Tag Archives: Rick Weiss

Excitement over the cow genome…why?

They’ve sequenced the genome for a female Hereford cow, according the BBC News here. In reading the article, you’ll find a fair chunk of equivocation.

The genome of a female Hereford cow has been sequenced, which could be a major starting point for improvements in the agricultural industry.

The information is likely to have a major impact on livestock breeding. [emphasis mine]

Other genomes have been mapped, notably the human genome, and as far as I’m aware, nothing much has come of it. Denise Caruso in her webcast discussion with Rick Weiss on synthetic biology (for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies) mentioned the Encode Project where they identified all the functional elements in the human genome sequence. There was an international consortium working on this multi-year project  and, according to Caruso, after it was completed the biologists found that they still don’t understand how the genes actually interact within the body. In other words, you may have markers for a disease that never manifests because of other factors which are part of your personal biology. Theories are all very well but they don’t necessarily function outside a laboratory.

Eta: I forgot to mention that a team of Simon Fraser University researchers worked with colleagues at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland on the cow genome.

Quantum dots possibly toxic? And a followup to the Canadian 2009 budget and Genome Canada

After last week’s (and continuing into this week) excitement over Canadian scientists creating the smallest quantum dot ever, there’s an article about possible toxicity in Science Daily here. The gist of the article is that quantum dots which are used in solar cells, medical imaging devices, and elsewhere could decompose during use or after they’re disposed. In any event, the decomposed dots could release metals that are toxic when they are exposed to acidic and/or alkaline environments. According to the article, there’s no need to sound an alarm yet but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the situation.

I made a comment abut mapping genomes when discussing the science funding cuts in the Canadian budget which featured Genome Canada’s complete disappearance [from the budget].  I referred to a comment by Denise Caruso (she was featured in a Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies webcast discussing synthetic biology here). I’ve reviewed the webcast and found that she wasn’t referring to genome mapping per se but was discussing something called the Encode Study which was four years long and funded by the Human Genome Project. It featured an international consortium of 80 organizations that were working together to create an encyclopedia of DNA elements. Here’s a rough transcription of her comments,

We have no idea what we’re talking about here. The genes don’t operate the way we thought they did. The genome is not a tidy collection of independent genes where the sequence of DNA does this [action] and always does this so we can put it on a shelf [and have it on a] parts inventory list. [The genes] operate within networks. What they [study participants] said was almost 180 degrees opposite to what we have believed for quite some time.

Rick Weiss who was interviewing her went on to describe how a genes that are seemingly unrelated signal each other in ways that we had not expected. Who knows how it all works in the environment i.e. when you get out of the lab?

So getting back to my original point, mapping is fine but it’s not the most primary goal. As per the webcast, it’s the relationships or networks that are important.

A quick note: the University of Virginia has a virtual lab that features information and podcasts about nano. You can go here to see it.

Synthetic conversation between Rick Weiss and Denise Caruso

The conversation took place under the auspices of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) in November 2008 and thank goodness for webcasting since that means there’s a copy free for the viewing here [ETA Sept. 30, 2011: I have replaced the link as it points to the wrong page with this URL http://www.synbioproject.org/events/archive/synthetic_biology_coming_up_fast/]. The discussion is absorbing and I highly recommend it. However, it’s disturbing. They discuss bio error and bio terror along with mentioning how easy it would be to create synthetic life (this leads to a brief discussion about how we define life).  It’s provocative in a thoughtful way. Weiss was a science reporter who is now a fellow at the Center for American Progress. Caruso (former journalist) is the executive director of the Hybrid Vigor Institute which she founded in 2000.

There is an ethics discussion about synthetic biology tomorrow at PEN 9:30 – 10:30 am PST. Go here to enjoy the live webcast or to view it later.

Synthetic Biology webcast

Just got an invite to: Synthetic Biology: Coming Up Fast! the latest webcast/live event from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN). It will take place Friday, November 14, 2008 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm ET. According to the press release,

Synthetic biology is being touted by scientists and venture capitalists as “the next big thing.”  Researchers claim to be on the brink of creating artificial life in a laboratory and making the world’s first synthetic microbes.  The first blockbuster synbio drug–an affordable cure for malaria–is expected on the market by 2010.  And a whole new biofuels industry spawned by synthetic biologists that promises to conquer the globe’s energy problems seems just around the corner.

The speakers are,

Denise Caruso, former New York Times columnist and longtime analyst of technology-based issues and industries, will explore this question with the Center for American Progress’s Rick Weiss.  Caruso is the author of Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet (2006).  Weiss recently left The Washington Post after a distinguished career as one of the country’s foremost science journalists.

David Rejeski, PEN executive director, will be moderating. If you’re in the Washington, DC area you can attend but you do need to rsvp otherwise there’s the live webcast (or if the timing is bad, they will make post it later but it can take a few days). For more information, check here.