Respectful Insolence

I’m tired.

Well, not exactly. I think I’m just suffering a case of what I like to call “anti-vax burnout.” It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the antivaccine front, given the new set of revelations about Andrew Wakefield, including even more detail about the nature of the scientific fraud he committed and previously untold information regarding just how extensive his business plans were to profit from the MMR scare that his fraudulent science was instrumental in launching in the U.K. Regular readers know that, from time to time, when the news about the anti-vaccine movement is coming fast and furious and I feel obligated to blog about it, I sometimes start to feel this way. When that happens, to avoid burnout, I need to step back for a day or two (or three or four) and blog about something else for a while. In this case, I need to do even more than that. I need something light and fluffy, amusing and silly. And what could be sillier than homeopathy?

Actually, I think I might have the answer. I just saw an article entitled Foundations Of Science Shaken: DNA Can Teleport Says Professor Jeff Reimers. Teleporting DNA! Awesome! Now there’s just the remedy I need for my Wakefield fatigue! After all, when I see woo this entertaining, I can’t help but smile, no matter how much my blood pressure might have risen in outrage at the latest revelations about Wakefield. Get a load of this:

Professor Jeff Reimers, of the University Of Sydney in Australia, has concluded from experiments that DNA can mysteriously be teleported.

From the work Reimers has completed, Nobel Prize winner, Dr Luc Montagnier believes that there is evidence that DNA can transport electromagnetic imprints of itself to cells within the body which it has absolutely no contact with, according to the New Scientist which released the results yesterday.

How the process occurs is now up for debate as Professor Reimers projects that enzymes are tricked into believing that the electromagnetic imprints projected by DNA and mistaken as real.

Holy Star Trek, Spock! Where’s Scotty when you need him?

First of all, it’s hard not to note that Luc Montagnier is back again. As I pointed out recently, after having been awarded the Nobel Prize, Montagnier has gone woo. But not just woo, the most hilariously bogus woo of all, a woo that, for it to be true, would require that much of what we know about physics, chemistry, and biology be not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. Yes, indeed, we’re talking about homeopathy, although I only learned about the homeopathy angle in the context of discussing how Montagnier has decided to study dubious therapies for autistic children. Clearly, Montagnier has come down with the Nobel disease, as evidenced by his pursuit of autism quackery, his reporting that DNA can generate radio waves, and, above all, his embrace of homeopathy.

But what about Jeff Reimers? I had never heard of him before; so before I look at his claims I invoked almighty Google, and Professor Reimers does appear to be a real chemist. In fact, he is even listed as having won awards, such as the Royal Australian Chemical Institute Award and being inducted into the Australian Academy of Science. His University of Sydney webpage lists his research interests as:

  • Solvent efffects on molecular properties
  • Interpretation of infrared and electronic spectra
  • Electroabsorption spectroscopy
  • Structure and function of photosynthetic reaction centres
  • Design and operational principles of molecular electronic devices

When I see a story like this, I often wonder whether the scientist’s work is being represented accurately. A bit of clicking and searching rapidly brought me to this New Scientist article entitled Scorn over claim of teleported DNA. One thing that became clear is that Professor Reimers is not the person who did the experiments (they came out of Luc Montagnier’s laboratory), although he was quoted as saying that these experiments “would be the most significant experiments performed in the past 90 years, demanding re-evaluation of the whole conceptual framework of modern chemistry.”

I suspect not.

Let’s take a look at what Montagnier appears to have done:

Luc Montagnier, who shared the Nobel prize for medicine in 2008 for his part in establishing that HIV causes AIDS, says he has evidence that DNA can send spooky electromagnetic imprints of itself into distant cells and fluids. If that wasn’t heretical enough, he also suggests that enzymes can mistake the ghostly imprints for real DNA, and faithfully copy them to produce the real thing. In effect this would amount to a kind of quantum teleportation of the DNA.

Hoo boy. Not surprisingly, these experiments have not been published in the peer-reviewed literature; so it’s impossible yet to determine what, exactly, Montagnier did and what he is claiming. In other words, we have publication by press release, a huge red flag for quackery or pseudoscience. A Nobel Laureate like Montagnier really should know better. Unfortunately, whatever led him to go woo apparently also led him to abandon standard scientific protocol for reporting experimental results to fellow scientists. Once you go woo, I guess, you don’t come back.

But I still don’t know exactly what Montagnier did and what he believes he has found. So let’s look a bit farther:

Full details of the experiments are not yet available, but the basic set-up is as follows. Two adjacent but physically separate test tubes were placed within a copper coil and subjected to a very weak extremely low frequency electromagnetic field of 7 hertz. The apparatus was isolated from Earth’s natural magnetic field to stop it interfering with the experiment. One tube contained a fragment of DNA around 100 bases long; the second tube contained pure water.

