A Thumbs Down Book Review
Minerals for the Genetic Code: An Exposition & Analysis of the Dr. Olree Standard Genetic Periodic Chart & the Physical, Chemical & Biological Connection.
By Charles Walters Acres, USA, 2006
Reviewed by Chris Masterjohn
Dr. Richard Olree, a chiropractor who calls himself a “theoretical geneticist,” has put forth a new theory about the nature of the genetic code that, if correct, would revolutionize the field of genetics. The theory stipulates that each of the 64 codons, the basic units of the genetic code, requires its own unique mineral—thus greatly expanding the list of essential nutrients.
Charles Walters, founder of the eco-agriculture publication AcresUSA, has transmitted this theory to book form in the 2006 title, Minerals for the Genetic Code. While the book contains an interesting introduction to the history of biological science, an excellent interview with cancer researcher and genetic engineering critic John Fagan, and a useful 100-page appendix listing important food sources of various trace minerals, Walters devotes less than one hundred pages to his description of Olree’s theory and is remarkably silent about the experimental basis for this theory—assuming one exists at all.
Lack of Experimental Evidence
The book begins with a foreword on the dangers of fluoride and its first several chapters deliver scathing critiques of the modern medical system and commercial soil chemistry. Walters then narrates the fascinating stories of the discoveries and experimental demonstrations of some of the most basic chemical and biological concepts that we take for granted today.
For example, the Flemish physician Jan Baptista van Helmont first demonstrated in the seventeenth century that trees synthesize most of their tissue from water or air rather than from soil by planting a tree in an isolated tub and measuring the weight of the soil before and after it grew.
The English scientist and preacher Stephen Hale tried to test whether plants consumed air by clamping a glass container over a number of peppermint plants and measuring the change in atmospheric pressure, but the plants simply died. Later research demonstrated that animals and plants changed the air in opposite ways, each allowing for the survival of the other, and that plants only changed the air in the presence of light. Through many well-designed and wellcontrolled experiments, we now know that plants produce glucose from carbon dioxide and water, releasing oxygen, and that animals conversely break down glucose with oxygen, releasing carbon dioxide and water. Walters narrates in like manner the discoveries of the periodic table of the elements and the genetic code.
When, after more than 80 pages, Walters finally begins describing Olree’s theory, he leaves the reader infinitely less impressed. Rather than describing solid experimental research as in the previous section, Walters describes a “eureka” moment back in 1981 when Olree realized he could tie the genetic code in to a chart he had already made drawing relationships between color therapy, aromatherapy, acupuncture and a Chinese sacred text called the I Ching. Walters likens this sudden insight to Archimedes’ discovery that he could determine the density of the king’s crown, and thus whether it was made of pure gold, by measuring the water it displaced in a bathtub, and to Friedrich Kekulé’s realization that benzene could be structured as a hexagon while staring at the shapes made by the smoke rising from his fireplace.
The basis of the theory is the repetition of the number 64 in various natural and philosophical systems. The vertebral column develops from 32 embryonic structures called somites that eventually become vertebrae and 32 spaces that eventually become intervertebral discs, together making 64 points along the spine. The ancient Chinese text, the I Ching, is a compilation of hexagrams with six positions that can be filled with either solid or broken lines, making 64 possible hexagrams, each of which is associated with a certain psychological trait. Olree noticed in his private practice that misalignments of certain vertebrae were associated with particular psychological changes and began mapping out the associations between the 64 points along the spine and the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. He used a 1926 version of the periodic table of the elements made by Walter Russell, an artist and architect credited with coining the term “New Age” and with hypothesizing the existence of various subatomic particles now known to exist. This table contained far fewer elements than the current table contains, as well as 22 subatomic particles not included on the current table. It was organized into nine octaves. The ninth octave contained radioactive elements, while the first eight octaves contained 64 non-radioactive elements and subatomic particles. Referring to these collectively as “minerals,” Olree designated each vertebral point with its own mineral and its own hexagram of the I Ching.
