Mail-Order CRISPR Kits Allow Absolutely Anyone to Hack DNA

CRISPR has become so pervasive, that while I was at a party this weekend in Berlin I had three different people ask me if I’m working on CRISPR (for the record, I’m not).

But now you can! Seriously, DIY CRISPR kits are now available for purchase online. Read about one journalist’s journey trying to figure out if she was successful in her gene editing endeavors.

But equally hilarious are the posts I’ve seen on facebook of scientist considering buying the kit for the cheap lab equipment (optional mini-centrifuge for 125… that normally costs a few thousand dollars…).

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What the advances in CRISPR are telling us about the US biology strategy

How comfortable do you feel knowing that there is no group coordinating a national biology strategy in the US, and that a single for-profit company holds a critical mass of intellectual property rights to the future of genomic editing?

Crispr can be used to engineer agricultural products like wheat, rice, and animals to withstand the effects of climate change. Seeds can be engineered to produce far greater yields in tiny spaces, while animals can be edited to create triple their usual muscle mass. This could dramatically change global agricultural trade and cause widespread geopolitical destabilization. Or, with advance planning, this technology could help the US forge new alliances.

Without a plan, the US is left with the existing democratic instruments of change: patents, regulation, legislation, and lawsuits. And society is trusting our lawmakers, political appointees, and agency heads to apply those instruments to biological technologies that could literally change the future of humanity.

Concerned? Want to know more? Read about it here!

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Congress has a science problem. We can help!

The White House and Congress have lost their way when it comes to science. The congressional committees that craft legislation on these matters do not even have formal designated science advisers. That’s a big problem.  Instead of seeing science as a threat, officials should recognize it as an invaluable tool for improving legislation.

To educate members about the best available research, both the House and Senate science committees should create independent groups of impartial researchers and policy specialists to advise them on science and technology issues, including those related to energy, genetically modified foods, and clean air and water. (Industry representatives would still have a voice, but they would counsel the committees separately). Congress used to have a body of this kind—the widely respected Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The OTA was an office of Congress: it served members and committees, and a bipartisan board of senators and representatives oversaw it. Until 1995, the OTA created reports on scientific issues ranging from alternative fuels to cancer and presented Congress with options it could pursue to reach different goals. Then the Republican-controlled Congress axed its funding during budget cuts. Many have advocated for the OTA’s return, including Scientific American. Last year Representative Bill Foster of Illinois introduced a resolution calling for its revival.

Whether it comes from a resurrected OTA, a new, dedicated advisory panel or some other body, independent, evidence-based advice on scientific matters would provide a strong counterbalance to the opinions of special interests. Science would get a voice, no matter who was in power. This voice could not force members of Congress to accept scientific truth over alternative “facts.” But at least it would give them the opportunity to do so.*

*This is all an excerpt from here. Want to know more? Read more.

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In Africa that conservation is a “white thing”

It is the height of arrogance for industrialized countries to demand that developing countries conserve nature, while they plowed down natural resources (and often still do) to gain economic supremacy.

And that sentiment is reflected in a recent piece about the 18th anniversary of the death of Michael Werikhe, the enigmatic African conservationist.

Moreover, some of these points were emphasized in an interesting stream over on twitter.

The first step is recognizing the problem. But how do we solve said problem?

New Science Communication Goal: Become a Comic Book Hero

I don’t need to be Ironman, or the Hulk. Although it would be cool to be Beast, or Professor X, I’d settle for being a scientist comic book hero!

Like Dr Sheiner, a research fellow at the Wellcome Centre for Molecular Parasitology at Glasgow University. She can be found in a new comic published by the Centre entitled Toxoplasmosis. It’s the latest in a series of comics the centre has been producing in recent years as a way to help explain what it does and why it is important.

Read more about it !

And I’m putting it out there… I’d be happy to be a comic book hero.

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Four vaccine myths and where they came from

One of the many problems with science denial is figuring out where the rumors started.

In terms of the war on vaccination, Science has nicely provided a list of claims and where they originated. Read it here.

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Also as a bonus, see this pediatrician’s response to parents that don’t want to vaccinate their children. His post has recently gone viral (even though it’s been around for awhile), and is worth reading. He especially emphasizes that he is willing to answer every question that parents have about vaccines, but he’s just not willing to make exceptions.

The Immortal Life of HeLa Cells

The problem with research on humans is that everyone wants it, but no one wants to be the guinea pig. Enter cell lines! The problem is that most human cells don’t survive in the lab. In fact, prior to HeLa cells, all cells died within 24 hours or so.

The excellent book by Rebecca Skloot The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, details how the HeLa line came into being, and raises the questions if she should have had consent over what was done with the cells from her tumor. And while I think that it’s misleading to say “Henrietta lived on through her cells” (hence the title of this post), it is worth considering the bioethical quandaries that have resulted from the HeLa lines, and other potential cell lines.

And the new Oprah movie, these questions are likely to be raised again soon.

Read about it here!

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