‘Ghost DNA Molecules’- An Example of How Scientific Studies Are Misused For ‘Fringe Science’ Explanations Of Homeopathy
One of my friends posted this link on my wall http://www.normanallan.com/Sci/bs.html. Many homeopaths point to this link as the most scientific and authoritative reference for research evidences in favor of homeopathy. Hence, I think it is worth analyzing the observations and conclusions of this article in detail.
This article titled “Beyond Substance” by Norman Allan, Ph.D.is about the much discussed findings regarding the so-called “GHOST-DNA” molecules in ultra-diluted aqueous solutions of viral DNA. This work was referred to the name of Professor Mounir AbouHaidar and his colleagues, Dr. Mohammed Eweida and Michael Dobbs.
I find this article is a classical example of how scientific studies are misused for pseudo-scientific explanations of homeopathy.
“The team found that a solution of viral DNA, diluted beyond substance in the manner of homeopathy, can physically bind its substantial, molecular, complementary strand. This implies that the water “remembers” the substance that was in it. It behaves as though the DNA – even though diluted beyond substance – were still there. The ramifications of this phenomenon deeply effects ours understanding of physics, medicine, and of psychology, and as I hope to explain may prove to be a key to our understanding consciousness”.
“In Prof. AbouHaidar’s viral assay a solution of DNA, the genetic ribbon – even after it has been serially diluted until there was no substance left – binds its labeled complementary strand. This means water can be patterned; can carry a signal, and in this sense “remembers”. Water prefers to be ordered, to be patterned, prefers this to our usual conception of liquid as random. Water is stressed by, rather than enjoying amorphous chaos. It prefers to be organized, to behave like a crystal. So water takes whatever substance we put in it, be that salt, or sulphur, or viral DNA, as a seed from which to organize a pattern”.
Based on this research finding, the author tries to explain the homeopathic potentization according to his speculative theorizations.
He expects that if the observed “phenomenon can be replicated, we have a scientific revolution, a paradigm shift, possibly as vast as the discovery of electricity some two hundred and fifty years ago: vast because, as with electricity, it shows us whole new dimensions of order underpinning the phenomenal world, and there is no predicting where all of this may lead”.
The author, himself a physical scientist, explains how he was attracted to this work:
“Jacque Benveniste was a prominent French immunologist, chief immunologist at the government’s research institute, INSERM. When two of his research assistants asked him if they might conduct an experiment into homeopathy, believing a happy coworker is a good coworker, Benveniste said they might. They showed the results to Benveniste, and he became curious.
If you take an antigen, and dilute it homeopathically – again, diluted until there is no substance – it will still generate an immunological response in certain white blood cells. In this case Benveniste, and his colleagues, were looking at basophils.
Benveniste took these findings to the most prestigious scientific journal, Nature. Because of Benveniste’s prominence Maddox, the editor of Nature, said he would publish the work if Benveniste could find three reputable laboratories that could replicate his findings. “That should get rid of him,” thought Maddox.
Bruce Pomeranz, of the University of Toronto, was one of the researchers that “replicated” the work, along with labs in Milan and Tel Aviv.
In June 1988 the journal Nature, the gatekeeper of scientific orthodoxy, published Benveniste’s ultradilution (homeopathy) paper. The implications of this work are revolutionary, a paradigm shift it there ever was one. There are a lot of people who would rather fight than shift. Nature, the journal, as part of their publishing arrangement with Benveniste, sent a team to investigate his lab. The team included Randy the Magician, to look for sleight of hand, Walter Stewart, a biologist and statistician who had made his reputation as a figure crunching fraud-detector, and the editor, Maddox himself, who had a background in physics. It did not, however, include a cell biologist who might understand the nuances of Benveniste’s experiment. The team had already made up their minds (as Walter Stewart wrote in “Omni”). They knew there had to be a problem with the experiment because in their view the experiment was impossible. In the lab, Beneviniste and his team demonstrated the phenomenon to them three times, but the Nature team had determined before hand that it was an impossible experiment, and not knowing what else to doubt they decided that they couldn’t trust Beneveniste”blind”. The visiting team therefore insisted on adding their own “blind” to the procedure. To do this they introduced an extra manipulation of the samples (they moved the samples into new tubes). Of course this added procedure might or might not effect the outcome of an already delicate experiment. The investigating team sealed their extra code in an envelope, wrapped that up in silver foil (to foil X-ray eyes), and stuck it on to the ceiling of the lab with a video camera trained on it.! When, in this one trial, this new variation of the experiment no longer worked, Maddox announced that the whole affair was a delusion, or a fraud. Such is the stature of the journal, Nature, that the “expert’s” pronouncement was treated with gravity. “In our view, ultradilution should not work. Therefore it does not. Trust us. We’ve looked. We’ve tried it.” (I paraphrase.) This was all every unscientific, yet here the matter rests. (Work by Professor M Roberfroid, Madeleine Ennis, and colleagues, has since vindicated Beneviniste’s work and homeopath.)
