The glasses of Miguel Beato (Salamanca, 83) are darkened by the sun’s rays that beat early on Barceloneta beach. At the foot of what was until recently his professional home, Barcelona’s Biomedical Research Park (PRBB, for its acronym in Catalan), the scientist took photos in this interview and successfully dodged the rays of light streaking his shirt. He allows himself to do this, but he imposes his standards: pictures in the laboratory, no, because he no longer has it. He just retired.
Beato was, between 2001 and 2011, the first director of the Center for Genome Regulatory (CRG), a mainstay of international basic science, whose contributions have helped light the way in the fight against cancer. His most recent discovery, published in magazine Sciences In 2016, he described a new, unexpected pathway for creating adenosine triphosphate (ATP, which fuels cells) in the cell nucleus. “If you block that, all the changes in the chain structure that a stem cell has to go through to become a cancer cell, it can’t do that,” he explains. They have already discovered a potential inhibitor that could be used for this purpose, but that story won’t be told by Beto.
The researcher who uploaded and mapped the CRG papers. He has just hung up his scientific coat and is going to Germany, where he has spent a good portion of his career and family. It leaves behind an already mature CRG, through which more than a thousand scientists from all over the world have passed and which has produced some 3,800 scientific articles in its 20 years of life.
Ask. Do you want to retire?
Answer. never. I’m retiring because things are fine now, because I’m taking better space for young people and I was already a little tired, and my head is not the same as before.
s. Are you sad to leave?
R was found. Leaving work made me sad, like confusion. Now I am adjusting to my stone. I paint stones, I read a lot … I continue to read scientific literature and still think about science.
s. How have things changed since you first entered the lab?
R was found. Excuse me! It has nothing to do with it. I am a doctor, and have no academic training in chemistry, physics or mathematics. I am a gynecologist. And I loved giving birth. But the thought that you would devote your whole life to it seemed a little sad to me.
s. Was he bored?
R was found. I was bored because giving birth is so much like another birth. I loved giving birth, huh! and the envy that a woman feels in me to be able to create life… The truth is, I wanted to be a woman because the greatest thing about the human race is the fact that a woman is able to make a different body using a different genome inside your body that doesn’t produce antibodies to it; Then breastfeed him, let him live on it. This is incredible. Men are superfluous, superfluous, from a biological point of view, for the species. Now, of course, men matter almost as much as women because it’s the brain that matters, there’s no evolution anymore.
s. Is there no development yet?
R was found. Humans are no longer evolving because medicine and care make those who cannot compete biologically advance and have children. The human genome is no longer evolving, it is getting damaged. Instead, we create bad genomes because we allow everyone, no defect, myopia or whatever, to reproduce and have children. For development, it is important for a person who is not well prepared and does not have children to crawl. If not, then there is no development.
s. Are advances in science to improve people’s health inconsistent with human evolution?
R was found. The human species is no longer evolving genetically, but evolving culturally. The existing development is cultural, based on creating knowledge, taming nature, and improving all problems… The evidence is that what is developing now is artificial intelligence and computers, but not the human mind.
The human genome is no longer evolving, it is being damaged: we are creating bad genomes.
s. Is there any danger that man will not evolve further, as you say?
R was found. It is developing poorly. There are more and more people with genetic defects as they get treated, get better and live on. We are declining physically, but we are evolving culturally, and this is a stronger and faster development.
s. Do we win or lose with this change?
R was found. In principle win comes, with the risk that we are many. In other words, the worst thing that medicine has brought to Earth is that we are too many people. We are an epidemic and we are killing the world. The world is not being destroyed by wild species, we are doing it by our factories, our cities, which are utter brutality, a denial of nature, and pollution. It is a culture that could bring about the end of the world for the genre and get close to it. In the long run, we lose.
s. What do you suggest?
R was found. I don’t know. It will be necessary to control the birth rate and reduce the number of people. Before that, this was done by wars, but now there are no more wars of this kind that destroy so many people.
s. Maybe not the best option either, right?
R was found. What was there was. And there was a bit of a choice there too because of that. But now there is none of that.
s. Do you miss natural selection?
R was found. I don’t miss her, I see what’s going on. I don’t miss him because it seems to me that he was wild and that the guy had the potential to do something different.
s. In an interview with EL PAÍS in 2000, he said that CRG would be a center for “functional genomics”, for how the genome works. did you get it?
