Mae-Wan Ho

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Mae-Wan Ho (Chinese: 何梅灣; pinyin: Hé Méiwān; 12 November 1941 – 24 March 2016)[1] was a geneticist[2][3] known for her critical views on genetic engineering and evolution.[4][5] She authored or co-authored a number of publications, including 10 books, such as The Rainbow and the Worm, the Physics of Organisms (1993, 1998), Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare? (1998, 1999), Living with the Fluid Genome (2003) and Living Rainbow H2O (2012).

Ho was criticized for embracing pseudoscience.[6][7][8]


Ho received a PhD in biochemistry in 1967 from Hong Kong University, was postdoctoral fellow in biochemical genetics, University of California, San Diego, from 1968 to 1972, senior research fellow in Queen Elizabeth College, lecturer in genetics (from 1976) and reader in biology (from 1985) in the Open University, and since retiring in June 2000 visiting professor of biophysics in Catania University, Sicily.[3][4]

Ho died of cancer in March 2016.[9][10]

Institute of Science in Society[edit]

Ho was a co-founder and director of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), an interest group which published fringe articles about climate change, GMOs, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, and water memory. In reviewing the organisation, David Colquhoun accused the ISIS of promoting pseudoscience and specifically criticised Ho's understanding of homeopathy.[7]

The institute is on the Quackwatch list of questionable organizations.[11]

Genetic engineering[edit]

Ho, together with Joe Cummins of the University of Western Ontario, has argued that a sterility gene engineered into a crop could be transferred to other crops or wild relatives and that "This could severely compromise the agronomic performance of conventional crops and cause wild relatives to go extinct". They argued that this process could also produce genetic instabilities, which might be "leading to catastrophic breakdown", and stated that there are no data to assure that this has not happened or cannot happen.[12] This concern contrasts with the reason why these sterile plants were developed, which was to prevent the transfer of genes to the environment by preventing any plants that are bred with or that receive these genes from reproducing.[13] Indeed, any gene that caused sterility when transferred to a new species would be eliminated by natural selection and could not spread.[14]

Ho expressed concerns about the spread of altered genes through horizontal gene transfer and that the experimental alteration of genetic structures may be out of control. One of her concerns is that the antibiotic resistant gene that was isolated from bacteria and used in some GM crops might cross back from plants by horizontal gene transfer to different species of bacteria, because "If this happened it would leave us unable to treat major illnesses like meningitis and E coli."[15] Her views were published in an opinion article based on a review of others' research.[16] The arguments and conclusions of this article were heavily criticized by prominent plant scientists,[17] and the claims of the article criticized in detail in a response that was published in the same journal,[18] prompting a reply from Ho.[19] A review on the topic published in 2008 in the Annual Review of Plant Biology stated that "These speculations have been extensively rebutted by the scientific community".[20]

Ho has also argued that bacteria could acquire the bacterial gene barnase from transgenic plants. This gene kills any cell that expresses it and lacks barstar, the specific inhibitor of barnase activity. In an article entitled Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold, which was published in an ISIS newsletter, Ho speculated that if a bacterium acquired the barnase gene and survived, this could make the bacteria a more dangerous pathogen.


Ho has claimed that evolution is pluralistic because there are many mechanisms that can produce variation in phenotypes independently of haphazard mutations. Ho has advocated a form of Lamarckian evolution. She has been criticized by the scientific community for setting up straw man arguments in her criticism of natural selection and supporting discredited evolutionary theories.[21][22][23][24][25][26] But some of her Lamarckian ideas have since entered the mainstream of the evolutionary literature.[27][28]

The paleontologist Philip Gingerich has noted that Ho's evolutionary ideas are based on vitalistic thinking.[29]


  • Mae-Wan Ho. Living Rainbow H2O, Singapore; River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 2012. ISBN 978-9814390897.
  • Mae-Wan Ho. Meaning of Life & the Universe, Singapore; River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 2017. ISBN 978-981-3108-85-1
  • Mae-Wan Ho. The Rainbow and the Worm, the Physics of Organisms, Singapore; River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 1998. ISBN 981-02-4813-X.
  • Mae-Wan Ho. Genetic engineering: dream or nightmare? Turning the tide on the brave new world of bad science and big business, New York, NY: Continuum, 2000. ISBN 0-8264-1257-2.
  • Mae-Wan Ho. Living with the fluid genome, London, UK: Institute of Science in Society; Penang, Malaysia: Third World Network, 2003. ISBN 0-9544923-0-7.
  • Mae-Wan Ho, Sam Burcher, Rhea Gala and Vejko Velkovic. Unraveling AIDS: the independent science and promising alternative therapies, Ridgefield, CT: Vital Health Pub., 2005. ISBN 1-890612-47-2.
  • Mae- Wan Ho, Peter Saunders. Beyond Neo-Darwinism: An Introduction to the New Evolutionary Paradigm, London: Academic Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0123500809