Now our name was on this controversial Benveniste ultradilution paper, and we’re a very respectable laboratory, so there was a large section of the world, at least here in Canada, that looked to us to see what we’d finally have to say on the matter. “We have promising preliminary results,” was all the Professor could say. That, and “No comment.” So when Prof. AbouHaidar’s team stumbled on the incredible that DNA diluted (one part in ten) eighteen or twenty five times (diluted beyond substance) still binds its complementary strand – they came to see us”.
This was how by Norman Allan, Ph.D, author of present article became involved in this work.
The work was done as follows:
“Prof. AbouHaidar is a virologist; a Professor with tenure at the University of Toronto. Professor AbouHaidar was working on a viral assay. You’d take a plant from a field – he was working with potatoes – grind it up, run it through the Professor’s assay, and it would tell you whether there was any of a particular virus present in those potatoes. It works like this: you take a virus, which in this case was a DNA virus, and you “digest it”, splitting each bit of viral DNA into two single complementary strands. Then you divide this digest into two parts. At this point the two parts are (statistically) identical. Take one half of this now single stranded DNA and call it the “target”. Take the other half and call it the “probe”.
The target is spotted out on a filter paper – that is to say, you put a drop of it on a microfilter to make a spot. Then you dilute what’s left one part in ten, and put a drop of the dilute solution at a second spot. Then dilute again one part in ten, and spot it out again. Keep diluting and spotting out the successive dilutions. This is to test how sensitive the assay is. After all, we may be looking for a little bit of virus in a whole field of potatoes. We need a sensitive assay.
Having spotted out all these successive dilutions, we take the filter paper and bake it at 80 degrees centigrade. After baking, the target won’t wash off. Next let us consider the probe. The probe, remember, in this explanation, the probe is made up of the same single stranded viral DNA fragments. These we’re going to label so we can see them. We mix them with avidin-biotin. The avidin binds to the DNA, and the biotin will bind to a stain, so we’ll get a dark spot where our DNA-avidin-biotin binds the stain.
Now we take our probe and wash it over the targeted filter paper. Where the DNA in the probe finds its complementary strand in the target it binds to it. Next we wash the probe and target, and only where the probe has bound to its complementary strand will there be any of the probe be left. The rest is washed away. Then we ‘develop’ the probe/target filterpaper with our stain. Only where the labeled probe has bound to the target will we see any stain. In the test as set it up, the stain gets lighter and lighter with each dilution. It’s dark, almost black, in the first couple of dilutions, but fades out of sight at about the seventh dilution.
That’s the assay AbouHaidar was refining. (Actually, it’s Dr. Southern’s dot-blot test, so it’s called “Southern blot”, though Dr. Western’s “Western dot-blot” predates it and is more widely used.). Mohammed Eweida was a postdoc working in Prof. AbouHaidar’s lab with this Southern blot assay. Mohammed Ewieda wasn’t very happy about his situation. I don’t know why, but he was out of there: he was off to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in the summer: and so, perhaps to kill time, he spotted out the dilutions eighteen times, even though the staining was lost to sight at the seventh, and and he got a dark spot at the eighteenth dilution!
