicious science; as someone with a background in evolutionary biology, I know the tactic of taking ideology, trussing it up like proper science by placing questionable articles in questionable journals and brandishing science-like jargon and parading it across the cultural stage—the folks behind Intelligent Design have been doing this for ages. Yet here I am, M.S. in science writing from MIT itself,  having been taken in—at least momentarily—by the shoddy work of two people who have at best produced a terrible effort at science and at worst an ideology-driven bit of scaremongering dressed up in science’s clothes.

I’m here not to trash the uncritical coverage or the paper itself but to offer some perspective on navigating the intellectual landscape of agricultural biotechnology which is full of well-hidden mines just like this one, primed to explode on well-meaning, intelligent, educated—and trusting—laypeople. I’m here to admit how difficult it can be, even for people with relevant training, to invest the time and mental energy required to calibrate their bullshit detectors. All the same, it is possible and necessary to separate science from pseudoscience. I want to walk you through my own process of evaluating the paper—not from a position of authority but from that of an educated person trying to muddle through.

Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus and current member of the MIT graduate program in science faculty, offered his comments about the fiasco via email: “Anytime a study is claiming to have discovered the reason for a literal grab bag of diseases—in this case, everything from IBD and ADHD to autism and Alzheimer’s—huge, blaring alarm bells should go off. These are dramatically different diseases; presuming to find one cause doesn’t just stretch the imagination, it sounds insane.” Mnookin was one of several people who blasted Michael Pollan on Twitter for sharing a link to the Reuters report.

This is bullshit detection 101: If someone claims they’ve figured out everything that’s wrong with American politics and it’s all because there was a second shooter at JFK’s assassination, you would rightfully give them a sidelong look.

When alarm bells fire, it’s time to dig. Even if you lack formal scientific training, it’s good practice to call up a copy of the paper if you can (here’s the one we’re talking about). The abstract is almost always readable, and you can find out who the authors are and what sources they cite.

At a quick glance, this paper gives the impression of being a proper piece of scientific writing. It’s in what sounds like a reputable journal, Entropy, and formatted like other academic papers, with an interminable list of citations. You might laugh at the idea of being tricked by formatting, but the human brain is particularly good at recognizing patterns, and conscious or not we’re influenced by how “official” a document looks. Why else would a resume in comic sans evoke laughter?

However, from the first page, the report is riddled with danger signs. The two people listed as authors are an “independent scientist and consultant” and a member of MIT’s computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory – neither is a geneticist or biochemist or biologist or botanist or nutritionist or anything else that might lend them expertise in the matter of glyphosate’s effects on human health.

By the second page, despite those 280-odd citations, the authors have made a major claim without citing any evidence: “Research indicates that the new RNA and DNA present in genetically engineered plants … have not yet fully understood biological effects.” Given the impressive literature that exists documenting the safety of genetically engineered plants, it seems rather glib to hinge your entire argument on a premise without providing a single piece of supporting evidence. In fact, the biological effects of new RNA and DNA in genetically engineered plants has been widely studies in dozens of articles. With a few controversial exceptions, the overwhelming consensus of mainstream geneticists and major international science bodies is that the biological impacts of genetically modified crops are benign and GE foods are safe for human consumption.

The authors ignore 98% of the studies to focus on a single discredited one. The authors cite the now-infamous work of French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini, whose deeply flawed study linking Roundup to cancer in rats has been roundly rejected by the scientific community. Not good.

The paper doesn’t get any better. The authors jump from unsupported conclusion to unsupported conclusion and from one disorder to another, daisy-chaining the supposed deleterious effects of glyphosate on our gut bacteria as a facile explanation for colitis and autism and obesity. At no point do they perform any original experiments or provide any direct evidence of the links between the various rungs in their daisy-chain of doom – it’s all couched in far-fetched plausibility-as-evidence.