After 16 to 18 hours, both samples were independently subjected to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a method routinely used to amplify traces of DNA by using enzymes to make many copies of the original material. The gene fragment was apparently recovered from both tubes, even though one should have contained just water (see diagram).

DNA was only recovered if the original solution of DNA – whose concentration has not been revealed – had been subjected to several dilution cycles before being placed in the magnetic field. In each cycle it was diluted 10-fold, and “ghost” DNA was only recovered after between seven and 12 dilutions of the original. It was not found at the ultra-high dilutions used in homeopathy.

OK, now things are starting to come into focus. I do PCR. Before I found myself rising to more administrative positions and laboratory supervisory roles and even well into the time after I became a PI, I’ve personally run thousands of PCR assays. I’ve done PCR since my graduate school days in the early 1990s, back when PCR machines took up half a benchtop and there was only one PCR machine in the entire department where I earned my PhD. I know PCR. Whenever doing a PCR experiment like this, it’s very, very important to rule out contamination, because it’s incredibly easy to amplify contaminating bits of DNA. For example, it’s very easy to amplify human DNA sequences if those sequences are found in the skin because skin flakes are virtually everywhere humans are and are amazingly good at finding their way onto the surfaces of Eppendorf tubes where PCR reactions are run. PCR can be incredibly sensitive, which is why it doesn’t take much contaminating DNA at all to produce false positive amplifications of a sequence of interest, particularly when doing PCR with a lot of cycles or sequential PCR. That’s because PCR does not discriminate between contaminating DNA and the DNA of interest. There is even a phenomenon known as primer dimer, in which somehow the two primers used to start the reaction can hook up at their ends and form a template to allow PCR amplification to proceed. This usually produces short sequences whose size is equal to approximately twice the length of the primers. Many are the PCR experiments that have been ruined by contamination–including my own. That’s why negative controls are absolutely essential.

I saw no description of adequate negative controls.

As much as I hate to do it given my Wakefield fatigue, let’s bring it on home to the example of Andrew Wakefield. You might recall that in followup experiments he claimed to find measles sequences in the gut of autistic children. As you might recall, PCR expert Stephen Bustin eviscerated Andrew Wakefield’s work during his testimony in the Autism Omnibus proceeding by pointing out that the the lab used to measure measles sequences was also used to grow up and isolate the plasmids containing measles sequences used as positive controls was the same laboratory where the PCR was run. If Montagnier did the same thing, there was the potential for major contamination that PCR could easily pick up. Even if he didn’t, the potential for contamination was still there, and it doesn’t take much.

Sometimes, tracing the source of contamination can be incredibly difficult. Indeed, I remember a several month period in which I kept getting a positive signal for my gene by PCR in the distilled, deionized water. I did everything. I scrubbed down the desks and work benches. I replaced all the water in the lab. I scrubbed down all the scales and cleaned out all the pipetman. We basically went crazy in the lab looking for potential sources of contamination causing the false positive signal. We even started changing PCR primers. Nothing worked. Then, just as suddenly and mysteriously as it appeared, the false positive band disappeared. Strange are the ways of PCR. Particularly intriguing with respect to possible contamination as a cause of Montagnier’s reported results is the fact that he reports that he had to carry out multiple dilutions to achieve the results. The more handling of the water, the more dilutions, the more potential for contamination. At least, that’s how it appears to me.

So was Montagnier snookered by contamination? I don’t know. He might or might not have done adequate controls, but there’s no way of knowing from which is true from the descriptions of the experiments in this article. I also wonder if he tried multiple different DNA sequences. If his result is robust, one would expect that it wouldn’t depend on the use of any specific 100 bp DNA sequence–or that it would require a 100 bp sequence. It should be observable with many sequences. I’d also want to know why Montagnier chose 100 bp as the length of DNA sequence he amplified. Why not 200 bp? Or 1000 bp? Above all, I’d be absolutely insistent on a number of appropriate negative and positive controls and a double blind design for handling the samples and running the PCR. (I’d bet money that this latter control wasn’t done.) Only then would I start to wonder if something real is going on. Even then I would want to see replication by other laboratories before I would start to believe it. No scientific result that has only been shown in one laboratory should be taken as anywhere close to definitive, and I don’t care whose laboratory demonstrated it.

