Category Archives: Genetic Engineering

How the Pentagon’s Skynet Would Automate War

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Motherboard:

‘Pentagon officials are worried that the US military is losing its edge compared to competitors like China, and are willing to explore almost anything to stay on top—including creating watered-down versions of the Terminator.

Due to technological revolutions outside its control, the Department of Defense (DoD) anticipates the dawn of a bold new era of automated war within just 15 years. By then, they believe, wars could be fought entirely using intelligent robotic systems armed with advanced weapons.

Last week, US defense secretary Chuck Hagel ann​ounced the ‘Defense Innovation Initiative’—a sweeping plan to identify and develop cutting edge technology breakthroughs “over the next three to five years and beyond” to maintain global US “mili​tary-technological superiority.” Areas to be covered by the DoD programme include robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, Big Data and advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing.

But just how far down the rabbit hole Hagel’s initiative could go—whether driven by desperation, fantasy or hubris—is revealed by an overlooked Pentagon-funded study, published quietly in mid-September by the DoD National Defense University’s (NDU) Center for Technology and National Security Policy in Washington DC.’

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Kill switch: Breeding kamikaze mosquitoes

Kieron Monks reports for CNN:

Female Aedes mosquito feeding‘The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is just two to three millimeters long but its impact is devastating. Of the thousands of mosquito species, this one bears primary responsibility for one of the world’s deadliest and fastest growing diseases. In the past 50 years, incidence of Dengue Fever has multiplied by 30 according to the WHO, spreading from nine countries in 1970 to over 100 today. There is no vaccine or cure for the painful virus known as Breakbone Fever, and of the 50-100 million people infected each year, over 20,000 die.

Aedes Aegypti has spread with this epidemic, and has become the target of efforts to control the disease. But while solutions such as mass spraying of toxic chemicals have proved expensive, ineffective and environmentally damaging, scientists hope to use the insect as the agent of its own destruction. British biotech firm Oxitec is tackling the problem through pioneering genetic modification (GM) of the Aedes Aegypti. Scientists breed large numbers of the insects in laboratories and inject the sperm cells of males with a lethal gene. When the mosquito is released into the wild and mates with a female — always of the same species – the deadly transgene is passed on and the offspring dies.’

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New technique could lead to “risky eugenics”, says IVF pioneer

Michael Cook writes for Bio Edge:

‘Britain’s leading fertility doctor, Lord Robert Winston, has warned that his recent research could open the door to “risky” eugenics programs.

Lord Winston, who developed preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and his colleagues have developed a technique to splice genes into sperm, thus making it far easier to modify the genetic make-up of embryos. His focus is creating genetically modified pigs whose organs could be transplanted into humans without being  rejected.

However, he told the Cheltenham Science Festival this week that it  will be a far easier way to create “designer babies” because it would not be necessary to manipulate embryos. Only artificial insemination would be needed.’

READ MORE @ BIO EDGE…

New service creates virtual babies for worried mothers

Michael Cook writes for Bio Edge:

An American businesswoman and an Ivy League scientist have teamed up to create a sophisticated service for reducing genetic diseases for lesbian couples and single women. Anne Morriss and Lee Silver, of Princeton, have founded

Genepeeks, a company which will identify the sperm donors who have the best chance of producing a disease-free baby. Using Silver’s patented gene analysis technology, Matchright, Genepeeks will create “virtual babies” for the woman and a range of possible sperm donors and screen out donors with a flawed genetic profile. Matchright screens for hundreds of diseases, but also other features, like eye colour and height. Morriss and Silver insist, however, that the technology will not be used to create genetically engineered children.

However, Silver, the author of pop science books like Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family (1998) andChallenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life (2006) is an apostle of genetic engineering  and even human cloning.

Genepeeks will have to be prepared for stiff opposition.

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, in California, told BBC News that its service was “highly irresponsible”.

“It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies. We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus for which to choose a future child’s traits. A project like this would also be ethically and socially treacherous.”

Infographic: A History of Books that Forecast the Future

Image: printerinks.com

Image Source: printerinks.com

Bioethicist Julian Savulescu: We have a moral obligation to increase the intelligence of our children

Xavier Symons writes for Bio Edge:

Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu has again sparked controversy, this time advocating for the genetic screening of embryos and foetuses for intelligence genes.