Anyone with a clear head can tell you that just because something is remotely possible does not make it so. This entire paper is simply 30 pages of long-shot arguments for the plausibility of a too-bad-to-be-true story using the world’s most notorious herbicide to explain every ailment under the sun.

Even worse, they wave away all of the evidence of safety accumulated over glyphosate’s 30 years of use. It’s extensively tested and is known to be one of the mildest herbicides used in agriculture today—as much as 100 times less toxic than many commonly used agricultural chemicals. It is widely used for agriculture, horticulture, and silviculture purposes, as well as garden maintenance (including home use). The EPA considers glyphosate to be noncarcinogenic and relatively low in toxicity. It does not bioaccumulate and breaks down rapidly in the environment.

There are other factors pointed out to me by Mnookin, Kloor and Raeburn—including the fact that the journal Entropy requires authors to pay for publication, much like the vanity presses that churn out terrible books for the sake of author’s egos and a quick buck.

The fact remains that it took a few hours—and the help of more experienced journalists—for me to fully grasp the massive scale of flaws in this study; simple baseline skepticism wasn’t enough. That’s a huge amount of time that few people have at their disposal (especially folks who are not getting paid to look into these things).

Unfortunately, this is the state of affairs surrounding the trumped-up, histrionic and admittedly exhausting debate around the health and safety of genetic modification and agricultural biotechnology—it’s as rife with pseudoscience and misleading wooly-headed nonsense as discussions over Intelligent Design and the alleged dangers of vaccines (pet pseudosciences of the right and left, respectively). If you want to be involved in the discussion, or even just want to make informed decisions, though, wading through this mess is the price of entry.

Kenrick Vezina is Senior Editor for the Genetic Literacy Project and a freelance writer and educator based in the Greater Boston area.

  • dogctor

    I certainly acknowledge that this paper didn’t come from traditional scientists in biochemistry/ medicine, and is published via unconventional channels, but it still deserves a scientific evaluation.

    “The fact remains that it took a few hours—and the help of more experienced journalists”
    The fact remains that neither you, nor any journalist, have the biochemistry and medical clinical skills needed to comprehend a 40 page biochemistry paper citing 286 references on glyphosate’s effects in medicine. The easiest way to tell that is the absence of a single scientific citation referring to any specific substantive points discussed in the paper itself.

    A credible opinion I would take seriously would be from an independent internal medicine doctor educated in biochemistry, who writes a specific scientific analysis of the body of science in the paper, discrediting it point by point.

    Until such an opinion is written, this piece of journalism is just more of the same- a smear campaign and an attack on credibility of the source, known as an ad hominem, written by people who are scientifically unqualified to offer an educated opinion..

    • disconsolatechimera

      Did you read this entire article? Because this author does actually specifically and logically go through the entire paper and explain why the study’s authors’ conclusions are so questionable from a scientific standpoint. Anyone with any kind of science background would accept this article as a much more credible critique of the paper than the Reuters article.

  • dogctor

    Censorship! how very nice…glad to have thought of capturing the image of my very long scientific and thus censored response.

    Rename the article: When you can’t argue science: the Illiteracy project

    ROFLMAO. Can’t wait to share :)

  • http://wildernessvagabonds.com/ Mike Lewinski

    I wish I knew a way to get people to *want* to make more informed decisions. So often ideology drives cognitive biases that ensure no contrary information can ever be given a fair hearing.

    The best resource I know of for serious thinkers is the Less Wrong wiki’s sequence “How to actually change your mind”. This week I’m on the article “Update Yourself Incrementally”.

    It does appear to me after inquiry that virtually every argument about health effects of GMO foods is suspect. There probably are other good arguments against some GMO implementations, and I plan to attend a local March Against Monsanto rally this weekend. But I don’t go with anger that Monsanto is somehow poisoning us, or at this point even that they’re wrecking the environment more than any other big chemical company. I don’t think they want to enslave humanity by controlling the food supply, but I do have concerns about some of their business practices and lobbying activities.