Even if Montagnier’s results were replicated, I’d still be very skeptical of Montagnier’s explanation for his results:

Physicists in Montagnier’s team suggest that DNA emits low-frequency electromagnetic waves which imprint the structure of the molecule onto the water. This structure, they claim, is preserved and amplified through quantum coherence effects, and because it mimics the shape of the original DNA, the enzymes in the PCR process mistake it for DNA itself, and somehow use it as a template to make DNA matching that which “sent” the signal

And Montagnier wonders why people think he’s caught the “Nobel disease.” We already know that water does not have “memory,” as homeopaths claim. Well, not exactly. It’s that whatever “memory” water has lasts on the order of picoseconds. There’s no known way that water can “remember” the structure of a large molecule long enough that an enzyme could not only recognize it but duplicate and amplify it. Once again, given how well established the science is that says that homeopathy can’t work and that water doesn’t have memory that lasts anywhere long enough to do what homeopaths claim, in order for Montagnier to convince scientists that his results are correct and that they indicated the “memory” of water, he’s going to have to come up with evidence on the order, in terms of quantity and quality, of the evidence supporting the science that concludes that his experiment can’t work.

I also find it rather amusing how homeopaths and those who have fallen under the spell of homeopathy always manage to find more “explanations” for how homeopathy allegedly “works.” Be it John Benneth’s “nanocrystalloids,” Bienveniste’s “memory of water,” or (now) Luc Montagnier’s “teleporting” DNA (and presumably other molecules), homeopaths are prolific when it comes to thinking up post hoc explanations for the most ridiculous pseudoscience there is. It goes precisely in the wrong direction, too. Before coming up with a mechanism to explain a scientific phenomenon, in general, it’s a good idea to demonstrate that the phenomenon is actually real and reproducible. Homeopathy fails on all these counts. Again.

There, now. That was a nice break from all that depressing contemplation of Andrew Wakefield.

Comments

  1. #1 DPSisler
    January 14, 2011

    I am an HR weenie type (extrodinaire, though!) and after reading the expirement my first thought was contamination. Either I am a scientist in training, or I have read so many of Orac’s postings that I have learned to think like a scientist. Do I qualify for an Orac “Scientist Badge”???? Sort of like a Bozo Button for non-Bozos?

  2. #2 madder
    January 14, 2011

    If Montagnier were actually right (haha), his “pure water” test tube would have to contain those enzymes that allegedly pick up the DNA emanations, and elements other than hydrogen and oxygen in order to make the DNA itself. Maybe DNA can actually perform remote alchemy, as well as teleportation.

    Hell’s bells, this makes homeopathy look sane by comparison.

  3. #3 buran
    January 14, 2011
  4. #4 Nescio
    January 14, 2011

    Whatever else is true, you can’t fault them on their creativity. Heck, if it was so easy to come up with outlandish ideas anybody could be a Dali.

    Once they figure out the science-thingy they are way ahead of you. :)

  5. #5 Nescio
    January 14, 2011

    Whatever else is true, you can’t fault them on their creativity. Heck, if it was so easy to come up with outlandish ideas anybody could be a Dali.

    Once they figure out the science-thingy they are way ahead of you. :)

  6. #6 Nescio
    January 14, 2011

    Oops, sorry for posting twice, stupid internet.

  7. #7 Scott
    January 14, 2011

    The arXiv paper mentions no controls of any kind, positive or negative. Apparently Montagnier is as grossly incompetent at PCR as EM observations.

    I love the claim that this work will allow them to eradicate HIV. As well as the claim that thermal effects won’t destroy the coherence at the surface of the water because, well,

    the attraction between water molecules
    and the surface could protect the coherent structure from the thermal noise

    Which is beautiful since surface tension (which appears to be all they’re talking about) would DESTROY the coherence at least as effectively as thermal effects.

  8. #8 Denice Walter
    January 14, 2011

    Intriguingly, Montagnier is no longer the “Orthodox scientist/ enemy” to HIV/AIDS denialists( dissidents) because of his recent statements about the issue; his new project should endear him to others entranced by woo: homeopathy, autism woo, and “quantum teleportation of DNA”- all in one fabulously imagined package.

    note to Orac: we need no longer say: “Beam me up,Scotty”, etc…now that we have _Draconis_.

  9. #9 Denice Walter
    January 14, 2011

    ( OT , but is woo-fueled bragadoccio unencumbered by higher cortical activity, *ever* _truly_ OT @ RI? Plus, it’s Friday.)
    In his on-going re-calibration of the entire field of psychology, Mike Adams re-conceptualizes *intelligence* : ( NaturalNews, today) “A new measurement of intelligence: Big-picture thinking trumps narrow-minded expertise.”
    Mike illustrates his new contribution to cognitive psychology by providing exemplars : Richard Feynman, Gerald Celente**, and Alex Jones.
    ** “trend-caster”, former Fox contributor, presently frequent guest @ Gary Null’s radio woo-fest.

  10. #10 Debunzo
    January 14, 2011

    “Once you go woo, you never come back”

    Priceless.

  11. #11 Melissa G
    January 14, 2011

    “OT , but is woo-fueled bragadoccio unencumbered by higher cortical activity, *ever* _truly_ OT @ RI?”

    #9 Denice Walter FTW!!!

