John C. Sanford

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John C Sanford, Fall 2014

John C. Sanford (born 1950) is an American plant geneticist, and an advocate of intelligent design and young earth creationism.


Academic career[edit]

Sanford graduated in 1976 from the University of Minnesota with a BSc in horticulture. He went to the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he received an MSc in 1978 and a Ph.D. in 1980 in plant breeding/plant genetics. Although retiring in 1998, Sanford continues at Cornell University as a courtesy associate professor. He held an honorary Adjunct Associate Professor of Botany at Duke University. Sanford has published over 100 scientific publications.[1]


At Cornell, Sanford and colleagues developed the "Biolistic Particle Delivery System" or so-called "gene gun".[2][3][4] He is the co-inventor of the Pathogen-derived Resistance (PDR) process and the co-inventor of the genetic vaccination process. In 1998 he retired on the proceeds from the sale of his biotech companies and continued at Cornell as a courtesy associate professor.

Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome[edit]

Sanford has argued for devolution in his book Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome (2005, 2008).[5][6]

In it, he claims that natural selection's being the cause of biological evolution (which he calls the primary axiom) "is essentially indefensible".[7]

His argument is as follows. The minimal rate of human mutation is estimated to be 100 new mutations per generation.[8] According to Sanford, Kimura's curve shows that most mutations have a near-neutral effect, and are furthermore slightly deleterious.[9]:31 As such, natural selection is unable to slow the accumulation of harmful mutations. Therefore, over time, fitness will decline and, if unchecked, extinction will ultimately result.

An important corollary is that "beneficial mutations are so rare as to be outside of consideration."[9]:23 Therefore, natural selection is considered too slow to allow evolution.[9]:128Additionally, the selective cost is considered too high to override genetic drift and noise.[9]:57

This idea is unsupported by available evidence. In laboratory experiments, viruses saturated with mutations do not go extinct.[10] Sanford also misuses Kimura's mutation distribution; Kimura excludes beneficial mutations because they would have too large an effect, not an insignificant one.[11] Sanford has refused to acknowledge this problem, even after being directly confronted with Kimura's own words.[12] Further, Sanford's assertion that there are virtually no selectable beneficial mutations is contradicted by examples of exactly that, such as lactase persistence in humans,[13] or tetherin antagonism in HIV-1 group M Vpu.[14]

Mendel's Accountant[edit]

Sanford and colleagues developed the quantitative forward genetic modeling program called Mendel's Accountant, publishing several papers on it and genetic entropy in non–peer-reviewed venues.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22]

Mendel's Account tracks mutations as they accumulate in digital populations in a biologically realistic manner. Based on his research, Sanford holds that the human genome is deteriorating, and therefore could not have evolved through a process of mutation and selection as specified by the modern evolutionary synthesis.

Intelligent design and creation[edit]

Formerly, according to his own account, an atheist[23] from the mid-1980s, Sanford has looked into theistic evolution (1985–late 1990s), Old Earth creation (late 1990s), and Young Earth creation (2000–present). An advocate of intelligent design, Sanford testified in 2005 in the Kansas evolution hearings on behalf of intelligent design, during which he denied the principle of common descent and "humbly offered... that we were created by a special creation, by God".

He stated that he believed the age of the Earth was "less than 100,000" years.[23] Sanford uses an analogy to illustrate evidence of design — that of a car versus a junkyard: "A car is complex, but so is a junkyard. However, a car is complex in a way that is very specific — which is why it works. It requires a host of very intelligent engineers to specify its complexity, so it is a functional whole."[24] Intelligent-design advocate William Dembski cites the accomplishments of Sanford as evidence of the scientific status of intelligent design, since Sanford is a specialist in genetic engineering and a Courtesy Associate Professor in Horticulture.


