“I think this is a stunner,” Dr. Collins said. “This is like the seat of the soul of the genome.”

OK. I could not help myself with this one after I was sent the quote by Francis Collins in this New York Times Article. Dr. Collins, in relation to a new study that showed that one region of one human chromosome apparently plays roles in heart disease and diabetes, said

I think this is a stunner,” Dr. Collins said. “This is like the seat of the soul of the genome.”

Now, I have commented before about how Dr. Collins is doing a pretty good job about keeping his religious beliefs separate from his work. And since he is a strong supporter of evolutionary biology I like to give him the benefit of the doubt (I personally agree with him that there is no need for a conflict between evolutionary biology and non fundamentalist religious beliefs). But I think “the seat of the soul of the genome” is a bit much.

I frequently criticize researchers who observe something in the genome and immediately come up with an adaptive explanation for the observation. Such adaptationist, just so story responses, are common in molecular biology and many areas of biology and were written about extensively by Gould and Lewontin and others. But now I guess we have a new category of adaptationist-like explanations. Striking findings in a genome can now be called “just soul stories.”

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

One thought on ““I think this is a stunner,” Dr. Collins said. “This is like the seat of the soul of the genome.””

  1. What’s even weirder is that Collins isn’t referring to a part of the genome supposedly involved in consciousness. I would have thought that the metaphorical “seat of the soul” would have something to do with that. Unless he’s claiming diabetics are soulless sinners or something because of their mutated region. Well, it’s not like I know any diabetics personally — oh, wait.

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