    I’d prefer we had the ability to do more polycultures. Fields of the same thing are economically efficient, but they are just asking for natural selection to fill the ecological vacuum they create. I also don’t know that alternative agriculture can feed the world to the same degree conventional can. I’m not sure anyone knows it because it hasn’t been tried large scale using more modern technologies. I believe GMO probably has a place in a more sustainable agricultural system and can’t reject it out of hand, as I did when I was younger.

  • Gérard Escher

    There is at least one criticism of the paper that is unfair : that the authors paid for publication, implying that therefore the paper is a crummy vanity paper.

    All open access journals practice this; someone has to pay for the publication, it is either us, the public or it is the author (or more probably the author’s research grant or the author’s institution).

    The journal Entropy where the paper was published seems to be a bona fide scientific journal, it is open access, it is peer-reviewed, it is indexed in the main scientific databases. It has a modest impact factor, but this can be due to the type of research published (theoretical and modelling vs experimental).

    • Mihai Danila

      There is one additional irrelevant statement: that glyphosate is less toxic than other chemicals. The issue here is whether glyphosate can damage. It stands to reason that, when we step away from our nature-evolved environment and expose ourselves to man-made chemicals (or man-made dosage of nature-made chemicals), we will pay a price. But Americans need more time to figure this out. They think they can step away from our biology, and they have already made the world pay for this belief.

  • Tom

    A bit late perhaps but here’s my contribution to debunking a tiny fraction (a single sentence) of the Entropy paper. I originally posted this on the Biofortified forum (http://www.biofortified.org/community/forum/genetic-engineering-group3/is-it-safe-forum27/samsels-and-seneffs-paper-in-entropy-thread340/ ).

    The sentence in question (page 5 of the study) reads:

    “Pseudomonas spp. is an opportunistic pathogen and an antibiotic-resistant Gram-negative bacterium that has been shown to be able to break down glyphosate to produce usable phosphate and carbon for amino acid synthesis, but a toxic by-product of the reaction is formaldehyde [37], which is neurotoxic, and low levels of formaldehyde can induce amyloid-like misfolding of tau protein in neurons, forming protein aggregates similar to those observed in association with Alzheimer’s disease [38].”

    The two references cited by S & S are:

    37. Shinabarger, D.L.; Braymer, H.D. Glyphosate catabolism by Pseudomonas sp. strain PG2982. J. Bacteriol. 1986 , 168, 702–707. (freely available here http://jb.asm.org/content/168/2/702.full.pdf )

    38. Nie, C.L.; Wang, X.S.; Liu, Y.; Perrett, S.; He, R.Q. Amyloid-like aggregates of neuronal tau induced by formaldehyde promote apoptosis of neuronal cells. BMC Neurosci. 2007, 8, 9. (freely available here http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2202/8/9/ )

    Ok. This sentence contains two main statements. (1) Pseudomonas bacteria produce formaldehyde as a byproduct of glyphosate catabolism. (2) Formaldehyde can induce tau protein aggregation in neurons reminiscent of Alzheimer’s disease. Both statements are true. But when you put them together in the same sentence, the authors are implying that glyphosate catabolism by soil-living Pseudomonas bacteria cause toxic formaldehyde emissions that may cause Alzheimer’s disease in farmers or others in the vicinity of a glyphosate-sprayed field. They don’t spell it out but you can bet that the non-specialist reader will. Now that would require some serious long-term safety studies, eh?