  1. ^ John C. Sanford, NY State Agricultural Experiment Station
  2. ^ Cornell Chronicle, May 14, 1987, page 3.Biologists invent gun for shooting cells with DNA Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Sanford, John C.; Klein, Theodore M.; Wolf, Edward D.; Allen, Nelson (1987). "Delivery of Substances into Cells and Tissues Using a Particle Bombardment Process". Particulate Science and Technology. 5: 27–37. doi:10.1080/02726358708904533.
  4. ^ Klein, TM et al (1987) High-velocity microprojectiles for delivering nucleic acids into living cells. Nature 327:70-73.
  5. ^ Sanford, John C. (2005-10-25). Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome. Ivan Press. ISBN 978-1-59919-002-0.
  6. ^ Sanford, John C. (2008). Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome 3rd Ed. FMS Publications. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-9816316-0-8.
  7. ^ John C. Sanford (March 2008), Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome, Feed My Sheep Foundation, Incorporated, pp. vi–vii, ISBN 978-0-9816316-0-8
  8. ^ Dolgin, Elie (27 August 2009). "Human mutation rate revealed: Next-generation sequencing provides the most accurate estimate to date". Nature. doi:10.1038/news.2009.864. Retrieved 2016-08-13.
  9. ^ a b c d John C. Sanford (2005). Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome. Elim Publishing. ISBN 978-1-59919-002-0.
  10. ^ Springman, R.; Keller, T.; Molineux, I. J.; Bull, J. J. (January 2010). "Evolution at a High Imposed Mutation Rate: Adaptation Obscures the Load in Phage T7". Genetics. 184 (1): 221–232. doi:10.1534/genetics.109.108803. ISSN 0016-6731. PMC 2815918. PMID 19858285.
  11. ^ Kimura, Motoo (1979-07-01). "Model of effectively neutral mutations in which selective constraint is incorporated". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 76 (7): 3440–3444. Bibcode:1979PNAS...76.3440K. doi:10.1073/pnas.76.7.3440. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 383841. PMID 16592684.
  12. ^ "Gen_Entropy". Letters to Creationists. 2013-03-10. Retrieved 2020-07-26.
  13. ^ Enattah, Nabil Sabri; Jensen, Tine G. K.; Nielsen, Mette; Lewinski, Rikke; Kuokkanen, Mikko; Rasinpera, Heli; El-Shanti, Hatem; Seo, Jeong Kee; Alifrangis, Michael; Khalil, Insaf F.; Natah, Abdrazak (2008-01-10). "Independent Introduction of Two Lactase-Persistence Alleles into Human Populations Reflects Different History of Adaptation to Milk Culture". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 82 (1): 57–72. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.09.012. ISSN 0002-9297. PMC 2253962. PMID 18179885.
  14. ^ Sauter, Daniel; Unterweger, Daniel; Vogl, Michael; Usmani, Shariq M.; Heigele, Anke; Kluge, Silvia F.; Hermkes, Elisabeth; Moll, Markus; Barker, Edward; Peeters, Martine; Learn, Gerald H. (2012-12-20). "Human Tetherin Exerts Strong Selection Pressure on the HIV-1 Group N Vpu Protein". PLOS Pathogens. 8 (12): e1003093. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003093. ISSN 1553-7374. PMC 3534379. PMID 23308067.
  15. ^ Sanford, J.C., Baumgardner, J., Brewer, W., Gibson, P., ReMine, W. (2007). Mendel's Accountant: a biologically realistic forward-time population genetics program. SCPE 8(2): 147-165.
  16. ^ Sanford, J.C., Baumgardner, J., Brewer, W., Gibson, P., ReMine, W. (2007). Using computer simulation to understand mutation accumulation dynamics and genetic load. In Shi et al. (Eds.), ICCS 2007, Part II, LNCS 4488 (pp.386-392), Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg.
  17. ^ Sanford, John (2012). "A new look at an old virus: patterns of mutation accumulation in the human H1N1 influenza virus since 1918". Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling. 9: 42. doi:10.1186/1742-4682-9-42. PMC 3507676. PMID 23062055.
  18. ^ Sanford, John (Jul 2013). "Can Purifying Natural Selection Preserve Biological Information?". Biological Information: New Perspectives. World Scientific. pp. 264–297. doi:10.1142/9789814508728_0011. ISBN 978-981-4508-71-1. S2CID 56164535.
  19. ^ Sanford, John (Jul 2013). "Using Numerical Simulation to Test the "Mutation-Count" Hypothesis". Biological Information: New Perspectives. World Scientific. pp. 298–311. doi:10.1142/9789814508728_0012. ISBN 978-981-4508-71-1. S2CID 55345765.
  20. ^ Sanford, John (Jul 2013). "Can Synergistic Epistasis Halt Mutation Accumulation? Results from Numerical Simulation". Biological Information: New Perspectives. World Scientific. pp. 312–337. doi:10.1142/9789814508728_0013. ISBN 978-981-4508-71-1. S2CID 87678520.
  21. ^ Sanford, John (Jul 2013). "Computational Evolution Experiments Reveal a Net Loss of Genetic Information Despite Selection". Biological Information: New Perspectives. World Scientific. pp. 338–368. doi:10.1142/9789814508728_0014. ISBN 978-981-4508-71-1. S2CID 87679715.
  22. ^ Sanford, John (Jul 2013). "Information Loss: Potential for Accelerating Natural Genetic Attenuation of RNA Viruses". Biological Information: New Perspectives. World Scientific. pp. 369–384. doi:10.1142/9789814508728_0015. ISBN 978-981-4508-71-1. S2CID 87692970.
  23. ^ a b Transcripts of the Kansas Evolution Hearings
  24. ^ Intelligent Design: Professors discuss Teaching the Controversial Subject Xiaowei Cathy Tang. Cornell Daily Sun, November 15, 2005

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