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Comment Jurassic Park (Score 1) 1222

My dad took my brother and me to see Jurassic Park in a huge but nearly empty movie theater. There were maybe 5 other people in the room. I was 10 years old and pretty much at the height of young boy dinosaur frenzy. I hadn't actually seen a trailer and had no idea what to expect from the movie. I was completely blown away and it has stuck with me over the years. My brother fell out of his seat when the raptors jumped to snag the kids out of the ventillation.

Incidentally. my career path (I'm a molecular biologist) is littered with the grown up kids who fell in love with biology and genetic engineering because of Jurassic Park.

Comment Re:piece of shit machines (Score 1) 243

Anyway, the reply to your post: Netbooks are awesome, perfect for writing books outside, for example.

I agree with this conclusion!

I had a 2nd gen EEEPC years ago that was great for surfing the web and writing for hours on end. Because it was so cheap it was also essentially a "throwaway" that I used to cut my teeth on (very) basic hardware hacking, like adding a touchscreen. I gave it away to a friend in 2009 when the netbook market was booming. I never did get another one but I have very fond memories.

Comment Re:Natl. Cancer Institute's Explanation (Score 2) 237

The whole point being that dosage is critical in all of these cases.

"Formaldehyde is also produced naturally in the human body. It is essential for the production of some basic biological materials, such as certain amino acids. Amino acids are necessary for important life processes as they are the building blocks of proteins in the body."

It's normal but unnecessary for laypeople to be afraid of cell phones, just like it's normal but unnecessary for them to fear formaldehyde in small amounts. Now, as for that guy whose job it is to adjust active microwave relays...

Comment Re:Natl. Cancer Institute's Explanation (Score 3, Interesting) 237

That's a fair point. Just remember, according to that classification system cellphones are in the same group as Carpentry and Joinery (p.7).

Granted, I cherry picked that from the list but the reason for a 2B designation is that they don't have the statistical power from their study to rule it out as a cause of gliomas, which means that the incidence is very low in exposed vs. unexposed populations. I think it's safe to say that as long as laypeople are okay with living in a house made of carpentry then they should be okay with using a cell phone.

Comment Natl. Cancer Institute's Explanation (Score 5, Informative) 237

Cell Phones and Cancer Fact Sheet

"Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from x-rays, is known to increase the risk of cancer. However, although many studies have examined the potential health effects of non-ionizing radiation from radar, microwave ovens, cell phones, and other sources, there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk (1).

"The only consistently recognized biological effect of radiofrequency energy is heating. The ability of microwave ovens to heat food is one example of this effect of radiofrequency energy. Radiofrequency exposure from cell phone use does cause heating to the area of the body where a cell phone or other device is held (ear, head, etc.). However, it is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature, and there are no other clearly established effects on the body from radiofrequency energy."

Sleep easily next to your smartphone tonight.

Comment Re:Two different things (Score 1) 70

It should be pointed out that George church has a huge conflict of interest in making such a statement, as he and Zhang are still affiliated with editas, the company they founded together to capitalize on CRISPR technology. Doudna was part of the company for a time but left after the patent war blew up to found her own company, intellia.

His statement that it is "anything but obvious" to adapt CRISPR to eukaryotic cells from bacteria would be refuted by pretty much any first year molecular biology student. Basically to get CRISPR working in mammalian cells is as simple as changing the DNA regulatory elements that drive expression of the Cas9 enzyme and the targeting RNA molecules from prokaryotic to mammalian elements. These elements are well understood and available essentially as "off-the-shelf" components and have been used to express literally thousands of non-native genes in mammalian cells by researchers for decades. And yes, this WAS the very obvious next step in the research, evident to many biologists. The "news and views" perspective article in the same issue of Science describing the landmark paper from Doudna/Charpentier specifically points out the tantalizing possibility of genome editing for gene therapy:

"Jinek et al. realized that a highly specific, customizable RNA-directed DNA nuclease could be useful to edit whole genomes. Based on the 20-nucleotide guide section of the crRNA, the enzyme could theoretically introduce breaks at unique sites in any eukaryotic genome. As a proof of concept, the authors programmed Cas9 to cleave a plasmid carrying the gene encoding green fluorescent protein at predetermined loci using a single chimeric crRNA containing just the critical segment of the tracrRNA. DNA breaks induce cellular DNA repair pathways (9) and this can be harnessed to disrupt, insert, or repair specific genes of cells. Introducing DNA breaks at desired loci using just Cas9 and a chimeric crRNA would be a substantial improvement over existing gene-targeting technologies, such as zinc finger nucleases and transcription activator–like effector nucleases, as these require protein engineering for every new target locus (10). Efficient gene repair strategies in cells from patients, and the reintroduction of repaired cells, could become increasingly important for treating many genetic disorders."