    As it happens my field of expertise is microbial metabolism, which is why this sentence stood out. Let’s have a closer look at just how Pseudomanas degrades glyphosate. According to the cited paper by Shinaberger & Braymer, Pseodomonas sp. PG2982 first cleaves the C-P bond of glyphosate producing phosphate and sarcosine – also known as N-methylglycine. This reaction is carried out by the enzyme C-P lyase, which was eventually cloned by Selvapandiyan and Bhatnagar (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01577437 ). The phosphate group gets assimilated as-is. That leaves the sarcosine molecule. If you demethylate its amine group you get glycine, which is one the 20 standard amino acids common to all living organisms. If necessary, glycine can be further metabolized to give glyoxylate (which can be assimilated as a carbon source) and ammonia (which is the starting point for nitrogen assimilation). This is where formaldehyde (HCHO) enters the picture. The enzyme that demethylates sarcosine to produce glycine is called sarcosine oxidase (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15922624 ). The methyl group (CH3) which is removed from the amine group of sarcosine gets converted into formaldehyde. So there’s the formaldehyde ready to give you Alzheimer’s! But it doesn’t end there. Formaldehyde is a very reactive molecule and therefore very toxic. A Pseudomonas bacterium chewing away on glyphosate would die very quickly if it allowed the concentration of formaldehyde to build up. So what does it do? Turns out that Pseudomonas bacteria have ways to detoxify formaldehyde (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2687156/ ). The majority of cells (bacterial, animal etc) will convert formaldehyde to the much less toxic formic acid (HCOOH). Formic acid can then either be turned into carbon dioxide (which is what our cells do) or assimilated as a source of carbon or energy (which is what many microbes do).

    So, a field newly sprayed with glyphosate will NOT emit any significant amounts of formaldehyde. And even if it did, the formaldehyde molecule is so reactive that it would react with other compounds in the soil and not escape into the air.

    End of story? Not quite. Here’s the final point that emphasizes the intellectual dishonesty of that single sentence in the S & S paper – HUMAN CELLS ALSO PRODUCE FORMALDEHYDE BY DEMETHYLATING SARCOSINE INTO GLYCINE USING THE SAME ENZYME! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcosine_dehydrogenase ) That’s right. Our own cells are producing formaldehyde constantly. So why haven’t we all got Alzheimer’s yet? Because, just like Pseudomonas, our cells are able to detoxify formaldehyde. First the formaldehyde molecule reacts spontaneously with glutathione to produce S-formylglutathione. The enzyme S-formylglutathione hydrolase then cleaves off the former formaldehyde molecule but now in the form of formic acid. Finally formate dehydrogenase converts the formic acid into carbon dioxide and that’s it.

    So much disinformation in one pesky little sentence and so much specialist knowledge required to debunk it. Imagine how much there must be in the entire thing…

    • Kenrick

      Tom, a bit late but EXTREMELY thorough. I am impressed. And it’s always nice to have someone with the relevant expertise step in and share it — much obliged.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdLrXPnp0zs Menachem Mevashir

      I asked Dr. Seneff about this comment and she gave me permission to post her response here:

      —–Original Message—–

      From: Stephanie Seneff
      To: Menachem Mevashir
      Cc: info
      Sent: Thu, Mar 13, 2014 12:20 pm
      Subject: Re: article that attacks your credibility and credentials

      I don’t think he actually debunked what I wrote. He confirmed that what I said was true, actually!

      Formaldehyde can indeed be detoxified in the body, if it’s healthy. But formaldehyde detoxification requires glutathione (he said so himself) and glutathione requires methionine for its synthesis (methhionine -> cysteine -> glutathione). Studies have shown that glyphosate depletes glutathione in the liver. I should have added another sentence:

      “Detoxification of formaldehyde requires glutathione, which has been shown to be depleted by glyphosate in the liver (ref), as would be expected given that glyphosate depletes methionine (ref).”

      Stephanie

      Stephanie Seneff
      Senior Research Scientist
      MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

      • Tom

        Well, then I would like to see those references that show how glyphosate depletes both glutathione and methionine in the liver and specifically how much.

        • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdLrXPnp0zs Menachem Mevashir

          Can’t you write to her yourself? If you cannot cope with a simple email address, how can you profess to be an expert in biochemistry?