  12. #12 BCM
    January 14, 2011

    Well, obviously the contamination in your lab was due to this affect. You obviously vortexed the tubes too much and the template DNA teleported to your negative control. Makes about as much sense.

  13. #13 Jojo
    January 14, 2011

    Wait, this is freaking me out. So if DNA can teleport, then what’s to keep the DNA of other species from teleporting into my body, and then replicating there? What if a cock roach scuttles through my bathtub and leaves behind some of it’s cells? Then, after 7 to 12 baths the roach DNA teleports into me? OMG! I’m going to turn into a bug!!11!!1!

    /tinfoil hat

  14. #14 Militant Agnostic
    January 14, 2011

    I’d also want to know why Montagnier chose 100 bp

    Powers of 10 are magical numbers for homeopaths. This is part of the religious belief that that universe was constructed specially just for us. (And I thought my MP3 player came with excessive packaging) When you think of it, everything beyond one galaxy (at the most) is superfluous from that point of view.

  15. #15 DW
    January 14, 2011

    Instant translation : “Although it is off-topic, I know that articles by pseudo-scientists who over-estimate their intellectual abilities in ironic ways will possibly make the super-computer ( i.e. Orac) laugh.”

  16. #16 Matthew Cline
    January 14, 2011

    @Jojo:

    So if DNA can teleport, then what’s to keep the DNA of other species from teleporting into my body, and then replicating there?

    Your life energy? (life force, bio-energy, vitalistic force, etc) Many homeopaths claim that’s how homeopathy works, so why shouldn’t it also be able to shield your body from teleporting DNA?

  17. #17 Todd W.
    January 14, 2011

    @DPSisler

    I hear ya. I’m not a scientist, either, but when I got to that part of Orac’s post, contamination was the first thing I thought of, too. A friend of mine is a microbiologist, and many are the stories I’ve heard of the trouble involved in keeping PCRs clean. Gotta tie hair back/cover it, only synthetic clothing (no nice warm wool sweaters), etc.

  18. I was going to ask what the basis was for devising this experiment, but I started reading the paper and… well… wow, the woo is strong in this one. It’s really hard to keep an open mind and take this seriously.

    The paper is claiming (as far as I understand with a very quick reading) that about 10 years ago, they stumbled onto this phenomenon by accident when entire cells of the bacterium Mycoplasma pirum were teleporting copies of themselves into samples that were previously confirmed sterile for the bacterium, seriously.

    If the scientific community hasn’t been turned upside down and revolutionized by their experiments 10 years ago, I see no reason why it would give any consideration to this latest experiment. If their prior plausibility and scientific basis hasn’t been independently validated in the last 10 years, further experiments along the same lines seems like pseudo-scientific masturbation.

    -Karl Withakay

  19. #19 JohnV
    January 14, 2011

    RE: use of 100 bp target

    Well since the short target sequence increases PCR efficiency, if there actually was some magic DNA teleportation but it was an extremely rare occurrence, you’d want to amplify a really short piece of it to increase the chances of seeing a product.

    Here’s his text from the paper, which indicates that they sequenced the product (I guess), suggesting contamination and not PCR artifacts (primer dimers, which were my original guess for that size).

    “At this point the most critical step was undertaken, namely to investigate the specificity of the induced water nanostructures by recreating from them the DNA sequence. For this all the ingredients to synthesize the DNA by polymerase chain reaction (nucleotides, primers,
    polymerase) were added to the tube of signalized water. The amplification was performed under classical conditions (35cycles)in a thermocycler. The DNA produced was then submitted to electrophoresis in an agarose gel. The result was that a DNA band of the expected size of the original LTR fragment was detected. It was further verified that this DNA had a sequence identical or close to identical to the original DNA sequence of the LTR. Infact, it was 98% identical (2 nucleotide difference) out of 104. This experiment was found to be highly reproducible (12outof12)…”

  20. #20 Badger3k
    January 14, 2011

    Jojo – not just that, but if your cells pick up the electrical energy of, say, a phone or computer, you might pick up the DNA of someone who is on a similar device. Someday we’re all going to turn into clones of the same guy in his mom’s basement (“Worst Film…Ever!”

    Or maybe this is how woo replicates itself!

  21. #21 Dunc
    January 14, 2011

    As soon as I read the description of the alleged result, I just knew it was going to involve PCR. I guess I must be psychic. ;)

  22. #22 caudoviral
    January 14, 2011

    Blegh, why is a little bit of fame the equivalent of crazy juice to some really great scientists? Moreover the fact that anyone is making a hullabaloo over publication by press release, while never surprising, never fails to make the world seem a little bit darker.

  23. #23 Matthew Cline
    January 14, 2011

    The paper is claiming (as far as I understand with a very quick reading) that about 10 years ago, they stumbled onto this phenomenon by accident when entire cells of the bacterium Mycoplasma pirum were teleporting copies of themselves into samples that were previously confirmed sterile for the bacterium, seriously.

