Issue 2, Winter 1997/98
Originally published in The Resonance Project
We know that one of the main characteristics of the human species is
a fascination with exploring alternative states of being and
The first roots of human development, the shamanic
cultures of our early human ancestors, already show a fascination
with exploring alternative states of consciousness through ritual,
sound, movement, ordeal, and entheogenic drug ingestion.
These technologies of the sacred have
been expanded over the centuries of human development in the
disciplines of art, religion, sports, yoga, devotion, service, and
the increasingly worldwide use of plant teachers. Recent research
has lead many to postulate that these technologies of ecstasy all
lead to the same neurochemical events (1).
These ways of exploring alternative states of consciousness and
connection, both ancient and new, have always appealed to a certain
fraction of the earth's population ‚ those who have an inquisitive
mind and a daring nature. Now however, we are faced with a situation
in which we have over five billion human beings on this planet, and
a doubling time for our population of under forty years. We no
longer have the luxury of unlimited time for a cultural elite to
gradually evolve, and for cultural diffusion to gradually spread the
ideas of this elite to our burgeoning population.
Accordingly, in this article I will put forth the daring proposition
that, along with the genetic engineering of our future population to
meet environmental constraints, we also have the possibility of
genetically engineering new, connected, mystical states of being,
not just for the religious geniuses or the mystically motivated, but
for the common man and woman. It seems that only those states of
mind that are common and ordinary among the population will have the
ability to change the behavior patterns of our species in such
fundamental ways so as to avoid an ecological catastrophe.
It is now possible to fully appreciate the implications of
recombinant DNA technology and the psychedelic experience for the
evolutionary future of our species. As one molecular geneticist has
"It is possible to take a gene out of anything, and put it
The implications of this statement are that, as a species, we will
theoretically be able to redesign any life forms we wish, including
ourselves. From this point on, at least in theory, we can choose to
be the inhabitants of any ecological niche we desire. As a
successful species diversifies in order to fill ever more ecological
niches, so we too have the possibility of reacquiring the gills from
the fish family in order to exploit the ocean depths, or to grow the
coat of the bear in order to inhabit the northern climates without
undue energy consumption.
It is also possible to transform our
annual food crops, the growing of which requires much labor,
technology, and energy, into self-regenerating earth-healing
perennials. But it is to the genetic engineering of future states of
consciousness of our species that I wish to address this paper.
We are currently socially fragmented and spiritually unconnected as
a people. A handful in every generation experience the connected,
aware states that our most highly spiritually developed people tell
us are possible. There is now a growing body of evidence from the
study of South American ayahuasca shamanism that such states can be
achieved at will in ordinary people by the ingestion of tryptamine
and harmala alkaloids. In these shamanic cultures, people are
connected energetically and socially in ways that seem to be very
beneficial. Some experienced users of these substances report the
formation of something like group consciousness.
The supplementation of these substances, which could be seen as a
vitamins, could catalyze a very connected group-mind state in groups
of people who would regularly use them. But here again, we run into
the problem of motivation and opportunity. Not all will have both.
And it is to all of humanity that we must be attentive. The future
of our species must be an evolutionary one, that is, it must be made
available to all by being part of our nature and being. Only then
will it affect enough people to stop the out-of-control population
and material growth.
This is where our new abilities in genetic engineering come in. We
know the biosynthetic pathways that the plants use to synthesize
visionary compounds, and we can move the genetic codes for the
production of these compounds into any organism we chose. So for
example we could move them into E. coli, which has a symbiotic
relationship with us in our gut. Modified E. coli strains could be
introduced into our intestinal tract which would synthesize a steady
flow of our deficient metabolites, the absence of which cause us to
be disconnected from each other.
Several recent studies have focused on the pineal gland and its role
in mystical and spiritual experiences (2,3). The products of the
pineal gland, which include the tryptamine alkaloid
5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MEO-DMT)(4,5), are said to be
released in large amounts during the birth experience, and
thereafter decline during the early years, until during puberty,
when the pineal gland partially calcifies and ceases production for
Many intriguing suppositions postulate that mystics and
religious geniuses are those who have a biochemical disposition to
sustained production of the tryptamine products from the pineal
gland throughout life, and there is also interesting evidence that
many of the spiritual practices are aimed at stimulating the
production of this mysterious gland, located in the center of the
forehead, the reputed spot of the third eye (6).
Supplementation with the product of this strangely quiescent master
gland has been carried out in many cultures of our planet through
the use of shamanically sanctioned potions, such as ayahuasca (7).
These shamanic potions contain DMT and 5-MeO DMT, along with an MAO
inhibitor, in order to protect the active ingredients from being
deactivated by protective body mechanisms in the digestive system.