          • Tom

            I have a BSc and PhD that says I am an expert in biochemistry, which is more than I can say for Dr Seneff. I have better things to do (i.e. real science) than waste my time arguing with charlatans. Why don’t you spend some of your own precious time looking into her long and distinguished career in toxicology and epidemiology? Show me some of her original research in the field rather than laughable reviews in predatory pay-to-publish journals with cherry-picked data to fit her conspiracy theories. Or even better, get your own degree in biochemistry so you can fully understand the dishonesty in her work.

          • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdLrXPnp0zs Menachem Mevashir

            The greatest scientific breakthroughs always came from outsiders and mavericks. Only they are unencumbered by the prejudice and arrogance evinced in your comment.

            Where did Newton get his PhD? Or Einstein? Or Leibnitz? Nowhere, because they were autodidacts, their genius not confineable to some narrow and dogmatic institution with its pride and reputation to preserve and that hungers for honor more than for Truth.

            If you were really curious and not acting like you’re on MonSATANo’s payroll, you would simply write to her at the email address I kindly provided to you. But clearly learning new things seems to be beneath your dignity.

            And if you are such a biochemistry maven, please look at the links I published above on the foolish claims of the darwinists about how life automatically assembles itself from inanimate matter. This is wishful thinking: wishing that God would not exist that is.

            If someone were to kill you as the Rawandans got genocided, by hacking your body to pieces and leaving them on the most pristine soil in pristine climate conditions, would you expect to reassemble yourself in a million years? A billion? 16 billion?

            No, it is safe to say you would rot and putrify within 30 days and then reintegrate into the soil for eternity. (You certainly won’t be resurrected since you are an atheistic darwinistic satanist.)

            So ponder that before you jump on Dr. Seneff.

          • Tom

            Get. Help.

          • mkap

            Uh, Menachem, dude, Leibniz and Newton didn’t have Ph.D’s because there was no such thing. Einstein got his Ph.D from the University of Zurich. He spent most of his time after that in the department of one or another major University. So much for outsiders.

          • Guest

            Chopped up body parts in pristine soil?! You don’t believe in the evidence supporting evolution because they seem too far fetched. But you believe that there is a man in the sky who will help your sports team win the big game.?! You’re type is always so predictable, and petty.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdLrXPnp0zs Menachem Mevashir

    Does it perturb you that Monsanto is allowed to lie and misrepresent their designer seeds as resistant to pests when in fact they are resistant to pesticides?

    Does it concern you that GMOs require much greater amounts of pesticides and are responsible for accelerating the mutation of pesticide resistant bugs?

    Is any pesticide safe? Does the EPA even have the ability to test for such a claim?

    • Mihai Danila

      What excellent points. But you should know, these are falling on deaf ears. These people don’t care. I had a debate at work about the use of chemicals in our society, and my colleague felt this was just a price to pay for progress. PCBs, carcinogens which now live in all humans, fish, meat, polar bears, are just the price to pay for… progress. How do you explain something to a person who defies logic? We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot, we have precedents. How do you tell these people that next time we may shoot ourselves in the head, and that all the progress in the world is not worth it?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdLrXPnp0zs Menachem Mevashir

    “it’s as rife with pseudoscience and misleading wooly-headed nonsense as
    discussions over Intelligent Design and the alleged dangers of vaccines
    (pet pseudosciences of the right and left, respectively).”

    I know a chiropractor who is part of the world’s largest chiropractor family (nine siblings practicing) who has never been vaccinated himself or vaccinated his children and they all enjoy near perfect health.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdLrXPnp0zs Menachem Mevashir

      http://creation.com/loopholes-in-the-evolutionary-theory-of-the-origin-of-life-summary

      15 loopholes in the evolutionary theory of the origin of life: Summary

      by Jonathan Sarfati

      Dr Sarfati, a Ph.D. chemist, explores some of the most-cited ‘explanations’ of biochemical evolution, and shows how they point to a Creator, not ‘time and chance’.

      An animation of the basics of a cell’s protein synthesis system. Origin-of-life scenarios need to explain how this came into existence without (supernatural) intelligent design (see points 14 and 15).