When Olree stumbled upon a book called DNA and the I Ching, a new theory of genetics was born. The book drew an analogy between the codons of DNA and the hexagrams of the I Ching. DNA is like an alphabet in which each of four nucleotides represents a letter. Nucleotides consist of nitrogen-containing ring structures called nitrogenous bases that are attached to sugars and phosphate groups. The four bases making up the nucleotides in DNA are adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). When the cell makes a protein, it first makes an RNA copy of a particular DNA sequence using the same bases, except it replaces thymine (T) with uracil (U). The RNA copy is then used to make the protein. Each of these “letters” makes up a three-letter “word” called a codon. Each codon codes for a particular amino acid that will be used to make the new protein; for example, AUG codes for methionine. There are 64 possible codons in the “languages” of DNA and RNA. The book drew an analogy between these 64 codons and the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. Olree had already determined that each I Ching hexagram corresponded to a particular position in the vertebral column and to a particular mineral; once he realized the connection between the I Ching and DNA, then, the relationship between the latter and the 64 minerals of Russell’s periodic table became self-evident.
Olree synthesized all of this information into the “Olree Biological Periodic Chart.” Each of the 64 entries contains the name of the mineral, its electric charge, the number Russell had assigned to it, the I Ching hexagram Olree assigned to it, the RNA codon to which it corresponds, the amino acid coded for by the RNA sequence, the number of times the codon appears in the human genome, the point on the vertebral column to which it corresponds, the hour of the day during which a particular acupuncture meridian that Olree also assigned to the mineral regenerates, and the psychological trait associated with the I Ching hexagram. Examples of the psychological traits include “before the end,” “after the end,” “insight,” “conscientiousness,” and “reuniting.”
Walters gives no description of precisely how Olree assigned the minerals to their respective codons. For example, why does UGU correspond to arsenic and not to calcium? No answer is given. Buried deep in the book, however, under the entry for the “subatomic mineral” barnordon, Walters gives us a disturbing description of how Olree assigned the minerals to the vertebral positions in Olree’s own words: “I like the third law of physics. For every action [there is] an equal and opposite reaction. So I [took] the human spine and the 64 amino acids [codons] and concluded that number 1 equals 64, number 2 equals 63, and I laid it out on paper. The opposite of number 9 is number 54, the yttrium area of the spine. So treatment at the cervical 5 disc can directly have an effect on yttrium.” In other words, he simply started with the first vertebra and counted backwards down Russell’s periodic table from the last mineral to the first. The great scientists whose work Walters spent 80 pages reviewing at the beginning of the book would have designed experiments to test whether these associations were true, but Olree apparently did not.
An Implausible Theory
The most puzzling part of the theory is the lack of clarity about the exact roles of these minerals. Under the entry for lanthanum, Walters states that silica and lanthanum form “the glue that holds ‘junk’ DNA together,” based on the abundant appearance of their associated codons in these regions of DNA. This suggests that the minerals are actually bound to the DNA itself. In the introduction to the Olree chart, however, Walters states that the minerals associated with the stop codons that signal the end of the protein— sulfur, hydrogen and yttrium—need to be present in order for the protein to be properly made from the RNA copy, or else the protein will be made in fragments and degraded. This suggests that the minerals interact with RNA during protein synthesis rather than with DNA. Both propositions are implausible because scientists reproduce these processes in test tubes all over the world every day without ever adding lanthanum or yttrium to the mix. Without certain enzyme cofactors like magnesium, the processes will not go forward, but the absence of yttrium never results in fragmented proteins.
Another question also arises: if these minerals are essential components of DNA or RNA, why is it that no one has found them there? Indeed, some of the statements in the book make it ambiguous whether one should expect to see some of these minerals in the body at all. For example, the mineral scandium is said to be associated with proline, an important amino acid that makes up roughly one third of the collagen molecule. According to Olree, scandium is abundant on the sun but is the rarest mineral on the earth. He posits that scandium is somehow transmitted to us through electromagnetic radiation when we are exposed to sunshine. According to one of his lectures available on the internet,1 the “DNA sequence of vitamin D”—by which he must mean the sequence for the vitamin’s receptor or an enzyme that metabolizes it—is rich in the scandium-associated codon, which he says explains why we need sunlight for vitamin D. One must wonder, however, whether we receive the actual scandium from sunlight or only its spirit.
The case of the seven noble gases is similar. Noble gases such as argon and xenon are, outside of this particular book, universally regarded as irrelevant to biology because they do not engage in chemical reactions. They nevertheless have their place on the Olree chart. Since they do not form charges and thus do not interact with biological molecules, however, Walters states that their presence in the genome may be more “psychological” than “physical.”
