ALBUQUERQUE, NM—The process of evolution, through which single-celled organisms slowly developed over billions of years into exponentially more sophisticated forms of life, has inexplicably culminated in local Albuquerque resident Mitch Szabo, leading evolutionary biologists reported Monday.
“I know this is controversial, but we have to consider the possibility that Darwin was wrong, ” said Victor Siles, a geneticist at the University of California–Berkeley. “Nothing we currently know about DNA, no fully mapped genome, can account for the presence of someone whose apartment smells that much like Chef Boyardee.”
Archive for the ‘activating evolution’
RICHARD DAWKINS, the atheist campaigner, is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.
Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said: “This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence.”
What are the latest trends in academia? Is poststructuralist theory dead yet?
Well, it carries on in its zombielike, jargon-ridden way here and there. But it’s on the wane. The smartest literary scholars right now are interested in evolutionary psychology and brain science — how we may be hard-wired for fiction-making, aesthetic appreciation and the like.
Is that a good development? How do you feel about seeing the adventure of life reduced to a function of DNA?
I guess I’m down with it because I’ve always felt, for instance, that my own lesbianism was genetic. My cousin, whom I was just visiting in London, we have the same DNA, and we’re both big, old dykes.
Um…you go girl?
Japanese researchers announce a major accomplishment in this issue of Nature: the creation of the first transgenic primates able to pass on a foreign gene to their offspring (see pages 492, 515 and 523). Because the primates in question are marmoset monkeys that are distant from humans in an evolutionary sense, this experiment has little immediate bearing on the modification of human germ lines — a prospect that many people find unacceptable in any case. But the advance will lead to more sophisticated models for human disease, physiological development and neurogenetics. And in so doing, it will inevitably draw more attention from animal-rights activists.
Bob, who’s owned wild animals all his life, admits Higgins has not always been a model pet. When Higgins was 3, he slept with the couple, often awakening Bob in the morning by climbing to the bedroom rafters and dropping onto Bob’s stomach. On one occasion, they got in a wrestling match, and Higgins put one of his “steel-like fingernails” through Bob’s scrotum.
Bob has considered moving him to a sanctuary, but “I’m just too attached to him,” he says.
Bob has been bitten several times by Higgins, who now weighs 50 pounds and has large incisors. Once, when Bob was leading him from an outdoor enclosure back to his cage in the house, Higgins exploded and the two got into a battle so ferocious that despite the steel mesh glove Bob was wearing, he screamed for Carlie to get his .22 rifle and put a bullet in Higgins’s head. She got Higgins a slice of raisin bread instead, quickly defusing the fight. But Bob accepts it: a wild animal will never be domesticated, he says.
“He shivered and I leaned over and said, ‘Come here, baby, are you cold?’ and he exploded,” Ms. Bowers says. “He started biting and screaming at me, biting any place he could touch. It was a nightmare. We tipped over furniture, I would have killed him if I could. But he was so strong. I tried to choke him to make him stop. We fought for I don’t know how long. I was trying to hold him so he couldn’t bite me. I took one of my big fabric books and held it on his throat.”
JUDIE HARRISON, 50 and three times married, is an extreme example of monkey love. She once demanded that her 15-year-old son give up his bedroom for a chimp, and today she is estranged from all three of her children because she put the primates first. Her passion also cost her her home.
The prominent atheist is stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in “anti-scientific” fairytales. Prof Hawkins said: “The book I write next year will be a children’s book on how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking. “I haven’t read Harry Potter, I have read Pullman who is the other leading children’s author that one might mention and I love his books. I don’t know what to think about magic and fairy tales.”Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of “bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards”.
“I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know,” he told More4 News.
Hmmm…didn’t somebody once say that imagination is more important than knowledge?
With the help of the Personal Genetics Education Project’s Dana Waring Bateman, I have teamed up with Dr. Chris Korey at the College of Charleston. Both of us are teaching mavericky, genomicky classes this semester and Chris asked if his students could post on genomeboy in response to a series of questions he and Dana developed regarding the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select for or against particular traits. “Anything to crowd out the spam,” I told him. I have modified the questions slightly to make them a bit bloggier.