      There is almost universal agreement among specialists that earth’s primordial atmosphere contained no methane, ammonia or hydrogen — ‘reducing’ gases. Rather, most evolutionists now believe it contained carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Miller-type sparking experiments will not work with those gases in the absence of reducing gases. See The Primitive Atmosphere.

      The atmosphere contained free oxygen, which would destroy organic compounds. Oxygen would be produced by photodissociation of water vapour. Oxidized minerals such as
      hematite are found as early as 3.8 billion years old, almost as old as the earliest rocks, and 300 million older than the earliest life. There is also evidence for organisms complex enough to photosynthesize at 3.7 billion of years ago (Rosing, M.T. and Frei, R., U-rich Archaean sea-floor sediments from Greenland—indications of >3700 Ma oxygenic photosynthesis, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 217:237–244, 2004). Also, red jasper or hematite-rich chert cored from layers allegedly 3.46
      billion years old showed that ‘there had to be as much oxygen in the atmosphere 3.46 billion years ago as there is in today’s atmosphere. To have this amount of oxygen, the Earth must have had oxygen producing organisms like cyanobacteria actively producing it, placing these organisms much earlier in Earth’s history than previously thought.’ (Deep-sea rocks point to early oxygen on Earth, 24 March 2009) NB: these ‘dates’ are according to the evolutionary/uniformitarian framework, which I strongly reject on both biblical and scientific grounds — see How long were the days mentioned in the Biblical creation account? and
      Evidence for a Young World).

      Catch-22: if there was no oxygen there would be no ozone, so ultraviolet light would destroy biochemicals. Also, the hydrogen cyanide polymerization that is alleged to lead to adenine can occur only in the presence of oxygen (see Eastman et al., Exploring the Structure of a Hydrogen Cyanide Polymer by Electron Spin Resonance and Scanning Force Microscopy, Scanning 2:19–24, p. 20).

      All energy sources that produce the biochemicals destroy them even faster! The Miller–Urey experiments used strategically designed traps to isolate the biochemicals as soon as they were formed so the sparks/UV did not destroy them. Without the traps, even the tiny amounts obtained would not have been formed.

      Biochemicals would react with each other or with inorganic chemicals. Sugars (and other carbonyl (>C=O) compounds) react destructively with amino acids (and other amino (–NH2) compounds), but both must be present for a cell to form.

      Without enzymes from a living cell, formaldehyde (HCHO) reactions with hydrogen cyanide (HCN) are necessary for the formation of DNA and RNA bases, condensing agents, etc. But HCHO and especially HCN are deadly poisons — HCN
      was used in the Nazi gas chambers! They destroy vital proteins.

      Abundant Ca2+ ions would precipitate fatty acids (necessary for cell membranes) and phosphate (necessary for such vital compounds as DNA, RNA, ATP, etc.). Metal ions readily form complexes with amino acids, hindering them from more important reactions.

      No geological evidence has been found anywhere on earth for the alleged primordial soup. See Primeval soup — failed paradigm

      Depolymerisation is much faster than polymerisation. Water is a poor medium for condensation polymerisation. Polymers will hydrolyse in water over geological time. Condensing agents (water absorbing chemicals) require acid conditions and they could not accumulate in water. Heating to evaporate water tends to destroy some vital amino acids, racemise all the amino acids, and requires geologically unrealistic
      conditions. Besides, heating amino acids with other gunk produced by Miller experiments would destroy them. See Origin of Life: The Polymerization Problem.

      Polymerisation requires bifunctional molecules (can combine with two others), and is stopped by a small fraction of unifunctional molecules (can combine with only one other, thus blocking one end of the growing chain). Miller experiments produce five times more unifunctional molecules than bifunctional molecules. See Origin of Life: The Polymerization Problem.

      Sugars are destroyed quickly after the reaction (‘formose’) which is supposed to have formed them. Also, the alkaline conditions needed to form sugars are incompatible with acid conditions required to form polypeptides with condensing
      agents. See The RNA World: A Critique.

