Inside the insectary - "These gene drives, they're able to copy themselves. So instead of half of the offspring inheriting the gene drive, almost all of them do. So what happens is that it spreads and it spreads and it spreads. And this is the fantastic thing. Because it allows that gene to be selfish in a population. And in a very short amount of time you can actually transform an entire wild population into a modified population. It's powerful." (previously: 1,2,3)
Humans 2.0 - "With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us. Working mostly with mice, researchers have already deployed the tool to correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and the fundamental defect associated with cystic fibrosis. One group has replaced a mutation that causes cataracts; another has destroyed receptors that H.I.V. uses to infiltrate our immune system." [more inside]
The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
Why not eat octopus? [New Yorker]
"I like to think of an octopus as a blobby, eight-fingered hand with a mind of its own. And then I’m suddenly not so keen on the idea of eating it."
UN Climate Report: We Must Focus On 'Decarbonization', and It Won't Wreck the Economy - "The basic message is simple: We share a planet. Let's start acting like it." [more inside]
The Nazi Anatomists. "How the corpses of Hitler's victims are still haunting modern science—and American abortion politics."
Just as Dante found it easier to conjure the pains of Hell than to evoke the joys of Heaven, so too do bioethicists find it easier to concoct the possible perils of a biotech-nanotech-infotech future than to appreciate how enhancements will contribute to flourishing lives. One of the chief goals of this symposium is to think about the indispensable role that virtue plays in human life. The chief motivating concern seems to be the fear that biotechnologies and other human enhancement technologies will somehow undermine human virtue. As we will see, far from undermining virtue, biotech, nanotech, and infotech enhancements will tend to support virtue; that is, they will help enable people to be actually good.
We may soon be able to clone Neanderthals. But should we? An essay from Archaeology Magazine examines the ethical, scientific and legal ramifications. (Via Heather Pringle's Time Machine blog, where essay author Zach Zorich posted a reply and elicited a response.) [more inside]
U.S. military practices genetic discrimination in denying benefits. "Those medically discharged with genetic diseases are left without disability or retirement benefits. Some are fighting back."
Dr. Craig Venter, known for his role as a pioneer in the human genome project, has taken a major step towards creating life from scratch: transplanting the entire genome from one bacterium cell to another. Commence the ethics wars.
The Human Speechome Project - "A baby is to be monitored by a network of microphones and video cameras for 14 hours a day, 365 days a year, in an effort to unravel the seemingly miraculous process by which children acquire language.". Selected video clips. Paper (PDF, 750KB). To test hypotheses of how children learn, Prof Deb Roy's team at MIT will develop machine learning systems that “step into the shoes” of his son by processing the sights and sounds of three years of life at home. Total storage required: 1.4 petabytes.
EMBO's report on Time and Aging (free access) contains an essay wherein the author, Karin Knorr Cetina, from the University of Konstanz, Germany, argues that death and aging used to be major issues that defined what it means to be human and helped us find our place in society by showing us the limits of what is possible to achieve as a human. With the advances in science, particularly biological advances in slowing aging and technological advances in extending human function, we no longer accept our fate. Instead of accepting that we all grow old and die so we should take our place in society, with the expectation that if we contribute, society will take care of us, too, we now have promises being made by science that death and aging are no longer inevitable. Where are we headed, then? If we can no longer find our place by finding the limits of achievement and accepting our place within them, how do we work as a collective?
The National Academies have finally released suggested guidelines for research with embryonic stem cells and chimeras.