In article published Wednesday in The Conversation, Savulescu referred to new research that identified specific genetic factors that contribute to low intelligence. A recent study, conducted by researchers from Cardiff University, showed that children with two copies of a common gene (Thr92Ala), together with low levels of thyroid hormone are four times more likely to have a low IQ.

… Accusations of eugenics have been leveled at Savulescu in the past, and this article is likely to garner similar responses. This most recent piece forms part of Savulescu’s growing corpus of articles advocating for human enhancement.

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MIT constructs synthetic analog computers inside living cells

John Hewitt reported for Extreme Tech in May 2013:

An analog computer inside a living cellEarly computers could perform fairly complex calculations just by arranging a few analog circuits. By choosing appropriate resistor and capacitor values, arithmetic summers, integrators, and differentiators can be easily constructed using a single amplifier, so long as the answer is less than the supply voltage. Indeed this is, at least in part, how early computers were able to track and deploy countermeasures to incoming missiles. It is even possible to take a couple of transistors and turn them into a precision multiplier. Inspired by these simple circuits, researchers at MIT have created synthetic analog computers that run genetic machinery — in other words, living cell calculators. In addition to arithmetic, these computers are also able to also perform more complex functions like taking logarithms, square roots, and even do power law scaling (evaluate functions of x raised to a certain power). While these machines are not as convenient as any inexpensive calculator, they can process numbers up to four digits, and are a heck of a lot smaller.

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Team of scientists’ goal to ‘make 100 the new 60′

Robert Langreth reports for Businessweek:

J. Craig Venter, the man who raced the U.S. government to sequence the first human genome, has a new goal: Help everyone live to 100, in good health. “Our goal is to make 100-years-old the new 60,” said Peter Diamandis, who co-founded with Venter a company that aims to scan the DNA of as many as 100,000 people a year to create a massive database that will lead to new tests and therapies that can help extend healthy human life spans.

Human Longevity Inc. will use machines from Illumina Inc., which has a stake in the company, to decode the DNA of people from children to centenarians. San Diego-based Human Longevity will compile the information into a database that will include information on both the genome and the microbiome, the microbes that live in our gut. The aim is to help researchers understand and address diseases associated with age-related decline. The company, with $70 million in initial funding, will focus first on cancer, according to a statement today.

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Stop fretting about 3-parent embryos and get ready for “multiplex parenting”

Michael Cook writes for Bio Edge:

The controversy over three-parent embryos could soon be old hat. Writing in one of the world’s leading journals, one of Britain’s best-known bioethicists has outlined a strategy for creating children with four or more genetic parents. He calls it “multiplex parenting”.

John Harris, of the University of Manchester, and two colleagues, César Palacios-González and Giuseppe Testa contend in the Journal of Medical Ethics (free online) that this is one of many exciting consequences of using stem cells to create synthetic eggs and sperm. (Or as they prefer to call them, in vitro generated gametes (IVG).)

After the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells in 2007, theoretically any cell in the body can be created from something as simple as a skin cell. Mice have already been born from sperm and eggs created from stem cells. Harris and his colleagues believe that the day is not far off when scientists will be able to do the same with humans. In their paper, they spin an ethical justification for this and outline some possible uses.

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Scientists grow primitive liver from pluripotent stem cells ~ Bioedge

Bioedge

Japanese scientists may have found the way to address the global organ transplant shortage. According to new research published by Yokohama City Unversity Graduate School of Medicine, scientists have succeeding in growing primitive livers from pluripotent stem cells.

The nascent livers, dubbed by the scientists “liver buds”, are the product of mixing three different cell kinds – liver, endothelial and mesenchymal- in a fashion akin to what happens in developing human foetuses. To the surprise of the researchers the cells bound together and developed into a primitive liver.

