Human DNA in vaccines – another anti-vaxxer trope debunked

If you spend time debunking anti-vaxxer nonsense, you’ll run across some meme that claims that someone has found human DNA in vaccines. Since vaccine safety and effectiveness is settled science, the anti-vaccine religion must rely upon memes, misinformation, and lies. Like trying to tell you that human DNA in vaccines is dangerous!

This goes back to something that continues to aggravate me about the science deniers – they make wild claims without completely understanding fields of science like cell biology. If they had even a basic understanding of cell biology they would also laugh at claims about human DNA in vaccines. 

Let’s take a look at this trope – I promise to not laugh too hard.

DNA science – we’ll keep it brief

Amateurs continue to imbue DNA with some magical properties that never made sense to me. Although the biochemistry of DNA is quite complex, I will endeavor to teach DNA 101 without causing any reader to rip his eyeballs out. I’ll do this in a bullet-point order just to make it easy.

  1. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains four nitrogen-containing nucleobases,(cytosine [C], guanine [G], adenine [A] or thymine [T]), a sugar called deoxyribose, and a phosphate group. The nucleobases (or nucleic acids), C G A T, are like letters in a language. Of course, you might wonder how four letters can spell out the complex language of the proteins (genes only code for proteins that make every organism on the planet what they are). 
  2. DNA is double-stranded, so one side acts as the “sense” strand while the other is the “anti-sense” strand. Furthermore, the nucleobases form very specific pairs – A on the sense side always pairs with T on the anti-sense side, and vice versa. And C on the sense side will always pairs with G on the anti-sense side, and vice versa again.
  3. Through a complicated process called transcription, the sense strand of DNA is then transcribed into a mirror image RNA or ribonucleic acid. RNA is very similar to DNA, except the thymine in DNA is replaced with uracil (U) in RNA. So during the transcription process, U will always pair with DNA T. 
  4. Are you still with me? Well, we’re still not at the point where we’re making proteins. In a process called translation, groups of three nucleic acids tell the cell to add a unique amino acid into a chain. A long chain of these amino acids become a protein. Of course, this isn’t a random set of nucleic acids, there is a start and endpoint for translation. Thus, just four nucleic acid letters create amino acid words that form a unique combination to become the protein word. I hope that I didn’t mess up that metaphor.
  5. DNA and RNA are manufactured in each cell from basic ingredients such as the sugars ribose and deoxyribose and other components. There is not a central manufacturer of nucleic acids in the body. Furthermore, DNA, RNA or individual nucleic acids rarely float in the blood, and even if the did, cells cannot usually transport them into the cell. Even if they could, the cell would catabolize them, reuse them, or expel them from the cell. 
  6. All DNA and RNA molecules across every organism on the planet are exactly the same. Yes, each organism’s genes are a different combination of the four letters, but the individual nucleic acids are exactly the same. And the same three-letter DNA group encodes for the same amino acid in every organism. 
  7. In case all of the above is not clear, human DNA contains the same biochemicals as lowly cyanobacteria.

I know those of us who actually were biochemists or cell biologists (or both) are offended that I converted DNA biochemistry into 500 words or so. This goes back to my article that states that becoming an expert in these areas takes thousands of hours of classwork and experience. 

Anti-vaxxers scaring themselves because they don’t know science.

 

Human DNA in vaccines – oh my!

So take a look at that image – billions or TRILLIONS!! of DNA fragments in the MMR or chickenpox vaccines, respectively. Wow, that sounds like a lot. I’m scared, are you scared?

Take a breath, we’re all about science here. This is just more anti-vaccine pseudoscience.

  • We have no evidence, none, that there are that many DNA “fragments” in each vaccine. Where is the data from? Is it peer-reviewed? Has any legitimate scientist published this? Actually, no. But we’ll get to that.
  • In an average human being, there are over 50 trillion cells each with 3 billion DNA base pairs. That’s 1,500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 DNA base pairs in an average human. So, even the worst-case scenario, 8 trillion fragments would only represent about 0.000000000533333% of the DNA in every human. 
  • DNA is highly unstable – it breaks down into nonsense fragments. And remember, DNA codes into proteins only in a logical manner – the cell must know where to start and where to end on the DNA strand to create a protein. This is non-negotiable.
  • As we wrote above, DNA rarely moves from the blood into cells. Despite the odd beliefs of pseudoscience-pushing anti-vaxxers, real science tells us that there must be carrier proteins to move substances into cells – it does not happen passively. Cell biology is infinitely more complicated than most people believe.
  • Foreign DNA does not incorporate itself into one’s genome. This has been debunked so many times, but let’s just be logical. We eat corn, and we don’t turn into corn. We have a microbiome made up of thousands of non-human organisms, and we don’t become those organisms. And gene therapy has not worked very well, because we have a difficult time trying to get genes inserted into human genomes.
  • Let’s think about blood transfusions which contain all kinds of DNA fragments. Has anyone turned into another person as a result of this – how many millions of transfusions are done every year, and we have not one single case report of someone suddenly becoming a new person after receiving that DNA. 
  • DNA “fragments” are meaningless to science and to the body’s biochemistry. Genes aren’t just random chains of DNA, they are quite complex with all kinds of information on how the body is to produce a protein.
  • DNA “fragments” do not cause autoimmune diseases – the body is filled with DNA fragments from one’s self and from all the organisms that populate us, The immune system pretty much ignores it.
  • Free DNA is broken down rather rapidly by enzymes called DNAases

Let’s be clear about this – that slide is just meant to cause fear in people who may be considering a vaccine. It is unscientific and human biochemistry is just laughing hysterically. If it could do so. 

Real science about human DNA in vaccines

In an article by H Yang et al, published in the journal Vaccine, the researchers examined the oncogenic and infective potential of residual host cell DNA from a cell-based live, attenuated influenza vaccine that is manufactured in Madin Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cells. They concluded that 230 billion doses of vaccine would need to be administered before an oncogene dosage equivalent would be reached, and 83 trillion doses would need to be administered to induce an infective event. In other words, it’s not going to happen.

In another article by H Yang et al, published in the Journal of Biopharmaceutical Statistics, the authors concluded that the calculated probability of having one oncogenic or infective event based on the WHO/FDA limits for DNA in vaccines is less than 10-15. In other words, one chance in 1,000,000,000,000,000 vaccines. 

In an article by Wierenga et al., published in the journal Biologicals, the authors followed animals for 8 years after receiving over 1 million times the DNA allowed in vaccines by WHO. None of these animals showed any evidence of tumor formation.

Conclusions

Theses memes/tropes/lies about human DNA in vaccines have one purpose – a scare tactic. You see trillions of DNA fragments, without any validation of the accuracy of these claims, and you are scared. Yet you consume trillions of DNA fragments every single day. Your body is filled with trillions of non-human DNA fragments.

Humans (and nearly every single multicellular species on the planet) are protected from these fragments because they are irrelevant. DNA only matters when it can code for something to the body, and free-floating DNA fragments cannot do anything. Well, they are broken down into constituent components that can be used by cells for their own DNA.

See, this is why I keep pushing the point that lots of science are required to fully understand all aspects of vaccines. It cannot be done with a few minutes of Google searching. If I were teaching a course on DNA transcription and translation (which I have when I was young), it would take weeks. But by knowing and understanding DNA biology, there is nothing in that slide that should cause worry to anyone. 

Citations

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!

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