      Long time periods do not help the evolutionary theory if biochemicals are destroyed faster than they are formed (cf. points 4, 7, & 9).

      Not all of the necessary ‘building blocks’ are formed; e.g.
      ribose and cytosine are hard to form and are very unstable. See Origin of life: Instability of building blocks.

      Life requires homochiral polymers (all the same ‘handedness’) — proteins have only ‘left-handed’ amino acids, while DNA and RNA have only ‘right-handed’ sugars. Miller experiments produce racemates — equal mixtures of left and right handed molecules. A small fraction of wrong handed molecules terminates RNA replication, shortens
      polypeptides, and ruins enzymes. See Origin of Life: The Chirality Problem and Homochirality an unsolved problem (quote).

      Life requires catalysts which are specific for a single type of molecule. This requires specific amino acid sequences, which have extremely low probabilities (~10–650 for all the enzymes required). Prebiotic polymerisation simulations yield random sequences, not functional proteins or enzymes. See Proteins and Casket Draws, Could monkeys type the 23rd
      Psalm? and Cheating with Chance.

      The origin of coding system of proteins on DNA is an enigma. So is the origin of the message encoded, which is extraneous to the chemistry, as a printed message is to ink molecules. Code translation apparatus and replicating machinery are themselves encoded — a vicious circle. A code cannot self-organize. See Self-Replicating Enzymes?

      The origin of machines requires design, not random energy. E.g: the Nobel prize-winner Merrifield designed an automatic protein synthesiser. Each amino acid added to the polymer requires 90 steps. The amino acid sequence is determined by a program. A living cell is like a self-replicating Merrifield machine.

    • mkap

      Menachem, thanks for showing us that you are not just mostly but completely silly. Your chiropractor story is worthless- if they live in a country of mostly vaccinated people, they have a pretty good chance of beating the odds. But only because the rest of us are vaccinated. At any rate, presenting a story like that as evidence of anything at all really shows that your thoughts on science are completely worthless. You just don’t get it. And yet you “know” that claims of evolution are “totally unfounded and bogus.”

    • Gra

      As far as your mention of the chiro family goes, there may be something correct in the line of thinking that a body that is better aligned has optimal nerve function, circulation, hormonal balance etc. I tend to think so because I’ve had quite a few before/ after experiences with this myself. You might even be able to go further and say that the immune system of such a person functions better than one who hasn’t experienced these benefits on a regular, long term basis. But that’s not a large population. Everyone else chooses to rely on vaccinations to prevent common epidemic diseases form the past, and the effectiveness of vaccines isn’t called into question by the statement, “Having better spinal alignment has many really positive effects!” Sort of like saying, “DNA function argues against evolution”- right or wrong- therefor, “this paper’s attack on computer modeling isn’t germane. In the meantime, back to the subject at hand..

  • Mihai Danila

    Monsanto has a long history of concealing evidence and short sighted recklessness in pursuit of the profit motive. PCBs, dioxin, Kemner v Monsanto, Cate Jenkins, Owens v Monsanto. EPA has been proven to be dancing by Monsanto’s tune in the Cate Jenkins case. Therefore, we can’t discount the possibility that glyphosate and GMOs are dangerous, because those who would say “they’re safe” are tainted. We have precedents. So let’s cut the crap and admit that neither you nor I know just how safe these things really are. Then we can talk.

    • Darrell01

      You, sir, are a prime specimen of unashamed douchebaggery. You can pick up your certificate at your local Whole Foods location.

  • John Allsup

    To wade in with a quick observation: the second author (to whom correspondence is to be addressed) is in computer science and artificial intelligence. I would expect this to be part of a project in computer generated papers (this is something that some artificial intelligence researches play with) and gauging what effect arises if it is published in a pay-to-play journal, or something like that. I seriously doubt that the two authors hand wrote this paper. The latter may be the interest of the first author in publishing this. I hope sometime in the future a back-story of how the paper was written and why will emerge.