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Comment: Re:Sad state of research in the West (Score 1) 182

by the gnat (#49539035) Attached to: Chinese Scientists Claim To Have Genetically Modified Human Embryos

We've been hindered by what is basically a cult ideology about unborn life that we cannot do experiments like this (legally) in the west.

The fact that this experiment was done in China rather than "the West" has nothing to do with religion. The application of the CRISPR-Cas system for genetic modification was only discovered in 2012, and molecular analyses and proof-of-concept experiments - performed in the US and Europe, mostly - are being published in high-profile journals almost every month. There are, at last count, at least three companies (two in the US, one in Europe) founded by the scientists who elucidated the mechanism that have the explicit goal of human gene therapy. In fact, one group (in the US) just demonstrated in vivo genome editing (in an animal model, because only a lunatic would try this experiment in humans first).

There is no legal barrier to performing these experiments on human embryos in the US or Europe. In the US, I believe researchers are still prohibited from using NIH funding for such experiments, but that would not stop them from using private funding (and at this point, VCs and private donors are practically flinging sacks of money at this system). Their hesitation is based on concerns about the ethics of potentially lethal experimentation on unwilling test subjects. No, not the embryos, but the hypothetical live births that would result from implantation. If they're really, really lucky, the off-target effects will be silent or embryonic lethal. If they're unlucky - and given how new the system is, it's very difficult to guess what would happen - they'll wind up creating new genetic afflictions. Everyone working on the system is very excited about the potential applications to human health; no one wants to bring the field to a premature halt by rushing into human experimentation and accidentally causing severe birth defects because they didn't understand how it worked well enough.

There is a secondary issue, which is that China is almost pathetically desperate to prove it can do the same caliber of science as the West, to the extent that it's starting to throw money at non-Chinese researchers to set up labs in China, and offers large bounties for high-profile publications. (They're also known to be desperate for a Nobel prize in the sciences.) So far they've tended to just cherry-pick relatively easy, unimaginative projects following up on research done in the West (to be fair, Western scientists have done this among themselves for decades), rather than making entirely novel discoveries. Thus there is an enormous financial (and social) incentive to jump into a fast-moving field and try the obvious - but ethically dubious - application to human health.

Comment: Re:Darwin by proxy (Score 1) 605

by the gnat (#49532241) Attached to: Bill To Require Vaccination of Children Advances In California

If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, the classroom full of unvaccinated children may contain one of the few unlucky ones who have legitimate medical reasons for not being vaccinated. The fact that there are a small fraction of people like this, dependent on herd immunity for their protection, is one of the reasons for compulsory vaccination.

Comment: Re:The Chinese advantage (Score 1) 226

by the gnat (#49372183) Attached to: Chinese Scientists Plan Solar Power Station In Space

When your government is full of engineers, not lawyers, and when you can just ignore the flat-earth lobby instead of wasting half your funding fighting their just-because-we-can delays, you can test ideas like this.

Also useful: when your government is full of unelected bureaucrats who aren't held accountable by voters, completely dominate the news media, and stomp on any popular organization or sentiment that they don't control, and thus are free to ignore the interests of their citizens and instead spend money on wasteful, thinly-disguised military projects.

(Except, of course, that's not what's actually happening in this case - the article summary makes it sound like "OMG China will dominate space", because of course that's more interesting than "superannuated Chinese scientist spouts nonsense".)

Comment: Re:Simplr math ... (Score 1) 353

by the gnat (#49367445) Attached to: Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina Near Launching Presidential Bid

I think her target market is Republicans who want a viable female challenger to Hilary. Realistically, she's setting herself up for Sec. of Commerce, or maybe, if she's extremely lucky and does moderately well in the primaries, VP. I am no fan of hers for all of the obvious reasons, but she is a rocket scientist compared to Bachmann and Palin.

Comment: Re:Cowards! (Score 1) 299

by the gnat (#49303245) Attached to: Scientists: It's Time To Resolve the Ethics of Editing Human Genome

These people want to put a stop to progress because they think humans are some kind of holy ground that must not be tred upon.

Actually, those people are involved in (at current count) at least two companies that have targeted therapeutic modification of humans as their primary business goal.

Comment: Re:I'm all for this (Score 1) 299

by the gnat (#49303175) Attached to: Scientists: It's Time To Resolve the Ethics of Editing Human Genome


research is needed to understand and manage risks arising from the use of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Considerations include the possibility of off-target alterations, as well as on-target events that have unintended consequences. It is critical to implement appropriate and standardized benchmarking methods to determine the frequency of off-target effects and to assess the physiology of cells and tissues that have undergone genome editing. At present, the potential safety and efficacy issues arising from the use of this technology must be thoroughly investigated and understood before any attempts at human engineering are sanctioned, if ever, for clinical testing. As with any therapeutic strategy, higher risks can be tolerated when the reward of success is high, but such risks also demand higher confidence in their likely efficacy.

Comment: Re:Unethical to ban (Score 2) 299

by the gnat (#49303143) Attached to: Scientists: It's Time To Resolve the Ethics of Editing Human Genome

I will continue to do work in this area and continue to work to improve humanity

Considering how little thought you've given to the potential downsides of such experiments, I'd guess that it's considerably more likely that you'll fuck up and produce a bunch of horribly malformed fetuses and live humans with fatal genetic problems. Fortunately, the ensuing lawsuits should put you out of business quickly.

Comment: Re:fathers (Score 3, Informative) 299

by the gnat (#49303083) Attached to: Scientists: It's Time To Resolve the Ethics of Editing Human Genome

Most of the "ethicsists" are fundamental christian types or outright clergy

The people writing the letter referred to in TFA are not professional ethicists at all - they are practicing scientists, including one of the people who figured out how the system in question works. (Disclaimer: I know one of them personally and I've had a handful of interactions with another.) If any one of them is at all religious, it's news to me. I'd guess they're totally in favor of genome editing in general, especially since several of them are involved in companies that have this goal. The ethical issue is whether to leap right into modifying embryos with an unproven and potentially unsafe technology, which amounts to experimentation on unwilling human test subjects.

Comment: Re:Steve Jobs is the Monkeywrench (Score 2) 114

I have seem copies of contracts where it explicitly stated that the two countries agreed not to hire each other's employees.

I assume you meant "companies", not "countries", but even this seems really strange to me, at least as an American - under our antitrust laws, they'd have to be insane to put something like that into writing.

The flush toilet is the basis of Western civilization. -- Alan Coult