Remembering 9/11

I’m going to take a “time out” from the usual September theme today to remember what I was doing 15 years ago on September 11. I had gone into my office at Purdue University a little earlier than usual, and I was busily working on something that dealt with a front page story in the …

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Flipping DNA switches

The recently published SSGAC study (Nature News) found 74 genome-wide significant hits related to educational attainment, using a discovery sample of ~300k individuals. The UK Biobank sample of ~110k individuals was used as a replication check of the results. If both samples are combined as a discovery sample 162 SNPs are identified at genome-wide significance. …

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Homo Sapiens 2.0? (Jamie Metzl, TechCrunch)

Jamie Metzl writes in TechCrunch. Homo Sapiens 2.0? We need a species-wide conversation about the future of human genetic enhancement: After 4 billion years of evolution by one set of rules, our species is about to begin evolving by another. Overlapping and mutually reinforcing revolutions in genetics, information technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and …

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Can Genius Be Genetically Engineered?

See you at the 92nd Street Y tomorrow (Thu, Mar 10, 2016, 8:15 pm)! With rapid advances in genome sequencing, genetic analysis and precision gene editing, it’s becoming ever more likely that embryo selection and genetic engineering could be used to optimize the intelligence of our future children. Although the complexities of genetics, the brain …

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Improved CRISPR–Cas9: Safe and Effective?

Two groups (Zhang lab at MIT and Joung lab at Harvard) announce improved “engineered” Cas9 variants with reduced off-target editing rates while maintaining on-target effectiveness. I had heard rumors about this but now the papers are out. See CRISPR: Safe and Effective? Nature commentary Genome Editing: The domestication of Cas9. High-fidelity CRISPR–Cas9 nucleases with no …

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Cognitive Genomics Interview

This is a discussion with Cambridge University PhD candidate Daphne Martschenko. Topics covered include: genetics of cognition, group differences, genetic engineering. The NYC roundtable on genius she mentions is here. Blog readers may also be interested in this event at the 92nd Street Y (Thu, Mar 10, 2016, 8:15 pm, Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd …

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Who owns the future?

NewStatesman: Who owns the future? How the prophets of Silicon Valley took control In an era when politics is bereft of grand visions, bioengineers and Silicon Valley tech geeks are claiming the mantle of leadership and prophecy. But what do they want and where are they leading us? … The 20th century was shaped by …

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In vivo gene editing with CRISPR

Safe and Effective soon for humans? In vivo genome editing improves muscle function in a mouse model of Duchenne muscular dystrophyin vi Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aad5143 Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating disease affecting about 1 out of 5000 male births and caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene. Genome editing has the potential to restore …

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Nativity 2050

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. Mary was born in the twenties, when the tests were new and still primitive. Her mother had frozen a dozen eggs, from which came Mary and her sister Elizabeth. Mary had …

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Some Fishy News

Here is a post for those Thornapple Blog readers who rely on me to keep them informed of all the doings in the murky world of food regulatory policy. Of course I have to caution any other innocent soul who happens to have stumbled onto the Blog that the readers who rely on me to …

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Contemplating the Future

A great profile of Nick Bostrom in the New Yorker. I often run into Nick at SciFoo and other similar meetings. When Nick is around I know there’s a much better chance the discussion will stay on a highbrow, constructive track. It’s surprising how often, even at these heavily screened elitist meetings, precious time gets …

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Pinker on bioethics

Progress in biomedical research is slow enough. It does not need to be slowed down even further. Boston Globe: A POWERFUL NEW technique for editing genomes, CRISPR-Cas9, is the latest in a series of advances in biotechnology that have raised concerns about the ethics of biomedical research and inspired calls for moratoria and new regulations. …

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Technically Sweet

Regular readers will know that I’ve been interested in the so-called Teller-Ulam mechanism used in thermonuclear bombs. Recently I read Kenneth Ford‘s memoir Building the H Bomb: A Personal History. Ford was a student of John Wheeler, who brought him to Los Alamos to work on the H-bomb project. This led me to look again …

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CRISPR edits in human zygotes

Results such as these had been the subject of rumors for some time. Also covered in Nature News. It is very early days for this technology — the off-target rate can probably be reduced significantly using better methods. But in the near term, safety and efficacy issues make PGD a better technique for improving human …

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Gene drive

IIUC, there is a self-referential (“auto-catalyzing”) aspect to this method which is very interesting. The Cas9 gene (payload) also encodes the guide RNA (target) information, which determines the location of the DNA cut. Needless to say, this is a very powerful and potentially dangerous technology. Enrico Fermi (speaking about atomic weapons): Once basic knowledge is …