FULL ARTICLE @ BIOEDGE

Cloning Project Could Save Britain’s Oldest and Strongest ‘Super Trees’ ~ Inhabitat

English Oak Tree, oak tree, old tree, big treeby 
Inhabitit

David Milarch wants to clone the UK’s biggest, oldest, and most ecologically important trees. The US tree conservationist has embarked on a $3 million project to reproduce and regrow Britain’s “super trees” and offer tens of thousands of the genetically identical saplings to schools, cities and landowners for free. “The idea is to put back what we have lost,” says Milarch. ”It makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees with their supergenes. These trees, which can be 1,000 years or older, have weathered the industrial age and all the climate changes. They have proved that they can take everything.”

FULL ARTICLE @ INHABITAT

Mouse cloned from drop of blood ~ BBC

cloned mouseby Helen Briggs
BBC News

Scientists in Japan have cloned a mouse from a single drop of blood.

Circulating blood cells collected from the tail of a donor mouse were used to produce the clone, a team at the Riken BioResource Center reports in the journal Biology of Reproduction.

The female mouse lived a normal lifespan and could give birth to young, say the researchers.

Scientists at a linked institute recently created nearly 600 exact genetic copies of one mouse.

Mice have been cloned from several different sources of donor cells, including white blood cells found in the lymph nodes, bone marrow and liver.

The Japanese research group investigated whether circulating blood cells could also be used for cloning.

Their aim was to find an easily available source of donor cells to clone scientifically valuable strains of laboratory mice.

FULL ARTICLE @ BBC NEWS

UK government backs three-person IVF ~ BBC

Method one: Embryo repairby James Gallagher
BBC News

The UK looks set to become the first country to allow the creation of babies using DNA from three people, after the government backed the IVF technique.

It will produce draft regulations later this year and the procedure could be offered within two years.

Experts say three-person IVF could eliminate debilitating and potentially fatal mitochondrial diseases that are passed on from mother to child.

Opponents say it is unethical and could set the UK on a “slippery slope”.

They also argue that affected couples could adopt or use egg donors instead.

Mitochondria are the tiny, biological “power stations” that give the body energy. They are passed from a mother, through the egg, to her child.

Defective mitochondria affect one in every 6,500 babies. This can leave them starved of energy, resulting in muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and death in the most extreme cases.

Research suggests that using mitochondria from a donor egg can prevent the diseases.

It is envisaged that up to 10 couples a year would benefit from the treatment.

However, it would result in babies having DNA from two parents and a tiny amount from a third donor as the mitochondria themselves have their own DNA.

FULL ARTICLE @ BBC NEWS

Human organs ‘could be grown in animals within a year’ ~ Telegraph

Surgeons perform a transplant as it was announced today that Japanese scientists are expecting to be granted approval to grow human organs in animals and then harvest them for transplant within the next yearby Julian Ryall
The Telegraph

A panel of scientists and legal experts appointed by the government has drawn up a recommendation that will form the basis of new guidelines for Japan’s world-leading embryonic research.

There is widespread support in Japan for research that has raised red flags in other countries. Scientists plan to introduce a human stem cell into the embryo of an animal – most likely a pig – to create what is termed a “chimeric embryo” that can be implanted into an animal’s womb.

That will then grow into a perfect human organ, a kidney or even a heart, as the host animal matures.

When the adult creature is slaughtered, the organ will then be harvested and transplanted into a human with a malfunctioning organ.

FULL ARTICLE @ THE TELEGRAPH

Justices rule human genes cannot be patented ~ USA Today

by Richard Wolf
USA Today

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that human genes cannot be patented, a decision with both immediate benefits for some breast and ovarian cancer patients and long-lasting repercussions for biotechnology research.

The decision represents a victory for cancer patients, researchers and geneticists who claimed that a single company’s patent raised costs, restricted research and sometimes forced women to have breasts or ovaries removed without sufficient facts or second opinions.

But the court held out a lifeline to Myriad Genetics, the company with an exclusive patent on the isolated form of genes that can foretell an increased genetic risk of cancer. The justices said it can patent a type of DNA that goes beyond extracting the genes from the body.

FULL ARTICLE @ USA TODAY

Supreme Court: Police Can Force Open Your Mouth And Swab Your DNA ~ Business Insider

SEE ALSO: Supreme Court Ruling a Blow to Genetic Privacy (ACLU)

by Erin Fuchs
Business Insider

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that police don’t need a search warrant before they open your mouth and take a swab of DNA.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that DNA swabs are a “legitimate police booking procedure” that is allowed under the Constitution just like fingerprinting and mugshots.