“Look at that,” said Dr. Eweida to Michael Dobbs, a postgraduate student working in the lab. Some months before Mike Dobbs had been to Jacque Benveniste’s lecture on ultradilution. (In Homeopathy substances are diluted beyond the infinitesimal till there’s no substance left, which is what is meant by “ultradilution”.) So, when Mohammed showed Michael his anomalous result with an unexpected spot at the eighteenth dilution Michael thought, incredulously, “ultradilution”. “Eh, Mohammed,” he said. “Do that again.” Dr. Eweida repeated the viral assay, this time taking it out to the fiftieth decimal (one in ten) dilution. (That’s 10-50 where ten to the minus 30 is like a drop in the ocean, and 10-37 is like a drop in a million oceans. At 10-26 we pass “Avagadro’s number [which relates to the number of molecules in a “gram molecule”] and would no longer expect to find a single molecule in a gram.) Again there was a dark spot that shouldn’t be there at the eighteenth dilution, and now there were also stained spots at the 19th dilution, and the 25th and 26th, and the 38th, and 43rd dilution, but not at the dilutions in between. At the 25th and 26th dilutions there is certainly no substance left in the solution. We have passed Avagadro’s number. There is no DNA left in the target. And yet the undiluted complementary strands in the probe (labeled with avidin-biotin) binds to the target! They can not be binding to a substance, not to molecular DNA. They may be binding to a signal, an electrical signal imprinted into the nitrocellulose. They are binding to something!
At first sight, to some, this has seemed to contradict classical science. “How can water, with nothing in it, remember what was there formerly, but is no longer there?” But here were Prof. AbouHaidar and Dr. Eweida, here they were with these filterpapers, dozens of them, with dark spots at the 18th and 19th dilution, and the 25th and 26th. Sometimes the pattern moved a little: sometimes only the 18th turned dark, once it was the 17th.
Well, Prof. AbouHaidar when he first saw it, suspected a joke. And when Dr. Eweida repeated it yet again, Menir AbouHaidar suspected a hoax. So he tried it himself, and there it was. No hoax.
What to do next? One of the next things that Prof. AbouHaidar did was to come and see us, Dr. Pomeranz and his research team. From here on in I’m going to call Dr. Pomeranz, the Professor. The Professor’s lab (where I had worked for seven years) was one of the labs that replicated Benveniste’s work with ultradilute antigens. The Professor’s name was on Benveniste’s controversial paper, so Prof. AbouHaidar came to talk to us, in confidence, to hear what we could tell them. “Do it again,” we said. And they did.
What does all this mean? It suggests a multitude of things. First let’s look at the patterning of water. If you put, say, one part salt in a hundred parts of water, it seems that the salt will pattern the water – the water mirrors the salt’s “vibration”. Certainly with Prof. AbouHaidar’s DNA we seem to see an electrical patterning that comes back into register with the original space/charge patterning at the 18th dilution.”
Based on these observations, the author tries to explain homeopathy as follows:
“Now if homeopathic [ultradilute, potentiated] remedies are having effects on organisms – they cured my cat – one of the implications, it seems, is that the body has vibrational fields, patterned energy fields, on which these (vibrational, patterned) remedies can work. Many people, particularly those on the fringe of science, and beyond, have been saying this for years. But no one has demonstrated it in any convincing or replicable manner. This is where Prof. AbouHaidar’s discovery is so special. Finally we have a handle into this realm of vibration.”
Obviously, the author is caught in the “theory of vibrations” in his interpretations. This is a clear example of how a scientist slips and falls into “pseudoscience”. He understands he is moving into the realm of ‘fringe science’ and ‘beyond science’. And now he is trying to utilize “AbouHaidar’s discovery” to rationalize the speculations of ‘fringe science’ and ‘beyond science’, which “have been saying this for years”. He tries to utilize this unexplained phenomenon as a “handle into this realm of vibration”. The intention of the author is clear now. This shows how science can be used to rationalize ‘unscientific’ theories.
How does homeopathy work in practice? As a scientist, we would expect from the author an explanation that would fit to the existing scientific knowledge system available to modern biochemistry, molecular biology and medical science. But to our total dismay, he comes with totally unscientific and irrational concepts and arguments. He says:
“How does homeopathy work in practice? At its simplest level, let’s say you’re in an accident, traumatized, the body goes into a particular pattern of vibration, in this case a kind of ‘shock’, Often people seem to get stuck in these patterns. Tinctures made from the plant Arnica have a vibratory pattern that (we may imagine) closely resembles this vibratory pattern associated with traumatic shock. Empirically it has been observed, again and again, that the potentised remedy prepared from Arnica helps physically traumatised people to heal. So, it may be that the body becomes locked in a particular oscillatory pattern, and the remedy, the “similar”, helps to jog it free, to loosen that pattern’s hold on the body so the body can stop repetitively singing that song”
How is it? Is he talking science? Do these words reflect a scientific mind? We had many times heard this pseudo-scientific ‘theory of vibrations’ from so-called vitalists, classical homeopaths and metaphysical theoreticians. But it is a real pity to hear this from a reputed scientist. As a scientist, we would expect him to talk about the bio-chemical derangements caused by traumas, and how the constituent molecules of arnica tincture rectify these bio-molecular errors. How could the author reach such unscientific conclusions from the reported research findings? The researchers only observed the presence of some sort of ‘memory’ of DNA molecules in ultra-dilutions in water. They said nothing about the mechanism of this ‘memory’. Obviously, the author utilizes these findings to rationalize his ‘fringe science’ speculations. This is unfair and unethical as far as a scientist is concerned.