    And how were they able to rule out that no contaminants were introduced in the process of analyzing the previously sterile samples? Did they have some means of finding bacteria in the sterile samples while the samples still remained hermetically sealed?

  24. #24 Ewan R
    January 14, 2011

    As an undergraduate I discovered teleporting DNA well before this work was ever done.

    My supervisor also decided to erroneously call it contamination.

    Unfortunately with more experience of PCR and better work practices etc it became harder and harder to replicate my results – it appears that DNA teleportation only works if you’re particularly sloppy – my feel is that not only does water have a memory but can sense competance and immediately hides important science from anyone with more than a little bit of ability – water is very jealous of scientific achievement (while at the same time not recognizing the Nobel prize as meaningful)

  25. #25 Bob B.
    January 14, 2011

    What I want to know is how long before I can get my very own desktop DNA Teleporter. Can I order it from the same place that sells those wonderful exercise machines for my Abs?

  26. @23 Matthew Cline:

    “Starting with pure cultures of the bacterium on lymphocytes, the filtrates were indeed sterile
    for the bacterium when cultured on a rich cellular medium, SP4. Polymerase chain reaction
    (PCR) and nested PCR, based on primers derived from a gene of M. pirum which had been
    previously cloned and sequenced, adhesin, were negative in the filtrate. However, when the
    filtrate was incubated with human lymphocytes, (previously controlled for not being infected
    with the mycoplasma) the mycoplasma with all its characteristics was regularly recovered”

    This claim is way beyond quantum teleportation of a single sub-atomic particle and way beyond QT of a complex molecule like DNA, they are claiming QT of a complete, living and functioning single cell organism.

    Somebody tell Mark Crislip to quit his day job; apparently everything we know about the transmission of infectious agents is obsolete.

    -Karl Withakay

  27. Wow, that didn’t copy and pate well from the PDF. This might be easier to read:

    @23 Matthew Cline:

    “Starting with pure cultures of the bacterium on lymphocytes, the filtrates were indeed sterile for the bacterium when cultured on a rich cellular medium, SP4. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and nested PCR, based on primers derived from a gene of M. pirum which had been previously cloned and sequenced, adhesin, were negative in the filtrate. However, when the filtrate was incubated with human lymphocytes, (previously controlled for not being infected with the mycoplasma) the mycoplasma with all its characteristics was regularly recovered”

    This claim is way beyond quantum teleportation of a single sub-atomic particle and way beyond QT of a complex molecule like DNA, they are claiming QT of a complete, living and functioning single cell organism.

    Somebody tell Mark Crislip to quit his day job; apparently everything we know about the transmission of infectious agents is obsolete.

    -Karl Withakay

  28. #28 Scott Cunningham
    January 14, 2011

    I too have experience with PCR DNA “teleportation” / contamination. Many were the times when I was genetically engineering E. coli to express jellyfish Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP) that I had to throw out my gloves or start over because I suddenly realized I had scratched my chin while reading, my biggest source of contamination.

    In the spirit of YFDoW, I propose that President Lincoln was a time-traveller pulling an elaborate practical joke on science students, purposefully making a chin-scratching pose famous so future students might unconsciously adopt it, foiling their work with PCR.

  29. #29 Yojimbo
    January 14, 2011

    Gregor Samsa, explained!

  30. #30 JayK
    January 14, 2011

    They not only proved DNA teleportation, they proved alchemy. They somehow managed to get pure H2O to transmutate into carbon, at the very least. They’re right, this will turn chemistry and biology upside down.

  31. #31 Jojo
    January 14, 2011

    The more I think about this, the more amazing it is. It seems I’m not the only non-scientist who was reading Orac’s description and immediately thought it was contamination. If it’s that obvious to a bunch of science blog readers who aren’t even scientists, how can it not be obvious to a Noble prize winner?

  32. #32 JohnV
    January 14, 2011

    The “water” tube contained DNA polymerase, primers and nucleotides, so if we can stop with the alchemy comments and focus on the absurdity they actually are claiming it would be great :p

  33. #33 Kieran
    January 14, 2011

    This really illustrates the power of a Nobel Prize, doesn’t it.

    Montagnier was apparently invited to present this at, what seems to be, a legitimate physics conference:
    Fifth International Workshop DICE2010. Space-Time-Matter – current issues in quantum mechanics and beyond. Castiglioncello,Tuscany; September 13-17, 2010.
    http://mail.df.unipi.it/~elze/DICE2010.html

  34. #34 Kieran
    January 14, 2011

    Maybe what the Nobel Committee should do is stop giving medals to the winners of Nobel Prizes and instead give them a ring, something like this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Lantern

  35. #35 JayK
    January 14, 2011

    “One tube contained a fragment of DNA around 100 bases long; the second tube contained pure water.”