The court’s swing voter Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which said DNA identification has become an important tool to help police identify suspects.

FULL ARTICLE @ BUSINESS INSIDER

Experiment Brings Human Cloning One Step Closer ~ WSJ

bGAUTAM NAIK
Wall Street Journal

‘[…] Since the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996, researchers have cloned about 20 different species, including rabbits, goats, cows and cats. Yet they so far have been unable to create biologically identical copies of any monkey or primate, including humans, possibly because their reproductive biology is more complicated.

But the refinements described in the latest experiment suggest that “it’s a matter of time before they produce a cloned monkey,” said Jose Cibelli, a cloning expert at Michigan State University, who wasn’t involved in the study. It also means, he added, “that they are one step closer to where the efficiency is high enough that someone is willing to try” to clone a person, though that remains a distant—and disturbing—prospect.

The experiment was published online Wednesday in the journal Cell. It was funded by Oregon Health and Science University and a grant from Leducq Foundation of France.’

FULL ARTICLE @ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Scientists Create First Cloned Human Embryo ~ PopSci

popsciby Francie Diep
PopSci

‘Scientists have made an embryonic clone of a person, using DNA from that person’s skin cells. In the future, such a clone could be a source of stem cells, for super-personalized therapies made from people’s own DNA.

It’s unlikely that this clone could develop into a human, say the scientists, a team of biologists from the U.S. and Thailand. The team plans to publish a paper in the future detailing why not, Nature reported. Previously, the team conducted this entire process, including a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, in monkeys. Those monkey embryo clones always died before they could grow into adult monkeys.’

FULL ARTICLE @ POPSCI

Artificial kidney offers hope to patients tethered to a dialysis machine ~ Denver Post

by Sandy Kleffman
Denver Post

‘No matter what else is happening in his life, David Anderson knows he cannot go far from the dialysis machine that sustains him. Jobs, vacations, get-togethers with friends — everything takes a back seat to his thrice-weekly treatments that do the work of his failing kidneys.

But across town, UC San Francisco researchers are using Silicon Valley technology to create a device they hope can untether the 63-year-old San Franciscan and 380,000 other Americans who rely on dialysis to cope with kidney disease.

They’re developing an implantable, artificial kidney that would shrink the refrigerator-size dialysis machine into a device the size of a coffee cup and perform functions a dialysis machine cannot do.’

FULL ARTICLE @ THE DENVER POST

Uruguay Scientists Genetically Modify Sheep To Glow In The Dark ~ KONG

Kidney breakthrough: complete lab-grown organ works in rats ~ New Scientist

by Andy Coghlan
New Scientist

For the first time, complete lab-grown kidneys have been successfully transplanted into rats, filtering and discharging urine as a normal kidney would.

The breakthrough paves the way for human-scale versions, which could potentially provide an inexhaustible supply of organs, eliminating the need for recipients to wait for a matching donor kidney.

Similar techniques have already been applied successfully in people with simpler tissue, such as windpipes. But the kidney is by far the most complex organ successfully recreated.

FULL ARTICLE @ NEW SCIENTIST

Supreme Court to decide if human genes can be patented ~ RT

Russia Today

RIA Novosti / S. SolovjevThe US Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a case challenging patents on breast and ovarian cancer genes. If the court upholds the company’s right to patent human genes, the course of US medical research could forever be altered.

The case involves the Utah biotech firm Myriad Genetics, which for years has been facing a lawsuit for placing patents on human genes and restricting cancer patients’ treatment options.

The molecular diagnostic company, which is based in Salt Lake City, holds a number of patents on genes related to breast cancer and ovarian cancer, two of which US District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet ruled invalid in 2010, the decision that Myriad appealed. The genes in question, BRCA1 an BRCA2, often appear in cancer patients, sometimes before the cancer has even developed. With methods to diagnose these genes patented by Myriad Genetics, patients are unable to go to any other doctors for a second opinion before seeking treatment.

FULL ARTICLE @ RUSSIA TODAY