John C. Sanford

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John C. Sanford
Portrait John Sanford.png
Sanford, fall 2014
Born (1950-06-28) 28 June 1950 (age 72)
EducationUniversity of Minnesota (BS)
University of Wisconsin–Madison (MS, Ph.D.)
Known forGene gun, publications, patents
AwardsDistinguished Inventor Award (1990, 1995)
Scientific career

John C. Sanford is an American geneticist and inventor. From 1980 to 1998 he was a professor at Cornell University. After retirement at Cornell, he continued as courtesy professor. He is known for advocacy of the pseudoscience of intelligent design.


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 continued at Cornell University as a Courtesy Associate Professor between 1998 and 2017.[1] He held an honorary Adjunct Associate Professor of Botany at Duke University. Sanford has published over 100 scientific publications.[2]


At Cornell, Sanford and colleagues developed the "Biolistic Particle Delivery System" or so-called "gene gun".[3][4][5] 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 genetic load in his book Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome (2005, 2008).[6][7]

In it, he claims that natural selection's being the cause of biological evolution (which he calls the primary axiom) "is essentially indefensible".[8]

His argument is as follows. The minimal rate of human mutation is estimated to be 100 new mutations per generation.[9] According to Sanford, Kimura's curve shows that most mutations have a near-neutral effect, and are furthermore slightly deleterious.[10]: 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."[10]: 23  Therefore, natural selection is considered too slow to allow evolution.[10]: 128 Additionally, the selective cost is considered too high to override genetic drift and noise.[10]: 57 

Mainstream evolutionary biologists disagree with Sanford's ideas. Kimura himself disagrees with Sanford's interpretation of the mutation distribution, excluding beneficial mutations because they would have too large an effect, not an insignificant one.[11]

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 peer-reviewed venues.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19]

Mendel's Accountant is designed to track mutations as they accumulate in digital populations. 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 an atheist[20] 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.[20] 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."[21] 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. However the mainstream scientific community rejects intelligent design and does not consider it science.[22][23]


  1. ^ Resume – John Sanford
  2. ^ John C. Sanford, NY State Agricultural Experiment Station
  3. ^ Cornell Chronicle, May 14, 1987, page 3.Biologists invent gun for shooting cells with DNA Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Klein, TM et al (1987) High-velocity microprojectiles for delivering nucleic acids into living cells. Nature 327:70-73.
  6. ^ Sanford, John C. (2005-10-25). Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome. Ivan Press. ISBN 978-1-59919-002-0.
  7. ^ Sanford, John C. (2008). Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome 3rd Ed. FMS Publications. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-9816316-0-8.
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b c d John C. Sanford (2005). Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome. Elim Publishing. ISBN 978-1-59919-002-0.
  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. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b Transcripts of the Kansas Evolution Hearings
  21. ^ Intelligent Design: Professors discuss Teaching the Controversial Subject Xiaowei Cathy Tang. Cornell Daily Sun, November 15, 2005
  22. ^ "AAAS statement on intelligent design". 1 July 2013.
  23. ^ "National Centre for Science Education statement on evolution".

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