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Après nous le déluge

You can always blame the Chinese. See also A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germline gene modification (Baltimore et al.) and Germ line editing and human evolution. Science: Embryo engineering alarm … In 1975, the Asilomar conference center hosted a meeting where molecular biologists, physicians, and lawyers crafted guidelines for research that altered …

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Putting GMOs on a Tight Leash

Two papers appeared in the latest issue of Nature—one from Farren Isaacs’ group and the other from George Church and colleagues—that presented, developed, and demonstrated a strategy for limiting the spread of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in the event that they are accidentally released or deliberately applied to the environment. My Involvement with GMO Discussions in …

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CRISPR patent fight

Earlier CRISPR posts. MSU symposium with video (Patrick Hsu, one of the speakers (no relation), is from the Zhang lab). Technology Review: Discovery of the Century? There’s a bitter fight over the patents for CRISPR, a breakthrough new form of DNA editing. … In April of this year, Zhang and the Broad won the first of several sweeping patents that cover …

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Genius (Nautilus Magazine)

The article excerpted below, in the science magazine Nautilus, is an introduction to certain ideas from my paper On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits. Super-Intelligent Humans Are Coming (Nautilus, special issue: Genius) Genetic engineering will one day create the smartest humans who have ever lived. Lev Landau, a Nobelist and one of …

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Big Chickens

More evidence that common genetic variants can produce many standard deviations of change in average phenotype. Also, while wild chickens lay ~1 egg per month, modern agricultural types lay ~1 per day. The study is described in more detail here. Thanks to Carl Shulman for the link. See also Plenty of room at the top and sections 3.1 …

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Designer babies: selection vs editing

The discussion in this video is sophisticated enough to make the distinction between embryo selection — the parents get a baby whose DNA originates from them, but the “best baby possible” — and active genetic editing, which can give the child genes that neither parent had.The movie GATTACA focuses on selection — the director made a …

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It’s all in the gene: cows

Some years ago a German driver took me from the Perimeter Institute to the Toronto airport. He was an immigrant to Canada and had a background in dairy farming. During the ride he told me all about driving German farmers to buy units of semen produced by highly prized Canadian bulls. The use of linear …

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Mitochondrial Replacement Therapies: between Abortion and Genetic Engineering?

Today a panel of experts approved the use of Mitochondrial Replacement Therapies (MRTs) in the UK as treatments to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial diseases (MDs) and to increase the fertility of older women in the UK. According to the Daily Mail the panel described MRTs as potentially useful for a specific and defined group of patients: those wishing …

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Vermont bill requiring GMO labeling

The Vermont General Assembly passed a bill that will require most (but not all) foods produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such. The law, which would go into effect July 1, 2016, is the first in the nation to require labeling products of genetic engineering. GMO labeling laws passed recently in Connecticut and …

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GMO the old fashioned way

Monsanto gives up on GMO but uses phenotype-genotype modeling to crossbreed vegetables. WIRED: … Furthermore, genetically modifying consumer crops proved to be inefficient and expensive. Stark estimates that adding a new gene takes roughly 10 years and $100 million to go from a product concept to regulatory approval. And inserting genes one at a time …

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The Neanderthal Problem

The NYTimes magazine describes efforts to resurrect extinct species such as mammoths. Let’s suppose this is possible. Perhaps it will even be possible with Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo Erectus and other pre-modern human types. Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine thousands of Neanderthals on some privately held land in Siberia, perhaps the secret project of a reclusive …

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Genetic engineering of monkeys using CRISPR

For earlier CRISPR posts, see here. Off-target mutations seem to be under control in this study. Technology Review. Generation of Gene-Modified Cynomolgus Monkey via Cas9/RNA-Mediated Gene Targeting in One-Cell Embryos (DOI:10.1016/j.cell.2014.01.027) Monkeys serve as important model species for studying human diseases and developing therapeutic strategies, yet the application of monkeys in biomedical researches has been …

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The dawn of genetic engineering?

Some CRISPR links. This technology is for real. See earlier post CRISPR. Watch realtime action here. GeCKO knockout in human cells. Zhang and Church raise $43M for new venture Editas. Application to Cystic Fibrosis in human stem cells , Cataracts in mouse. The Scientist: It was less than a year ago that scientists first applied CRISPR, a …

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Another species, an evolution beyond man

  Readers might be interested in this interview I did, which is on the MIRI (Machine Intelligence Research Institute, in Berkeley) website. Some excerpts below. … I think there is good evidence that existing genetic variants in the human population (i.e., alleles affecting intelligence that are found today in the collective world population, but not …

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