It would appear that Olree’s theory is based not on any experimental evidence, but merely on the analogy between the repeating pattern of 64 in the several natural and philosophical systems he has tied together. Putting aside the questions of whether all 22 of Russell’s “subatomic minerals” actually exist as such and whether the exclusion of all the minerals in the ninth octave and the inclusion of all the others was justified, the analogy is weaker than it first appears. DNA and the I Ching arrive at the number 64 in very different ways: DNA uses four symbols in three positions (four multiplied by itself three times is 64) while the I Ching uses two symbols in six positions (two multiplied by itself six times is 64).
The I Ching becomes analogous to the genetic code only if one counts every two lines as a single symbol. This will make the two symbols (solid and broken) become four symbols (solid-solid, solid-broken, broken-solid, broken-broken) and thus analogous to the four DNA bases (A, G, C, T) and will make the six single lines of the hexagram become three line pairs and thus analogous to the three nucleotides of the codon.2 But this maneuver simply manipulates the I Ching into something it is not.
Moreover, the DNA code is redundant. Although there are 64 codons, they collectively code for only 21 meanings. Sixty-one of them code for the twenty amino acids that are incorporated into proteins and three of them act as stop signals.3 By contrast, each hexagram of the I Ching has its own meaning and each mineral of the Russell table is unique.
Both the structure of DNA and the redundancy of the genetic code make it especially difficult to figure out where in the biological process these minerals fit in. DNA exists as a double-stranded twist where all of the codons have their binding sites connected to the codons of the opposite strand. The binding patterns are dependent on the individual nucleotides, however, and not on the full codon. A always binds to T and C always binds to G. A-T and C-G are the only two binding patterns in DNA. If minerals were to somehow fit between these bases without completely disrupting the structure of DNA, there would be room only for two, not for 64. When the cellular machinery makes a protein from DNA, it first makes a copy of messenger RNA (mRNA). The synthesis of the mRNA molecule is dependent on the same type of base-pairing that occurs within the DNA molecule itself, so again there is no room for 64 different minerals in the process. Protein-producing machines called ribosomes then read the mRNA transcript and molecules called transfer RNAs (tRNAs) act as forklifts that bring the appropriate amino acid to the ribosome at the appropriate time so the ribosome can connect the amino acids together and make a protein. Each tRNA molecule has an “anti-codon” that corresponds to one or more codons of the mRNA, but there are not 64 tRNAs; there are only 20, each one corresponding to one of the 20 amino acids.3 Thus, it makes little sense that the codons of the mRNA molecule would require 64 different minerals to interact with 20 different tRNA anti-codons.
Moreover, the nature of biology is to conservatively utilize the least number of patterns possible. For example, a basic zinc-requiring fingershaped pattern called a “zinc finger motif” repeats itself over and over again in molecules that interact with DNA, rather than each molecule requiring a different mineral to make the finger.4 There are thousands of proteins that incorporate zinc because of its unique structural utility, but other minerals like aluminum are not known to coordinate the structure of any proteins because their properties are less useful or even harmful. Olree’s theory, by contrast, posits the use of 64 different minerals to fulfill very similar or identical functions within a single system and thus violates the basic principles of how biological systems are designed.
Olree’s theory leads to some very strange conclusions. For example, the RNA codon UGG codes for the amino acid tryptophan and is associated with the “subatomic mineral” marconium, the 6:00 PM regeneration of the kidney meridian, and the cervical disc 7, which itself is associated with the nerve connected to the thyroid gland. Olree thus concludes that the thyroid gland falls under the energy field of the kidney and that, since the thyroid gland consumes a great deal of iodine, iodine is the most important element for kidney function. Most other practitioners or researchers would set out to test the ability of treating the kidney to normalize thyroid function or the ability of iodine to normalize kidney function before they would draw such a conclusion.
Olree’s strangest conclusions concern the minerals selenium and yttrium—these are also two of the minerals whose dietary importance he emphasizes the most, both in the book as conveyed by Walters and in his own talks.1 His own chart ties the stop codon UGA to yttrium. Modern science, however, has tied it to selenium. Olree thus concludes that selenium is only used for the stop codon as a backup mineral when yttrium is deficient, implying that we are suffering from a widespread yttrium deficiency. Yet modern science has not tied selenium to the stop codon; rather, it has shown that the UGA codon when adjacent to certain selenium insertion sequences can code for the modified amino acid selenocysteine instead of the stop site.5 Olree seems completely unaware of the fact that every single selenoprotein in the body incorporates selenocysteine in this manner. He is adamant that selenium must be taken in as selenomethionine, which often occurs in plants and plays no known role in the animal body, but makes no mention of selenocysteine, the form commonly found in animal foods like liver.5
In addition to his speculation that selenium’s connection to the UGA codon is a result of yttrium deficiency, Olree also discovered “clear cases of yttrium deficiency not allowing for protein synthesis” when he found that two defective myelin proteins involved in multiple sclerosis were abundant in the UGA codon. Much more impressively, he uncovered actual experimental evidence that yttrium can dramatically increase lifespan in certain animals, but this effect does not necessarily confirm Olree’s speculations about its involvement in the genetic code. The section on this mineral and its entry in the appendix suggests that certain bacteria of the Bifidus genus, cabbage, and various other plants are the best sources of yttrium. Eating sauerkraut, cultured milk and other probiotic foods or forms of cabbage might be a harmless way to obtain yttrium, then, but Olree’s views on selenium might warrant more caution.