    Pure water wouldn’t contain anything other than H2O. The article is misleading. That was partially my point.

    If it did contain DNA polymerase, primers and nucleotides, then they could have just proven spontaneous generation of DNA, or information, or a lot of things.

    Without proof that the organization of the original strands were maintained. Even if they prove sterility and have controlled studies, then they really haven’t quite gone the full distance and proved that their methods did anything specific.

    But please, feel free to correct me if my assumptions are incorrect.

  36. #36 JohnV
    January 14, 2011

    From the paper:

    “For this all the ingredients to synthesize the DNA by polymerase chain reaction (nucleotides, primers,
    polymerase) were added to the tube of signalized water.”

  37. #37 JohnV
    January 14, 2011

    Sorry that last post was too fast, before I thoroughly thought out what you just said JayK.

    I think what they did was “let the DNA teleport itself”, then added reagents for the PCR after the teleportation. So I might be conditionally withdrawing my alchemy complaint-complaint :p

  38. #38 jay.sweet
    January 14, 2011

    Whenever doing a PCR experiment like this, it’s very, very important to rule out contamination, because it’s incredibly easy to amplify contaminating bits of DNA.

    You may have decades of experience with PCR, but I don’t know a damn thing beyond “it’s used to look at DNA sequences” and “I think it’s that thingy that uses gels or something”.

    And yet, just reading the description of the experiment, a huge blinking light in my mind was saying “CONTAMINATION! CONTAMINATION!” With my utter lack of knowledge about PCR, I wasn’t think skin cells, I was thinking trace bacteria (which would explain why they needed to let the water sit for awhile at room temperature) — but same difference. It’s just so obviously a contamination issue!

  39. #39 Warren
    January 14, 2011

    But … quantum, Orac! Quantum! Any wooster who says quantum automatically wins the argument! Didn’t you get the memo?

  40. #40 Todd W.
    January 14, 2011

    @jay.sweet

    Now I have this picture of a dalek in my mind saying “Contaminate! CONTAMINAAATE!”

  41. #41 Prometheus
    January 14, 2011

    Wow.

    Just…words fail me.

    IF this was true, then the researchers should be chastised for failing to take adequate precautions against the spread of their DNA to laboratory personnel.

    Fortunately, there is no chance that this is true, so everybody is safe.

    There are so many things wrong with this “paper” that I don’t know where to begin or even if there is any reason to begin. But, of course, I will.

    One objection (out of many) is their assertion that it might have only been the “electromagnetic imprint” of the DNA that was transferred. This is clearly incorrect. For the PCR to copy the target DNA, that DNA would need to be in the “receiving” test tube not only while in the “experimental apparatus” but also while it was in the PCR thermocycler (out of the apparatus), since the primers would only bind in a sequence specific fashion above room temperature (unless they managed to also make primers with annealing temperatures around room temperature).

    Also, the polymerase functions best at 72 deg C (~162 deg F) and has minimal function at room temperature. Since PCR is a reiterative process, the DNA would need to be in the receiving test tube at least through the first several cycles.

    Even if the DNA’s “electromagnetic imprint” was left on the Taq polymerase (or whatever polymerase they used), the “imprint” would have only been of a very short (10 – 20 bases) segment of the DNA, since that is all that could potentially be in physical contact with the enzyme (I can’t believe I’m bothering to even think about this as though it might be true!). In that case, fewer than 20 bases – at most – could be copied. If we limit that to only “electromagnetic imprints” of DNA bases in the enzymatic active site, only one or two bases could be copied.

    Of course, the most likely cause of their results is contamination. Even though 104 base pairs of DNA is small, it is still MASSIVE compared to the sorts of subatomic particles that can participate in quantum tunneling of the sort they would need to happen to make their results “real”. That’s like trying to squeeze a super-tanker through the eye of a needle. While it’s not forbidden by quantum mechanics, the probability of it happening is nearly indistinguishable from zero, even to a mathematician.

    Thanks for the laugh, Orac. I plan on using this “paper” when I lecture on how to evaluate scientific papers (it won’t be the “good” example).

    Prometheus

  42. #42 Sauceress
    January 14, 2011

    #24 Ewan R

    As an undergraduate I discovered teleporting DNA well before this work was ever done.

    Me too!
    If only Luc Montagnier’s earth shattering revelations had been around then, I would have had some sort of excuse to present. Not a viable one, but an excuse that shifted the blame none the less. Explaining Montagnier’s *reasoning* may have at least dissolved some of the stern looks I recieved. Mind you the looks from other undergrads, those who weren’t so aware of this magic phenomenom in all its glory, were the worst!

  43. #43 Sauceress
    January 14, 2011

    Todd W.

    Now I have this picture of a dalek in my mind saying “Contaminate! CONTAMINAAATE!”

