To: National Desk, Science, TV Review, & Education Writers
Contact: Mark Edwards 206.292.0401 x107 / medwards@discovery.org

PBS Charged with "False Claim" on "Universal Genetic Code"


September 10, 2001

SEATTLE -- Viewers of PBS's upcoming series EVOLUTION [Sept. 24-27] will be told of the "fact" that all living things share the same genetic code. They also will be assured that the universality of the genetic code provides "powerful evidence" that all living things "evolved on a single tree of life."

What viewers won't be told is that this so-called "fact" is not true.

"The supposed 'fact' of the universal genetic code is based on outdated science that has been invalidated by more recent research," says biochemist Michael Behe a Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow. He is also author of Darwin's Black Box.

"Back in the early 1970s, evolutionary biologists did think that a given piece of DNA specified the same protein subunit in every living thing, and that the genetic code was thus universal," explains biologist Jonathan Wells, another Discovery Institute Senior Fellow. "This was unlikely to have happened by chance, so it was interpreted as evidence that every organism had inherited its genetic code from a single common ancestor. In 1979, however, exceptions to the code were found in mitochondria, the tiny energy factories inside cells. Biologists subsequently found exceptions in bacteria and in the nuclei of algae and single-celled animals."

"It is now clear that the genetic code is not the same in all living things, and that it does not provide 'powerful evidence' that all living things 'evolved on a single tree of life,'" concludes Dr. Wells, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California at Berkeley. He is author of the new book Icons of Evolution.

A current listing of exceptions to the genetic code can be found at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/htbin-post/Taxonomy/wprintgc?mode=c.

"The false claim about the genetic code is only one of many scientific misstatements, errors, and omissions in the PBS series EVOLUTION," says Stephen Meyer, director of Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. "We plan to point out many of the series' other scientific shortcomings during the coming week at a special website which will premier this Wednesday."