Studies seem to confirm that the regular use of potions containing
these two tryptamines does not seem to be harmful, but on the
contrary, endows their regular users with confidence, optimism,
vigor and reflection, all characteristics that we would wish for in
future generations (8,9).
There is another and more practical reason to focus on the
tryptamines, and that is that they are produced by many plant
families, and especially by a genus of grasses, the Phalaris, that
is easy to grow and study and has a wide variability in genetic
production of alkaloids, making it easy to manipulate.
We now have the technology
to genetically engineer new connected mystical states of
being, not just for religious geniuses but for the
common man and woman.
Modified E. coli strains
could be introduced into our intestinal tract which
would synthesize a steady flow of our deficient
Phalaris... is easy to
grow and study and has a wide variability in genetic
production of alkaloids.
We can, for better or
worse, take control of our own evolution.
Accordingly, the bulk of this paper will
concentrate on presenting genetic information that may perhaps
interest molecular biologists, geneticists, breeders, and others
with an interest in psychological evolutionary biology.
Festi and Samorini (11) reported 14 alkaloids in Phalaris
arundinacea and Phalaris aquatica. Marum, Hovin and
assigned seven of these indole alkaloids to one of three groups, and
proposed a genetic model for the production of these groups.
contains the tryptamines and carboline derivatives N-methyltryptamine
(NMT), N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and
Group MeO contains the methoxylated
tryptamines and carboline derivatives
5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MEO-DMT), and
G contains gramine.
According to the Marum model, Group T is controlled by the dominant
gene T, and group MeO is controlled by the dominant gene M. The
presence of any M masks the effect of T, and Group G is produced
only when both genes are homozygous recessive. Thus group G=mmtt,
group T=mmT-, and group MeO = M- ã.
If we plot out all the possible combinations of M and T, as in
Figure 2, we find sixteen possible genetic combinations, of which 12
would yield group MeO alkaloids, 3 would yield group T alkaloids,
and only one would yield group G alkaloids. This does not predict
the actual percentages of each alkaloid family found in nature, as
the frequency of occurrence of each gene in the population is not
Fifty-one seed sources of P. arundinacea were tested for alkaloid
family expression by the author. From 5 to 55 individual seedlings
of each seed source were sown in the spring, and the foliage was
tested in the fall by the method of Marum et al using thin-layer
chromatography. Table 1 shows the list of the accessions by plant
identification number, their alkaloid ratio, and tentative genetic
Eight populations contained the MM homozygous gene for true breeding
MeO alkaloid lines. Eight populations contained the homozygous
recessive genes for group G. While a few plants tested positive for
group T alkaloids, there were no Group T true breeding alkaloid
lines, which agrees with Marum et all, who found only 1 % of group T
plants in their survey.
While there were some Group T plants
found, their alkaloid characteristics would be retained only if they
would be propagated vegetatively.
Biosynthesis in Organisms
The next question is what is the biosynthetic pathway which produces
DMT and 5-MeO-DMT, and how does it relate to these proposed genetic
The biosynthesis chart developed by Baxter and Slaytor(13), which
forms the basis of most of the assumptions in this paper, is shown
in Figure 3. It starts in the upper left hand corner with tryptophan,
one of the twenty essential amino acids which are only obtainable in
the diet for mammals.
Each step to the right horizontally, or down vertically, is one
enzymatically mediated chemical reaction, with the enzyme
responsible for catalyzing that reaction shown in a box. Thus, the
first step horizontally shows tryptophan being converted to
tryptamine, with the loss of the CO2 group (carboxylase), and the
enzyme responsible for catalyzing that reaction being "Tryptophan
Similarly, from tryptophan, one could move vertically down the chart
to 5-hydroxy tryptophan by adding a hydroxy (OH) to the 5 position,
by the action of the enzyme"Tryptophan hydroxylase."
As one can see, going from tryptophan to DMT involves three
enzymatically controlled steps. Going from tryptophan to 5MeO-DMT
involves five steps, but which steps is not clear. One needs to look
at what route plants actually use to synthesize 5-MeO-DMT.
Marum et al, proposed that the major pathway for 5-MeO DMT
production in P arundinacea would go directly downward from
tryptophan to 5-methoxy tryptophan (presumably going through the
5-hydroxy tryptophan stage), and then progress along the bottom of
the chart through the 5-methoxy tryptamine, 5-methoxy N-methyl
tryptamine, and 5-methoxy DMT stages.