  1. ^ "In Memory of Dr. Mae-Wan Ho". Ban GMOs Now. 20 May 2016. Archived from the original on 22 December 2016. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  2. ^ Polly Curtis, "Exploitation on the agenda at ethics forum", The Guardian, 22 February 2002. Reprint. Accessed 9 June 2008.
  3. ^ a b Independent Science Panel Archived 7 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine CURRICULUM VITAE of Mae-Wan Ho
  4. ^ a b Davidson College Dr. Mae-Wan Ho bio
  5. ^ Tim Gardam, Director of programmes, Channel 4, "Seeds of discontent at C4", The Guardian, 18 March 2000. Reprint. Accessed 9 June 2008.
  6. ^ "Mae-Wan Ho". Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  7. ^ a b Colquhoun, David (19 July 2006). "Institute of Science in Society: beware!". DC's Improbable Science. Retrieved 26 December 2012.
  8. ^ "Mae-Wan Ho and Suzan Mazur: the blind leading the blind about evolution". Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  9. ^ "Articles".
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 August 2017. Retrieved 3 May 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Barrett, Stephen. "Questionable Organizations: An Overview". Quackwatch. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  12. ^ Donald MacLeod, "Who's listening? Will public opinion on genetically modified crops make any difference to the government?", The Guardian, 19 May 2003. Reprint. Accessed 9 June 2008.
  13. ^ Daniell H (June 2002). "Molecular strategies for gene containment in transgenic crops". Nat. Biotechnol. 20 (6): 581–6. doi:10.1038/nbt0602-581. PMC 3471138. PMID 12042861.
  14. ^ Lee D, Natesan E (March 2006). "Evaluating genetic containment strategies for transgenic plants". Trends Biotechnol. 24 (3): 109–14. doi:10.1016/j.tibtech.2006.01.006. PMID 16460821.
  15. ^ Antony Barnett, "GM genes 'jump species barrier', GM food: special report", The Guardian, 28 May 2000. Reprint. Accessed 9 June 2008.
  16. ^ Ho, M.W.; Ryan, A.; Cummins, J. (1999). "Cauliflower Mosaic Viral Promoter-A Recipe for Disaster?" (PDF). Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 11 (4): 194–197. doi:10.3402/mehd.v11i4.7918. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  17. ^ Hodgson, John (January 2000). "Scientists avert new GMO crisis - Nature Biotechnology". Nature Biotechnology. Nature. 18 (1): 13. doi:10.1038/71838. PMID 10625373. S2CID 30792458.
  18. ^ Hull, R.; Covey, S.N.; Dale, P. (2000). "Genetically modified plants and the 35S promoter: assessing the risks and enhancing the debate". Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 12 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1080/089106000435527. S2CID 218565785.[dead link]
  19. ^ Ho, Mae-Wan (2000). "Hazards of transgenic plants containing the cauliflower mosaic viral promoter: Authors' reply to critiques of "The Cauliflower Mosaic Viral Promoter - a Recipe for Disaster?"". Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 12: 6–11. doi:10.1080/089106000435536-1. S2CID 86135285.
  20. ^ Lemaux PG (2008). "Genetically Engineered Plants and Foods: A Scientist's Analysis of the Issues (Part I)". Annu Rev Plant Biol. 59: 771–812. doi:10.1146/annurev.arplant.58.032806.103840. PMID 18284373.
  21. ^ J. Futuyma, Douglas. (1984). Neo-Darwinism in Disfavor. Science. New Series, Vol. 226, No. 4674. pp. 532-533.
  22. ^ Ghiselin, Michael. (1985). Evolutionary Theory: Paths into the Future by J. W. Pollard; Beyond Neo-Darwinism: An Introduction to the New Evolutionary Paradigm by Mae-Wan Ho; Peter T. Saunders. American Scientist. Vol. 73, No. 6. p. 584.
  23. ^ Stebbins, G. Ledyard. (1985). A New Approach to Research on Evolution?. BioScience. Vol. 35, No. 8. pp. 514-516.
  24. ^ Felsenstein, Joseph. (1986). Waiting for Post-Neo-Darwin. Evolution. Vol. 40, No. 4. pp. 883-889.
  25. ^ Wake, Marvalee H.(1986). Beyond Neo-Darwinism. An Introduction to the New Evolutionary Paradigm by Mae-Wan Ho; Peter T. Saunders. American Zoologist. Vol. 26, No. 1 (1986), pp. 289-290.
  26. ^ Pagel, Mark. (1989). Evolutionary Processes and Metaphors by Mae-Wan Ho; Sidney W. Fox. Man. New Series, Vol. 24, No. 4. pp. 689-690.
  27. ^ J. James A. Shapiro "Evolution: a view from the 21st Century (2011)" [1]
  28. ^ Eva Jablonka "Evolution in Four Dimensions" [ISBN 0-262-10107-6]
  29. ^ Gingerich, Philip D. (1989). New Vitalism in Evolution: Evolutionary Processes and Metaphors M.-W. Ho S. W. Fox. BioScience 39: 195-196.

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