Minerals for the Genetic Code cites a 1996 report showing that 200 micrograms of selenium per day reduced the risks of several types of cancer.5 In a 2005 lecture available on the internet,1 Olree refers to another report showing that the same dose of selenium increased the risk of type 2 diabetes.7 Olree says that this was probably because they used sodium selenite instead of selenomethionine. These two reports are actually two separate analyses of the same double-blind, placebo-controlled study. It used high-selenium yeast, which contains most of its selenium as selenomethionine. The protection against cancer was seen only among the two-thirds of the participants with the lowest plasma selenium levels at the beginning of the study; in the one-third with the highest levels, participants who supplemented with selenium had 20 percent more cancer than the participants who took the placebo, although the effect could not be conclusively distinguished from the effect of chance. Selenium supplementation had no effect on the risk of type 2 diabetes in the bottom two-thirds, but in the top third it increased the risk by 30 percent, an effect that was conclusively distinguished from that of chance. It is possible that the selenium would have been protective even for people with higher levels of the mineral had it been in the form of selenocysteine or had other important cofactors been provided with it such as vitamin B6 or bioavailable cysteine from raw proteins, but this study certainly does not justify Olree’s enthusiasm for selenomethionine supplements.
Although the book does not make any specific recommendations for supplementation, it may lead many people to believe they should supplement with minerals such as lanthanum, yttrium, strontium and arsenic in addition to selenomethionine. Though it is possible that trace amounts of these minerals may play unknown essential roles in the body or be otherwise beneficial in certain circumstances, supplementation could also be harmful. Until we understand more about their potential benefits and toxicities and their mechanisms of action, we should be sure to obtain traces of these minerals only in traditional foods.
After the superb introduction to the history of biological science that Walters weaves through the first 80 pages of the book, it comes as a major disappointment when he devotes only several pages in total to the basis of the theory that constitutes the book’s main subject and even less material explaining the mechanisms by which the minerals are supposed to interact with the genetic code. Part 2 of the book provides an impressive amount of information about the general roles of various minerals in human nutrition, but one would expect the book to discuss their specific roles in organizing the genetic code, which is largely left out. The interview with Fagan and the 100-page appendix on food sources of minerals are both useful. Despite a number of interesting and valuable sections in the book, however, it ultimately fails at its central task—to convince the reader that Olree’s 64 minerals are in fact essential to the genetic code.
- Olree R. Minerals for the Genetic Code: Acres ’05 Conference Presentation. http://www.emineral. info/Presentations.html. Accessed April 20, 2008.
- Internet Sacred Text Archive. Introduction to Legge J, Tr. “The I Ching,” originally printed in Sacred Books of the East, Volume 16, 1899. http://www.sacred-texts.com/ich/index.htm. Accessed April 20, 2008.
- Klug WS, Cummings MR, Spencer CA. Concepts of Genetics: Eighth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education (2006).
- Aranda A, Pascual A. Nuclear Hormone Receptors and Gene Expression. Physiol Rev. 2001;81(3):1269-1304.
- Burk RF, Levander OA. Selenium. In: Shils, et al., eds., Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease: Tenth Edition. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (2006) pp. 312-25.
- Clark LC, Combs GF Jr, Turnbull BW, Slate EH, Chalker DK, Chow J, et al. Effects of selenium supplementation for cancer prevention in patients with carcinoma of the skin. A randomized controlled trial. Nutritional Prevention of Cancer Study Group. JAMA. 1996;276(24):1957-63.
- Stranges S, Marshall JR, Natarajan R, Donahue RP, Trevisan M, Combs GF, et al. Effects of long-term selenium supplementation on the incidence of type 2 diabetes: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147(4):217-23.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2008.