What can DNA tell us? Place your bets now

[ Thu. Aug. 6. 2009 ]

The Genome Wager

In the spirit of famous scientific wagers by notable scientists, such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman, two leading biologists, Professor Lewis Wolpert and Dr Rupert Sheldrake, have set up a wager on the predictive value of the genome.

The wager will be decided on May 1, 2029, and if the outcome is not obvious, the Royal Society, the world’s most venerable scientific organization, will be asked to adjudicate. The winner will receive a case of fine port, Quinta do Vesuvio, 2005, which should have reached perfect maturity by 2029 and is being stored in the cellars of The Wine Society.

Prof Wolpert bets that the following will happen. Dr Sheldrake bets it will not:

By May 1, 2029, given the genome of a fertilized egg of an animal or plant, we will be able to predict in at least one case all the details of the organism that develops from it, including any abnormalities.

Prof Wolpert and Dr Sheldrake agree that at present, given the genome of an egg, no one can predict the way an embryo will develop. The wager arose from a debate on the nature of life between Wolpert and Sheldrake at the 2009 Cambridge University Science Festival.

[ED. NOTE: This wager began with the replies by Wolpert and Sheldrake to the EdgeQuestion Center 2009.]