Re: another not-April Fool's-post...

Gina Miller (
Sun, 28 Mar 1999 20:03:52 PST

Does the Independent Review have a web site? Gina "Nanogirl" Miller

>From: Damien Broderick <>
>Subject: another not-April Fool's-post...
>Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1999 13:31:59 +0000
>...even though it looks like it. I repost here without permission,
>the claim is so paradigm-busting and consequential if true that it must
>have vast implications for many of the topics we usually discuss,
>brain function and routes to AI:
>>From The Independent Review, March 19th, 1999:
> The memory of molecules
> =======================
> Can molecules communicate with each other,
> exchanging information without being in physical
> contact? French biologist Jacques Benveniste believes
> so, but his scientific peers are still sceptical. By Lionel
> Milgrom
> Jacques Benveniste was once considered to be one of
> France's most respected biologists, until he was cast
> adrift from the scientific mainstream. His downfall
> began in 1988 when he infuriated the scientific
> community with experimental results which he took
> as evidence to suggest that water has a memory. His
> ideas were seized upon by homeopaths keen to find
> support for their theories on highly diluted
> medicines, but were condemned by scientific purists.
> Now, Benveniste believes he has evidence to suggest
> that it may one day be possible to transmit the
> curative power of life-saving drugs around the world
> - via the Internet.
> It sounds like science fiction and Benveniste will
> have a hard time convincing a deeply sceptical world
> that he is right. Nevertheless, he began his campaign
> last week when he announced the latest research to
> come out of his Digital Biology Laboratory near Paris,
> to a packed audience of scientists at the Pippard
> Lecture Theatre at Cambridge University's Cavendish
> Physics Laboratory. Benveniste suggested that the
> specific effects of biologically active molecules such as
> adrenalin, nicotine and caffeine, and the
> immunological signatures of viruses and bacteria, can
> be recorded and digitised using a computer
> sound-card. A keystroke later, and these signals can be
> winging their way across the globe, courtesy of the
> Internet. Biological systems far away from their
> activating molecules can then - he suggested - be
> triggered simply by playing back the recordings.
> Most scientists have dismissed Benveniste as being
> on the fringe, although there were some famous
> names in the audience last week, including Sir
> Andrew Huxley, Nobel laureate and past president of
> the Royal Society, and the physicist Professor Brian
> Josephson, also a Nobel laureate. Benveniste started
> by asking some apparently childish questions. If
> molecules could talk, what would they sound like?
> More specifically, can we eavesdrop on their
> conversations, record them, and play them back? The
> answer to these last three questions is, according to
> Benveniste, a resounding "Oui!" He further suggested
> that these "recordings" can make molecules respond
> in the same way as they do when they react.
> Contradicting the way biologists think biochemical
> reactions occur, he claims molecules do not have to
> be in close proximity to affect each other. "It's like
> listening to Pavarotti or Elton John," Benveniste
> explained. "We hear the sound and experience
> emotions, whether they're live or on CD."
> For example, anger produces adrenalin. When
> adrenalin molecules bind to their receptor sites, they
> set off a string of biological events that, among other
> things, make blood vessels contract. Biologists say that
> adrenalin is acting as a molecular signalling device
> but, Benveniste asks, what is the real nature of the
> signal? And how come the adrenalin molecules
> specifically target their receptors and no others, at
> incredible speed? According to Benveniste, if the
> cause of such biochemical events were simply due to
> random collisions between adrenalin molecules and
> their receptors (the currently accepted theory of
> molecular signalling), then it should take longer than
> it does to get angry.
> Benveniste became the bete noire of the French
> scientific establishment back in 1988, when a paper he
> had published in the science journal Nature was later
> rubbished by the then editor, Sir John Maddox, and a
> team that included a professional magician, James
> Randi. With an international group of scientists from
> Canada, France, Israel and Italy, Benveniste had
> claimed that vigorously shaking water solutions of an
> antibody could evoke a biological response, even
> when that antibody was diluted out of existence.
> Non-agitated solutions produced little or no effect.
> Nature said that the results of the experiment that
> produced the "ghostly antibodies" were, frankly,
> unbelievable. The journal itself came in for criticism
> for publishing the paper in the first place.
> In his Nature paper, Benveniste reasoned that the
> effect of dilution and agitation pointed to
> transmission of biological information via some
> molecular organisation going on in water. This
> "memory of water" effect, as it was later known,
> proved Benveniste's academic undoing. For while
> the referees of his Nature paper could not fault
> Benveniste's experimental procedures, they could not
> understand his results. How, they asked, can a
> biological system respond to an antigen when no
> molecules of it can be detected in solution? It goes
> against the accepted "lock-and-key" principle, which
> states that molecules must be in contact and
> structurally match before information can be
> exchanged. Such thinking has dominated the
> biological sciences for more than four decades, and is
> itself rooted in the views of the 17th-century French