He continues his imaginative speculations further:
”A further implication of homeopathy is seen in the fact that the personality, the emotional make-up, the thought patterns, of patients are the most important guiding feature in deciding which remedy to use. The “mentals” are given more weight then the physical symptoms. The implication of this is that mind, that thought and emotion, are patterns”.
We expect to hear a scientist explain “thought and emotions” on the basis of neurochemistry, where as this ‘scientist’ is talking about ‘patterns’. Wonderful!.
His interpretation of ‘patterns’ in water formed by adding salt shows his total ignorance regarding the process of ‘hydration’ in aqueous solutions. Every science student knows that so-called patterning is nothing but supra-molecular clustering of water molecules through hydrogen bonding. I think he uses the terms like ‘patterns’ and vibrations’ to take this phenomenon into the realm of ‘fringe science’ which seems to be a subject very dear to him.
Instead of speculating over ‘patterns’ and ‘vibrations’, and discussing ‘fringe science’ and ‘beyond science’, this phenomenon could have been scientifically explained on the basis of “Molecular Imprinting”. Such an explanation would fit in to the existing scientific knowledge-system perfectly. More over, based on this concept, we can provide scientific explanation to the molecular mechanism of therapeutic action of potentized homeopathic medicines, fitting to modern biochemistry and molecular biology. HOMEOPATHY COULD BE DEALT WITH NOT AS A ‘FRINGE SCIENCE” or “BEYOND SCIENCE”. BUT AS REAL SCIENCE!
Let us listen to what the author says further on this subject:
“Come back to the one part salt in a hundred parts water. If we take this salt water and dissolve it again one part in a hundred in clear water, and shake it, it again patterns the water, but this time with some changes. Remember it’s at the 18th and 19th dilution that AbouHaidar’s target bound the probe (at least, that was the case in the first sample that MAME showed us). At the 15th, 16th, there was nothing. This suggests that we are seeing something similar to the interference phenomenon that occurs with harmonic overlays. This is a fairly well known phenomenon (e.g. “Poincare’s recurrence”, see below). However here because it’s a dilution procedure, the harmonics are going to include lower frequency multiples, “subharmonics”, of the original signal as well as the more usual higher frequency harmonics.
It is very funny to see how hastily the author jumps to his pre-determined conclusions such as ‘interference’ phenomenon and ‘frequency harmonics’, based simply on the observed phenomenon of ‘patterning’ of water in salt solutions. Before that he should have applied some thought regarding ‘hydrogen bonding’, hydration’ and ‘supra-molecular clustering’, and also the probability of ‘molecular imprinting’.
“Imagine a conjurer’s rope. Take a segment out of that magician’s rope – say one foot out of ten – and hold it taut between your hands, and twang it. Now (by magic) put it back in the original rope. The note, the vibration, in the small piece will pattern and inform the longer piece. The longer piece will now carry that information, but it will also, during the process, generate harmonics, multiples of that original note. But note, in the dilution process (which the homeopaths have traditionally called “potentiation”) it becomes intuitively apparent that we will be generating both harmonics andsubharmonics of the original pattern. And this explains one of the mysteries of homeopathy”
How can see declare that “this explains one of the mysteries of homeopathy”? Obviously, he is overtly trying to ‘prove’ his concepts of ‘vibration theory’ in homeopathy utilizing the unexplained phenomenon observed by the research team..
“It is part of the traditional homeopathic wisdom that the higher potencies, the higher dilutions, are stronger and deeper acting than the lower potencies: that the mother tincture and the low potencies act superficially, at a surface level, at skin level, and at the physical level, while the high potencies act deeper and begin to effect emotions, thoughts, personality – and they are also, the high potencies, much stronger.”
Author tries to utilize the “traditional wisdom’ of homeopathy to rationalize his speculations. As a scientist, we expect from him rational explanations for those “traditional wisdom” on the basis of “scientific wisdom”. Not the other way.