R was found. Yes, and more than that, we are the best functional genomics center in Europe, although there is a center in England that will end up beating us because they have more private money. That’s what we’re missing here: society doesn’t invest in science.
s. As you said that “there is no more applied science than basic science”. Do you still think so?
R was found. All articles are based on something someone in basic science has discovered. There is no science more than basic. The other is statistical exercises, comparing one thing to another … and that’s fine, you have to do them, but you can do them even better if you have new knowledge that allows you to explore new paths.
s. In 2008 he said that CRG was still “young and fragile” and that little was still known about its genome. And now?
R was found. We still don’t fully understand the genome. It contains about 25,000 genes that code for proteins. [tienen la información para crearlas] And we know them all well; What happens is that the rest of the genome, which doesn’t code for proteins, is what makes one cell make hair, another make muscle, and another make bone. Every cell has the same genome, however, uses different parts of it because of the rest of the genome that does not code for proteins, but determines which parts that cell will use and which it will never use. This is functional genomics and it is only now beginning to be understood. We were the first to understand that the way the genome folds inside the nucleus is very important for cell differentiation. In other words, there are regions close to regions of the genome that cause the cell to express one part of the genome and not another. This is like origami, you can make a house or a boat using paper depending on how you fold it.
s. What is the most important thing that remains to be known about the genome?
R was found. It’s so complicated because the genome is a beast, there are 3,000 million letters, one after the other. Each cell has more or less the same genome, but with small differences due to replication errors that make evolution possible. With the ability we now have to sequence whole genomes on a large scale, we are in a position to begin to understand it. And there are already people doing that at CRG.
s. Twenty years ago, the first copy of the genome, 92%, was decoded. Another full version was published last year. What are the implications of that?
R was found. If you don’t know the complete genome, you don’t know your own genome. Your genome is like a story being told and there are repeating parts that are key to the story. [Antes] We had a very fragmented view of the genome and lost sight of the repetitive elements we had, especially those viruses that were incorporated into the genome by evolution and moved within it. We still don’t fully understand how it works because it jumps from one location to another in the same genome, and this can lead to jumping to a site that activates a part of the genome that shouldn’t be activated.
s. Is the genome still so much unknown?
R was found. There is no genome. Even in your cells there are many genomes. It would be necessary to sequence the genomes of many cells to understand the personality genome. When a cell divides, it has to completely replicate its DNA and mistakes are made that they try to correct, but some are corrected and some are not. To read the genome we will need other, faster methods.
s. What answers could that give?
R was found. It’s hard to tell until we get it because we still don’t know much about it. But the reality is that soon, people will be going with their genome in hand, something like an ID. It will be necessary to compare the genome of the tumor or abnormality with this genome. It would take some kind of supercomputer, which has yet to be found, capable of making those comparisons in seconds. It will happen, but we are not there yet.
s. You have devoted part of your research to fighting cancer. What is left known about this disease to let go?
R was found. It’s very complicated. Now we understand that there is a part of a cell’s functioning that is not necessarily related to the chemistry we are studying, namely to how two molecules interact through their chemistry. What happens is that there are also non-specific groupings in macromolecules that allow cooperation between them, like RNA with proteins or proteins with proteins.
s. And could there be a clue as to why a person makes a malignant cell?
R was found. Yes, there may be some keys. A city is much like a hive: it has roads of communication, areas where large groups of citizens are created, others where there are none, roads where there are many people and others where there is none. The cell is just like that: there are places where things happen and places where nothing happens.
s. Is it possible to beat cancer?
R was found. Not to beat him, but to control him. I think that’s possible. When, I do not know. All those interventions that prevent cancer have other effects on cells, and we also have to make sure that they don’t cause problems in other cells.
beat cancer, no; But controlling it I think is possible.
s. Did I answer all the questions you had when you started?
R was found. never. What happens is that I also answered questions that I couldn’t find, which is fine. I considered the interactions of non-specific molecules as a disorder that created problems for us and we had to eliminate them and see only the specific problems. However, it is these undefined assemblies that are key. This is how life began: in places where there are pools, clusters of molecules that can form chains have formed so that the pool that has been formed can reproduce, and if it can reproduce, then there is evolution.
s. What is your greatest pride as a scientist?
R was found. I think she created the CRG because that, now independent of me, works in an unstoppable way.
s. How would you like to be remembered?
R was found. I don’t know if you are very interested in remembering.
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