> philosopher Rene Descartes.
> Nature's attempted debunking exercise failed to find
> evidence of fraud, but concluded that Benveniste's
> research was essentially unreproducible, a claim he
> has always denied. From being a respected figure in
> the French biological establishment, Benveniste was
> pilloried, losing his government funding and his
> laboratory. Undeterred, he and his now-depleted
> research team somehow continued to investigate the
> biological effects of agitated, highly dilute solutions.
> The latest results are, for biologists, even more
> incredible than those in the 1988 Nature paper.
> Physicists, however, should have less of a problem as
> their discipline is based on fields (eg gravitational,
> electromagnetic) which have well-established
> long-range effects. If Benveniste's claims prove to be
> true - which is far from certain - they could have
> profound consequences, not least for medical
> diagnostics.
> Benveniste's explanation starts innocuously enough
> with a musical analogy. Two vibrating strings close
> together in frequency will produce a "beat". The
> length of this beat increases as the two frequencies
> approach each other. Eventually, when they are the
> same, the beat disappears. This is the way musicians
> tune their instruments, and Benveniste uses the
> analogy to explain his water-memory theory. Thus,
> all molecules are made from atoms which are
> constantly vibrating and emitting infrared radiation
> in a highly complex manner. These infrared
> vibrations have been detected for years by scientists,
> and are a vital part of their armoury of methods for
> identifying molecules.
> However, precisely because of the complexity of their
> infrared vibrations, molecules also produce much
> lower "beat" frequencies. It turns out that these beats
> are within the human audible range (20 to 20,000
> Hertz) and are specific for every different molecule.
> Thus, as well as radiating in the infrared region,
> molecules also broadcast frequencies in the same
> range as the human voice. This is the molecular
> signal that Benveniste detects and records.
> If molecules can broadcast, then they should also be
> able to receive. The specific broadcast of one
> molecular species will be picked up by another,
> "tuned" by its molecular structure to receive it.
> Benveniste calls this matching of broadcast with
> reception "co-resonance", and says it works like a
> radio set. Thus, when you tune your radio to, say,
> Classic FM, both your set and the transmitting station
> are vibrating at the same frequency. Twitch the dial a
> little, and you're listening to Radio 1: different
> tuning, different sounds.
> This, Benveniste claims, is how millions of biological
> molecules manage to communicate at the speed of
> light with their own corresponding molecule and no
> other. It also explains why minute changes in the
> structure of a molecule can profoundly alter its
> biological effect. It is not that these tiny structural
> changes make it a bad fit with its biological receptor
> (the classical lock-and-key approach). The structural
> modifications "detune" the molecule to its receptor.
> What is more, and just like radio sets and receivers,
> the molecules do not have to be close together for
> communication to take place.
> So what is the function of water in all this?
> Benveniste explains this by pointing out that all
> biological reactions occur in water. The water
> molecules completely surround every other molecule
> placed among them. A single protein molecule, for
> example, will have a fan club of at least 10,000
> admiring water molecules. And they are not just
> hangers-on. Benveniste believes they are the agents
> that in fact relay and amplify the biological signal
> coming from the original molecule.
> It is like a CD which, by itself, cannot produce a sound
> but has the means to create it etched into its surface.
> In order for the sound to be heard, it needs to be
> played back through an electronic amplifier. And just
> as Pavarotti or Elton John is on the CD only as a
> "memory", so water can memorise and amplify the
> signals of molecules that have been dissolved and
> diluted out of existence. The molecules do not have
> to be there, only their "imprint" on the solution in
> which they are dissolved. Agitation makes the
> memory.
> So what do molecules sound like? "At the moment
> we don't quite know," says Didier Guillonnet,
> Benveniste's colleague at the Digital Research
> Laboratory. "When we record a molecule such as
> caffeine, for example, we should get a spectrum, but it
> seems more like noise. However, when we play the
> caffeine recording back to a biological system sensitive
> to it, the system reacts. We are only recording and
> replaying; at the moment we cannot recognise a
> pattern." "But," Benveniste adds, "the biological
> systems do. We've sent the caffeine signal across the
> Atlantic by standard telecommunications and it's still
> produced an effect."
> The effect is measured on a "biological system" such
> as a piece of living tissue. Benveniste claims, for
> instance, that the signal from molecules of heparin - a
> component of the blood-clotting system - slows down
> coagulation of blood when transmitted over the
> Internet from a laboratory in Europe to another in the
> US. If true, it will undoubtedly earn Benveniste a
> Nobel prize. If not, he will receive only more scorn.
> Benveniste's ideas are revolutionary - many might
> say heretical or misguided - and he is unlikely to
> persuade his most ardent critics. Although his ideas
> may seem plausible enough, he will win over his
> enemies only if his results can be replicated by other
> laboratories. So far this has not been done to the
> satisfaction of his many detractors.
>posted by
>Damien Broderick

Get Your Private, Free Email at