“If I were going to treat you, say, with salt, sodium chloride (in Homeopathy we latinize it and call it Nat mur, short for Natrium muraticum). Now why would I treat you with Nat mur. Nat mur is one of the polycrests, which is to say it has power over an extremely broad range of symptoms, and with Nat mur, for sure, I would be guided in large part by personality and etiology (causation). Nat mur is seen in problems caused by grief where the person internalises. With that internalizing there’s a withholding and a holding. The person is likely to brood. “Attachment” is a key word with nat mur, and yet they don’t like to be consoled. Consolation will irritate them. The substance, salt, will cause (this pattern, this disposition) these problems, and it will also cure them. That’s why we call this type of medicine homeopathy: we treat like with like. This thought, that “like cures like” was Hahnemann’s great “law”. Now this, to me, is not intuitively apparent. But it is a piece of empiricism that was first recorded by Hippocrates, was reiterated by Paracelsus, and explored and developed into a fine art and science by Hahnemann at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Hahnemann experimented on himself. His first experiment was to take quinine. Quinine gave him ague-like fevers!”
As per the author this is the “scientific” explanation for the mechanism of homeopathic therapeutics. The wonder is that this ‘explanation’ comes from a “scientist”. According to him, “internalized grief” creates them “changes in pattern” in the “emotions” of an individual. “The substance, salt, will cause (this pattern, this disposition) these problems, and it will also cure them”. “That’s why we call this type of medicine homeopathy: we treat like with like”. How would this “explain the mysteries of homeopathy” as the author claim? To become a scientific explanation, he would have told us how “grief” creates the pathological disturbances in an individual, and what are the neuro-chemical errors happening at molecular level in various related biological pathways. We would also expect him to explain how sodium chloride creates similar biochemical changes individuals. If he wants to “explain the mysteries of homeopathy”, he should also explain what is the active principles in potentized sodium chloride, and how these active principles interact with the biochemical molecules and relieve the organism from the molecular errors caused by “grief”. That is the way a real scientist would talk about a science of therapeutics. Instead, the author talks about “patterns” created by “grief” and “patterns” created by “sodium chloride”. This is not the language of a scientist. We had already had this type of pseudoscientific “explanations’ ad nauseum fro the “gurus” and “masters” of “classical homeopathy”.
After making all these big noises about “explaining the mysteries” of homeopathy on the basis of concepts like “fringe science”, “beyond science”, “beyond substance”, “harmonics”, “resonance”, “vibrations” etc., it is quite wonderful how the author concludes”
“How do I know all this is what is going on? I don’t. I do know that homeopathy cured my cat. I know that MAME’s ultradilute DNA bound molecular DNA And then we have the well conducted clinical trials of Reilly published in Lancet that demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that a phenomenon exists. Homeopathic remedies are reproducibly significantly more effective than placebo controls (Reilly 94). We know the phenomenon exists. What I’ve written here is my groping for an explanation.”
See his confession: “ What I’ve written here is my groping for an explanation.”. That means, all through this article we were “groping” along with him! Kindly read further:
“In May 1989 MAME submitted a paper on this ultradilute DNA phenomena to Nature. And Maddox, the editor, sat on it. In the summer of 1989 the University of Toronto opened a new botany building, and Prof. AbouHaidar moved his lab out of its old quarters. After the move and some initial difficulties for a short while the ultradilute experiment ran as before, though the pattern (18, 19, 25, 26) became more chaotic. But then shortly after the move, they lost the phenomenon! It no longer worked. They tried it a few times, and moved back to their mainstream work, genetic engineering, with the world not even ruffled.”
“It was not my impression that procedures, protocols, were clearly and precisely defined in AbouHaidar’s lab. (Elizabeth once characterized their work as “bucket chemistry”.) Nonetheless the phenomenon seemed to be robust up to the move, and for a short while after the move. As far as I am aware, apart from Elizabeth and my follow up in 1992/93, there has been no further work done with the phenomenon”
”The fact that when MAME moved labs the phenomenon vanished is itself fascinating”.
“So I urge anyone who has the opportunity to look for ultradilute activity, whether in dot-blots or in other assays, to do so. We stand on the threshold of a new science, a level of patterning in the natural world hitherto overlooked, and who can say where this knowledge might lead”
Dear friends, is this not the same proverbial situation we say “the mountain delivering a mouse”! The whole verbosity has finally faded into nothing!