Baxter and Slator, who did extensive radioactive labeling work on
the biosynthesis of these same alkaloids in P. tuberosa (=aquatica)
reached somewhat ambiguous results, as seven of the alkaloids which
were fed as radioactively labeled precursors resulted in the
formation of radioactive 5-MeO DMT. One definite result was that DMT
was not a precursor for 5-MeO DMT. Their conclusion however, was
that the major pathway was as Marum indicated, with alternative
Others have reported that the two N-methyltransferases
are different enzymes(14), and that the N-methyltransferases
involved in gramine synthesis are different from those involved in
tryptamine synthesis(15). As to which gene location corresponds to
which enzyme, all that can be said at this point is that perhaps M
corresponds with tryptophan hydroxylase, as any M masks T would be
consistent with the fact that once tryptophan is hydroxylated, it
can no longer become DMT.
Thus to synthesize 5-MeO-DMT in an organism requires the presence of
the initial substrate tryptophan (along with other necessary
cofactors), and the presence of five enzymes which catalyze the
As we have seen before, the function of a gene is to code for the
production of enzymes. Thus, we are now at the stage of looking for
the five genes which code for the production of these five enzymes.
In looking at the first enzyme, tryptophan hydroxylase, four
organisms were discovered in which this enzyme has been sequenced,
that is, the specific amino acids sequences which comprise this
complex protein have been identified(16). In none of the organisms
were the amino acid sequences identical, although in each case they
catalyzed the identical reaction. This is because an enzyme is a
long protein that folds up into a complex three-dimensional
structure, and the active catalytic site is only one portion of its
surface structure. That surface structure has a specific shape into
which the target substrate fits in order to be more easily
Thus the gene that codes for this enzyme will also vary among the
various organisms, even though the function that the enzyme will
perform will be identical.
However, in looking at the amino acid sequences for these enzymes,
one finds portions of the sequences that are identical. Some of
these are probably the 'active site' sequences that are the same in
all species. They are also the sequences that we can use to search
for the gene site in an organism that has not been sequenced, such
as Phalaris arundinacea.
So, for example, in looking at the sequence codes for the enzyme
tryptophan hydroxylase in the organisms human, mouse, rabbit, and
rat, we find a sequence of amino acids which is FSQEIGLA in all 4 of
these organisms. The equivalent genetic codes are TTC TCC CAA GAA
ATT GGC CTG GCT. These are the same in all four organisms, even
though many of the amino acids can be coded for by more than one set
of three nucleotides.
Table 2 contains some common amino acid sequences and the equivalent
genetic codes for 3 of the 5 enzymes required for biosynthesis of
Engineering with Amino Acid Codes
It is one thing to know the theoretical codes of a plant product of
interest, but is quite another to grapple with the intricacies of
actually attempting to find, extract, and insert appropriate gene
fragments into other organisms.
In the following section, we will discuss three general approaches
to finding and isolating the genetic fragments we are interested
in(17). The three approaches are:
1) Screening of fragmented DNA
with a probe
2) Comparing fragmented DNA
patterns of populations to their alkaloid production
3) Shotgun cloning
These are very simple conceptual
discussions, the actual techniques require considerable experience
In this strategy, DNA is extracted from the plant material and
purified. It is then digested or 'fragmented' by the addition of
'restriction enzymes', specialized enzymes that cut strands of DNA
at specific points(18,19). This mixture of DNA fragments is then
separated by size through a technique called 'gel
electrophoresis'(20), which is something like thin-layer
chromatography, only in this case the DNA fragments are moved
differentially through a gel by an electric current.
This produces a pattern of bands of DNA fragments, each band of
which is a different length. One of these bands contains the gene
segment we are interested in, but which one? We find the band
containing the fragment of interest through a technique called
probing. This is a technique that is based on the phenomenon of
hybridization. This means that if a segment of DNA is complementary
to another segment, it will bond to it, or hybridize with it. Thus
if our target strand of DNA has the nucleotide sequence AGCCT for
example, the complementary strand to that, TCGGA, would line up and
bond with it.
Complementary strands to the gene fragment of interest are called
probes. If we know the genetic code for a section of the gene of
interest, or, alternatively, if we know the amino acid sequence of
the enzyme we are looking for, then we can construct synthetically a
section of nucleotides which can serve as a probe. This probe will
then attach to the band of gene fragments which has a complementary
If we also label our probe, through florescent or radioactive
methods, then after hybridization, we can use an appropriate
visualization technique to determine just which band contains the
gene sequence of interest.
One problem with only knowing the amino acid sequence of the enzyme
we are looking for is the problem of degeneracy. Degeneracy means
that each amino acid can be coded for by more than one set of codons.
For example, the amino acid glutamine is coded for by the codons CAA
and CAG. Thus in this approach it is necessary to use a population
of mixed codons.
