Pavel Poluyan – a scientist from Krasnoyarsk says: “Biotechnology is a bluff!” He claims that all talks about the so-called biotechnology were nothing but a commercial trick. Our correspondent had an interview with this maverick of science.
Question: It is strange to hear such words from a biophysician, since such people like you think that genetics and molecular biology are the biggest achievements of the 20th century. The science of physics was formed during Newton’s time, then it gave an incredible incentive to the technological development, and now the humanity is waiting for the breakthrough in the field of biotechnology and genetic engineering.
Answer: These expectations are rather precarious. They are not really expectations, they are simply a kind of the fashionable entertainment of the audience.
Q: Fashionable entertainment? Cloning animals is an undeniable accomplishment, and biological engineering has been distinguished as one of the top priorities in the state program of the scientific development.
A: Ha ha! The symbol of this accomplishment is a sheep and this is not incidental indeed. Your statesmen can have my sympathies. You must not watch movies about clones or mutants, you must think with your head. Speaking about movies. When Jules Verne was writing books about the future scientific achievements, his books were filled with delightful feelings, but if you watch up-to-date movies, you will see that the future is filled with darkness and horror. This is a normal thing to happen, because every human being realizes that such ideas are not going to result in anything good. Can you give me any project of biotechnology, which makes us wait for anything positive?
Q: For example, the creation of input data organisms.
A: What is this? Does it mean growing square melons for the convenience of transportation or creating a cow with two udders? You have to remember that there cannot be any input data, there can be only scientific experiments. Furthermore, no one knows what those genetically modified animals or plants may result in: a lot of unpredictable things are possible.
Q: So what? Do you order to be through with any research in this field?
A: In which field? Growing new breeds? Of course, not. But this is not a matter of fantastic biotechnology or genetic engineering, this is the traditional selection. Domestic animals and crops have been developed without any genetic modifications!
Q: Pavel, I think that if you could, you would put all genetic engineers in prison.
A: Please, do not hang any labels on me, I am just expressing my criticism, top me if you can. I just want you to know that you cannot apply technical things in biology, it is not possible to assemble something from little details. Even man-made constructions bring surprises sometimes: shuttles fall down, nuclear reactors blow up, let’s assume what is going to happen with living objects.
Q: OK. You asked me to give you some good goals. Here is one: prolongation of life, regeneration of human organs, struggling against viruses.
A: Let’s do this: cast away sweet dreams about some liquid of youth. Then think about the modern society with all its “monsters” and terrorist “mutants.” Now evaluate the real state of the biological science. I have to emphasize here a very important thing: the modern science of biology does not at all have a notion of life, what it is and why it is. What can you have as a result? On the other hand – the evil of the biological weapon, on the other hand – traditional medicine. It is medicine that has to take the first priority. All those specialists of biological technologies are like the modern variant of magicians and alchemists with their fairytales.
Q: Of course, we have to support medicine, but we are talking about fundamental research. Maybe we do not know the point of life, but we will never be able to find it out if our science does not develop and grow.
A: Absolutely. The question is different: where shall we search and how? I assert that fashionable scientific directions like genetic engineering and biotechnology are theoretically pointless and dangerous. I know several incidents, when sick children had to go through series of expensive genetic research because the nature of their sickness was not really clear. As a matter of fact it was not about the diagnosis – doctors wanted to get more money and to collect “scientific material.” They forget the most important and simple thing that a human organism is an integral system, you have to operate in order to help it to cope with its problems. And sick people were examined, they were not treated. Needless to mention that any biotechnological result immediately becomes an object to derive profit from. Each molecule of our organism has its certain role and we interfere in this system with new molecular chains. There is nothing else but rough models in biology, there is not even a system of basic categories, and if there is no fundamental approach, then there is no fundamental science.
Q: I doubt that biologists will agree with such an estimation.
A: I can assure you they will. They all realize it deep within. They just cannot acknowledge it.
Q: You have expressed your criticism, now it figures that you are supposed to set forth some new ideas? It would be interesting to know your opinion about the direction of the scientific development.
A: First of all, one has to deal with theoretic works that do not require big investments, because theory is important, not sheep. Then we have to study biological organisms as integral systems, which is a field of biophysics. I realize that common people are not actually interested if scientists are going to develop the theory of life or not. You know that a lot of people like to read astrological forecasts. Of course, journalists speak for stars here, but a person’s character depends on the time of his or her birth. We all read those books and articles on astrology and everyone must have noticed that there are some things in conformity. One English insurance company determined that Aries cause the largest number of accidents, because they ignore traffic rules. It is generally believed now that natural environmental factors (even space factors) exert strong influence on the development of living organisms. If a woman is bearing a child, will she affect her child with what she eats – fresh vegetables and fruit or canned and junk food – or where he spends her time – outdoors in a forest or at home? A child grows for nine months, this is the time for a very complicated structure of human organism for form. Climate, seasons and food change during those nine months. So it is obvious that those kids that are born in spring will have a lot in common and they will differ from those that are born in different time and in different conditions. Of course, it is very hard to find out, what influences a would-be human being and in which way.
Q: So parents can use those peculiarities for planning their child’s character, employers can use it if they want to hire someone?
A: Of course. This is a very good example of a biophysical discovery.
To be continued
Pavel Poluyan was interviewed by Vadim Pavlov
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969