The size of the egos and paydays involved precludes any hope of a logical conclusion to the patent fight.

Comment Re:Two different things (Score 5, Informative) 70

Important points from the article:

"It all began in 2012, when UC Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna and others, including Charpentier, published a seminal Science paper on CRISPR. In this paper, Doudna showed that the gene-editing technology can be used to cut DNA in a test tube at targeted sites. Later, Doudna filed a patent application for CRISPR."

"Then in 2013, in another Science paper, MIT bioengineer Feng Zhang and his team reported developing a CRISPR system that edited genomes in eukaryotic cells — the cells of animals and people. When Zhang filed his own patent application, he applied for the PTO to “fast track” its patent review process. The result was that although UC Berkeley filed first, the PTO actually awarded the patent to the Broad and MIT in April 2014. (The Broad and MIT were later awarded a bunch of other CRISPR patents.) So UC Berkeley asked for a so-called “interference proceeding” — an official reassessment to determine who was the first to invent the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9.

This is why many in the life science community feel that Doudna/Charpentier got short-changed. This all happened right before the switch to the current "first-to-file" rule in USPTO. Also, many in the life sciences are frustrated at claims that Zhang's application to eukaryotic cells wasn't obvious. Those aforementioned awards were given to D/C precisely because scientists recognized the (obvious) potential of CRISPR/Cas to revolutionize the treatment of human disease. While Zhang's group has done some groundbreaking later work in the CRISPR field, Doudna et al probably deserve the patent. But props to MIT/Zhang for having a better understanding of patent law. That counts for a lot these days.

Comment Re:must not (Score 1) 5

That's fair. Don't expect the 'must not evers' to go away anytime soon, but I agree that technology that can demonstrably improve quality of life is generally a *good* thing and is usually accepted with time and increasing evidence.

Comment Re:Stupid fear (Score 1) 5

It's not fear of designer babies, but of arrogant people who don't appropriately weight risk vs benefit. It's just a classic example of man's reach exceeding his grasp. Nobody can yet make the scientific claim that the risks don't outweigh the benefits, and that's where the burden of proof lies.

Cas9-based gene editing doesn't just nicely edit the locus where it's targeted. You are potentially mutating other regions of the genome, and our understanding of this process is getting better. In fact, human cells are being engineered with CRISPR/Cas9 in clinical trials right now. The difference is between cells and entire organisms with the ability to pass changes (including unintended ones) to offspring. Newly engineered versions of the enzyme are improving the error rates, but they are not good enough to avoid the risk of creating a human being with a new mutation with negative unforseen consequences.

As for the more frivolous aspects of designer babies, it's probably unwise to assume that mom and dad know best when picking out alleles to make Jr. more attractive or better at sports. Co-adapted gene complexes (meaning, genes that didn't evolve in a vacuum but evolved together to improve fitness) could be disrupted this way. The writers of the report emphasize our lack of understanding of the importance of genetic diversity, including so-called "faulty" genes that we might foolishly eliminate without understanding the consequences.

Once we have sufficient confidence in error free gene editing and a vastly improved understanding of the consequences of allele swapping there will be more reason to attempt the genetic engineering of humans. That time has not yet come so please be patient while the bugs are worked out.

Comment Very rare circumstances (Score 1) 5

The actual report specifies a few of the situations where this type of editing *might some day* be explored and it pretty much comes to the conclusion that only parents who carry no healthy alleles (a very rare circumstance) would use this in place of genetic screening of in vitro fertilized embryos.

CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing is absolutely NOT ready for primetime human gene editing. The technology has been improved, but there's not a good way yet to determine the off-target effects in a treated embryo. Even embryos treated as zygotes (single cell stage) may not carry the edit in all cells, a condition known as "genetic mosaicism". This is because it may take a couple of cell divisions before the cuts have been repaired, and repair may not occur in all cells. This means your million dollar baby might still be affected by the disorder you're trying to correct as well as being capable of passing on the mutation to their children.

The actual report goes to great lengths to outline how the "slippery slope" of genetic engineering can be avoided and stress that this technology must not be used for so-called "designer babies" but should only sparingly be used on the rare occasion that neither parent has a healthy allele suitable for IVF genetic screening. With all that in mind, it seems that adoption might just be a better bet for the next 10-20 years until all of the bugs are worked out. The news media over-hyping of a "thumbs up, full steam ahead" endorsement by scientists is a gross misrepresentation of the actual report's cautious optimism of the *future* possibility that this will work.

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