Once we have identified a band that has hybridized with our probe,
we can remove that band, further cut and electrophorese, until we
get down to the specific band of interest. The coding information in
Table 2 can be useful in an approach of this sort. Since the most
common probes contain 18-30 nucleotides, these sequences should
Comparing DNA Fragments
In this approach, purification of DNA and electrophoresis are also
used. However, the pattern of bands produced is compared to the
known characteristics of the organism, in this case, alkaloid
production patterns. Thus, a number of plants would be plated out on
one gel, and their fragments separated into bands. Then the patterns
of the bands would be compared to each other, as in the now
famous'DNA fingerprinting'(22). Any band that would differ among the
group of plants in the same ratio as their alkaloid production
characteristics, could be assumed to have a gene for these alkaloid
production char-acteristics in that band.
Thus, in plating out populations of P. arundinacea from Table 1, we
could plate out ten plants that produce gramine (and have genetic
types mmtt), and ten plants that produce methoxylated tryptamines
(and have genetic types Mã). If we should be so lucky as to get a
pattern in which all of the first ten plants differ in one band from
all of the second ten plants, than we can perhaps assume that a gene
fragment that codes for the production of the alkaloid represented
by M resides on that band.
This band could then be removed,
amplified, further cut and electrophoresed to get down to the
specific fragment we are interested in. The information on alkaloid
ratios produced by various P. arundinacea lines in Table 1 many be
useful in this approach.
In the past, such an approach would have been unworkable, as any
fragmentation of a whole genome would have produced many thousands
of bands, and so they would have been unreadable. Now however, new
techniques(23) using unbroken DNA's, enzymes that cut DNA at very
rare junctures to produce large DNA fragments, and pulsed-field gel
electrophoresis which can handle these large fragments, make such an
approach perhaps feasible.
In this approach, we do not look for specific gene fragments to
introduce into new organisms. Instead, we fragment the DNA as
before, and introduce it wholesale into an appropriate organism,
probably in this case yeast cells. We then plate these yeast cells
out, let them grow, and test the resulting colonies for the presence
of the product we are interested in.
This approach has been successful in
other cases(24), and would depend in this case on the development of
appropriate testing procedures for the presences of each of the
enzymes desired in the yeast colonies. If a colony is producing the
appropriate gene product, then presumably it has taken the
appropriate gene fragment into its own genetic structure, and is
Since yeast has had its genetic
structure very well studied, any new addition should be detectable
The Future of
One can see that the future of evolution, heretofore a three billion
year process of chance mutation and painful evolutionary selection,
from this point on will be one of deliberate choice, either by
society at large, or, more likely, certain individuals or groups
Our future evolution will involve self-directed evolution of our
states of consciousness, as well as our physiology. It has been said
that in many cases the evolution of life forms proceeds by the
prolongation of the juvenile form of a species. For example, human
most closely resemble the juvenile form of the apes. Similarly,
future humans may most closely resemble our juvenile form, which
includes a more active pineal gland.
Each new leap of evolutionary development must be viewed with
trepidation by those involved. This is a very extraordinary
proposal. I submit that a clear-eyed view of our present course of
development must call for extraordinary proposals.
The vision of those who have tasted the unity experience afforded by
the ingestion of 5-MeO DMT will, I believe, give great impetus to
the genetic development outlined above. A small, committed group
could produce startling results in a matter of years. Once the full
implications of the possibilities are grasped, one becomes committed
to working toward the communication and implementation of this
Those whose only experience with the tryptamines is with DMT, either
smokable or in ayahuasca formulations, may perhaps be taken aback by
the thought of being in this state full time. However, those who
have used 5-MeO DMT in low doses in oral ayahuasca analog mixtures
will know that this state can be one of calm connection and profound
We now know how to take a gene out of anything, and put it into
anything, even ourselves. We can, for better or worse, take control
of our own evolution, genetically engineering ourselves into
whatever self-image the collective unconscious has been striving
for. Our response to the information streaming into the collective
unconscious in the form of biodynamically mediated molecules, is to
reach toward that source of information, and to strive to integrate
ourselves more fully with it. This we do at present in very
However, the time is coming when we can integrate the light-filled
DNA sequences from the vision plants into our own bodies. We have
the means to transform our own genetic structures, as well as other
advanced life forms on this planet, such as dolphins. What this
implies for the future in terms of evolutionary possibilities is in
line, I believe, with the invitation of the realm of light. There is
an ongoing evolutionary tendency at work at every level of the
universe to form elements into larger and more inclusive wholes
A holon composed of a group of
elementary particles would be a stable atom. A holon composed of
human beings would be a group mind or group being. The experiencing
of group energy fields and group minds while temporarily under the
influence of the neurotransmitter 5-MeO DMT, leads one to imagine
that the future holon that our race may become could include this
vitamin supplementation as a part of our normal development.
Biological evolution is indeed at a
unique point in its journey.