    Oooooh….I want!
    Every lab bench should have one.

  44. #44 GlaxoPharma Com Orbital
    January 14, 2011

    MESSAGE BEGINS————————-

    Hi everyone!!!

    The Great and Powerful Lord Draconis, Forward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Suzerain of V’tar and Imperator of Terra (blah, blah, blah:P) couldn’t comment on this since he is, as I say, “moltin’ and revoltin’.” I totally tease him all the time, but don’t worry about me, Lady Astra and I are totally besties, plus he’d never find anything if I got flensed! But really, he only seems evil and despotic until you get to know him or witness the grandeur of his mercy on a personal level.

    Anyhoo, I just wanted to put my little two cents in on this whole Luc Montanier thingy. I’ve been hanging around these folks for a few years so I can tell you that our Glaxxon overlords know a thing or two about a thing or two. And even they can’t, well, you know, “beam you up” or anything. Vaporize you, yes, teleport you, no can do!

    So’s anyway this Nobel Nutball guy really ought to try irradiating his little water samples before doing whatever it is he does with his little DNA experiment doohickey. I may be just a secretary (the luckiest goshdarn secretary in the Orion arm!) from Udall, Kansas, USA (Earth!), but I can tell you that Mrs. Flinders didn’t raise any fools, so even I know that you have to clean your science tubes out real good before you try anything fancy with ‘em.

    Well, ol’ dragonpants will out of the vats soon and I have fuel requisitions to fill out, incoming vector packets, buckets of filing to do and party favors to make for the Jamboree (yay for the Jamboree!!). So’s anyway, keep up the good work everyone!!! See you all in Sedona o.O

    Cindy Flinders
    Executive Primate VL302001001001
    Minion Cadre Leader OFC11
    Decorations: VXL1, VXL2, Battleclaw of Thrinx, Imperator’s Commendation 2, Best Apple Pie – Cowley County Fair

    GlaxoPharmaCOM Orbital
    0010100000001001010010010

    ————————-MESSAGE ENDS

  45. #45 Raincitygirl
    January 14, 2011

    My question is did Dr. Montagnier use lab space at the Pasteur Institute to make his astounding discoveries? Because if so, I think the taxpayers of France may have grounds to feel less than thrilled.

  46. #46 Clenbuterol
    January 15, 2011

    How can be homeopathy is proved fake again,is there a difference between the thinking of people who are in the liking of the experiment..

    Clenbuterol

  47. #47 Antiquated Tory
    January 15, 2011

    Interesting but unfortunate bit of spam. According to Wikipedia, clenbuterol is a bronchiodilator that is used off-label for weight loss and athletic performance enhancement. I don’t think this part of the Internet is where clenbuterol pushers should be attracting attention to themselves.

  48. #48 realpc
    January 15, 2011

    The article says there were controls. Why would contamination only happen in the experimental conditions, and not in the controls?

    The following controls were found to suppress the EMS transmission in the water tube:
    - Time of exposure of the two tubes less than 16 − 18 hrs
    - No coil
    - Generator of magnetic field turned off
    - Frequency of excitation < 7 H z
    - Absence of DNA in tube 1.

  49. #49 SomeGuyWanderingBy
    January 15, 2011

    realpc: from what I can make out from the paper (it’s horribly written, so it’s hard to tell) the controls refer only to the stage of the experiment where they try to cause an electromagnetic signal (EMS) to appear in the second tube, not the DNA bit. The EMS thing is a bit odd in itself, but with no information on what they actual do there’s no way to know if the controls are any good. But they aren’t blinded, so…

  50. #50 Midnight Rambler
    January 16, 2011

    PCR can be incredibly sensitive, which is why it doesn’t take much contaminating DNA at all to produce false positive amplifications of a sequence of interest

    Yeah, yeah, that’s what everyone keeps saying. So how come mine keep failing all the time? And how come I keep getting all kinds of batshit insane results? If it was contamination, that would at least make sense and be fixable. Instead I have to deal all this screwed up genetic evolution. MtDNA is not supposed to be polymorphic, goddammit!

  51. #51 Daniel J. Andrews
    January 16, 2011

    Now I have this picture of a dalek in my mind saying “Contaminate! CONTAMINAAATE!”

    Damn! That’ll be stuck in my mind for a long while now. Hope some graphically-gifted readers make a mash-up from Dr. Who and a PCR learning video.

  52. #52 Pareidolius
    January 16, 2011

    MESSAGE BEGINS————————-

    Shills and Minions . . . Miss Flinders.

    After enjoying the pleasures of a good molt down in the vats, the last thing a reptilian despot wants to encounter upon emerging all fresh and shiny, is an undisciplined monkey riot! And Cindy. Really, I rely on you to keep things running with precision and at least a modicum of dignity. To find the battle bridge festooned with Vornigk banners and random minions and the occasional class V shill behaving with all the dignity of a troop of medieval tumblers is . . . disappointing.