- When we select for or against a trait, does it change how we as a society view that trait?
- How will the proliferation of sequenced personal genomes change our thoughts on what constitutes a disability? Or will it?
- How and whether genetic and genomic information ultimately leads to the expression of human traits remains unclear. How should that affect our use of this technology?
- Should the government restrict the use of this technology for positive and/or negative selection? Why or why not?
- Is PGD a good idea? Make your case.
I confess I haven’t thought a whole lot about PGD, but I will say this: I see the emergence of this technology as inevitable and I think any attempts to ban it or drastically curtail it will fail. If parents want to select for or against a highly penetrant mendelian trait and they can’t do it in the US, they will go to China or Russia or the Cayman Islands or the UK. And it will only get cheaper. Thus, I think it would behoove regulatory agencies to get off their patooties and try to figure this out. The time for hand-wringing is long past.
Having said that, I worry about what we don’t know regarding the epigenetic effects of PGD and other assisted reproduction technologies. When we’re tiny balls of cells, we are extremely vulnerable. When we mess with a preimplantation embryo’s environment, we are likely to alter that embryo’s patterns of cell division, gene expression and/or morphology.
UPDATE: Will Saletan discusses the advent of increasingly sophisticated prenatal testing and its implications.
Please have at it in the comments.
Munger, who writes the Progressive Alaska blog, told me Palin is not just a creationist, but a “young Earth” creationist who believes that man and dinosaurs once shared the planet, and that the world will end in her lifetime.
Palin-tology, you might call it.
Munger claims she tried to stock the local school board with creationists several years ago, which caused him to quiz her on her beliefs.
“She doesn’t believe in science, and her father was a science teacher,” Munger said. “She told me she felt she would see Jesus in her lifetime.”
I can tell when a science story has created mainstream buzz: I read about it here. The blogosphere has reacted–with nuance and thoughtfulness, IMHO– to David Goldstein’s contention that the Common Disease Common Variant Emperor is pretty much buck naked.
In my own inbox over the last two days, I’ve seen loud and emphatic grumblings from NIH-funded researchers who claim that Goldstein is prematurely eulogizing CDCV and that if he hasn’t found variants related to cognition, then it must be the result of poor phenotyping on his part.
I am a subject in Goldstein’s cognition study and I can tell you that I have been tested out the wazoo. I have spent hours in front of a screen trying to remember patterns of dots, letters and numbers. I have sat with an examiner for an hour and tried to recall the details of stories that were read to me. I have lain inside an MRI tube while staring at photographs and answered questions about them. I have filled out lengthy questionnaires. So yeah, it could be inadequate phenotyping, but if it is then I suspect we will never have adequate phenotyping until we start drilling holes in people’s skulls. (Also, if the powers that be are so concerned about this, then why isn’t the 1000 Genomes Project using some of its $50 million to collect trait data? Where is the 1000 Phenomes Project?)
As for the common-disease-common-variant hypothesis, maybe I’m missing something, but please tell me: What do we do with so many weak susceptibility loci for Crohn’s and type 2 diabetes that fail to explain so much of the genetic variance? Schizophrenia has a heritability of 0.8 and we still can’t find a major gene after 25 years of looking.
Uncle Sam and his fundees have a lot invested in CDCV and the genome-wide association studies that are supposed to find the culpable variants for human diseases. I don’t blame them for wanting to pursue it as far as they can. But when will it be time to move on and start to sequence? I get that it’s still expensive and unwieldy. And that it too may not succeed. But why use a magnifying glass when you have an electron microscope?
UPDATE: I just heard an excellent talk by Muin Khoury (some of which irritated me, but we can talk about that later). One of his many salient points was that CDCV has not born fruit because we have failed to take into account gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. This strikes me as plausible and more importantly, as the source of an immense if not intractable informatics and computational problem. Of course, someone more cynical than I might say that it will also mean many more years of funding…