    I understand your species “high spirits” get the best of you at times. It is to be expected from the endothermic. But I really must insist on order at PharmaCom Orbital. This is a Class VII Glaxxon Imperial Subjugation Unit! Is a tiny bit of order too much to ask for? This kind of behaviour is what our picnics and other Corporate festivities are for.

    There will be no punishment as the station is now restored to order and Cindy has made me a carrot cake (with crickets) from Shill Todd’s exquisite recipe. My scales are fresh and my crest is low and I intend to keep it that way (at least until the next hatchling creche emerges). There are still rebels to dispatch and the battle for Earth continues apace!

    By the way, if anyone but Miss Flinders is heard referring to me as “old dragonpants” there will be . . . consequences.

    Have a “nice day.”

    Lord Draconis Zeneca, VC, iH7L
    PharmaCOM Orbital HQ
    0010101101001

  53. #53 Porlock Junior
    January 17, 2011

    One bit of Montagnier bashing has been omitted, and I must make amends for the oversight. In the mini-interview that Science published (24 December 2010), he plays the Galileo Gambit. It’s the second-party variant of the gambit, which is less egotistical than the standard first-person line, but still a classic GG.

    I was just reading it tonight — hey, the mag can take a long time reach remote outposts like the West Coast — and here it is.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6012/1732.full [firewall, sorry]

    Q:You have called Benveniste a modern Galileo. Why?

    L.M.:Benveniste was rejected by everybody, because he was too far ahead. He lost everything, his lab, his money. … I think he was mostly right, but the problem was that his results weren’t 100% reproducible.

    P. Jr.: News for our Nobelist: Galileo’s results were reproducible.

    It took less than a year for the Jesuits in Rome, who had plenty of reason to dislike the strange observations claimed in 1610, to apply his new-fangled “telescope” technology and replicate them adequately.

    Of course, science moved faster in those days. Hey, wait a minute–

  54. #54 realpc
    January 17, 2011

    “realpc: from what I can make out from the paper … the controls refer only to the stage of the experiment where they try to cause an electromagnetic signal (EMS) to appear in the second tube, not the DNA bit.”

    If the results were caused by contamination, then why wasn’t there contamination in all the conditions? The second test tube only contained “ghost” DNA when the first test tube had undergone a certain number of dilutions.

    We can assume the PCR was performed the same way for each condition. So why would there be contamination for some and not others.

    And by the way, you could accuse any experimenter of being careless when doing PCR. Is it fair to accuse Montagnier of carelessness simply because you don’t like the results he found?

  55. #55 Scott
    January 17, 2011

    realpc:

    We don’t know that there wasn’t contamination all over. It’s all to easy to rationalize away – this set contamination, that set result, even if they’re in reality all contamination.

    The paper doesn’t give enough information to reach a solid conclusion on that. Indeed, it doesn’t provide enough information to reliably evaluate it AT ALL. It amounts to “this is true because I say so; trust me!” There’s a reason it hasn’t been published in a journal – no reputable journal would accept such an amateurish and incompetent account of an experiment. MUCH better is expected out of the lab reports of juniors in college, much less professional papers.

  56. #56 realpc
    January 17, 2011

    Scott,

    What you’re saying is nonsense. If the research was amateurish and careless, why would New Scientist bother to mention it? And what makes you think it won’t be published?

    This is hardly the first time someone has found information-storing capabilities in water. You just don’t like it because it suggests that homeopathy isn’t all complete nonsense.

  57. #57 Matthew Cline
    January 17, 2011

    @realpc:

    This is hardly the first time someone has found information-storing capabilities in water.

    Wait, I thought this was about teleporting DNA, not water memory.

  58. #58 Ken
    January 17, 2011

    Matthew @57: It certainly isn’t about water memory. In fact, realpc @48 has convincingly shown that it has nothing whatsoever to do with homeopathy. Unless homeopaths routinely shield their entire dilution apparatus from the Earth’s magnetic field, and apply a 7-Hz electromagnetic field, and take 16-18 hours to perform each dilution, the Montagnier effect cannot possibly be imprinting information on the water.

    By the same token, Jojo @13 and Badger3k @20 can stop worrying about accidentally starring in a remake of The Fly.

  59. #59 Mysticdog
    January 18, 2011

    Have we ruled out a practical joke or perhaps revenge by people working under/with the guy? Because that would just be hilarious.

  60. #60 realpc
    January 18, 2011

    “It certainly isn’t about water memory”

    Of course it is! The structure of the DNA was encoded in the water in the nearby test tube. That was the whole point.

  61. #61 davek
    January 19, 2011

    New Scientist is the National Enquirer of science.

  62. #62 maxa
    July 28, 2011