CRISPR


In-Situ Sequencing, CRISPR Patents, and Racist Milk Drinkers: February 2017 with Nathan and Laura

Commentators Nathan Pearson and Laura Hercher join us to look back on February’s genomics headlines.

Beginning this time with science, Nathan says we should be expecting great things from new in-situ sequencing. Laura found it encouraging that the National Academy of Sciences shifted to be more in support of genome editing. Theral asks what life forms are left to sequence for the Earth BioGenome Project?

Then it’s back to politics. Are the departure of Liz Mansfield from the FDA and Matt Might from the White House the beginning of a brain drain from government agencies in the new administration? We finish with some stories about racism that might fit under the heading “family genomics and black history month."

The Days of Miracle and Wonder: Laura Hercher on Genetic Counseling, Part 2

We often hear at conferences that there are too few genetic counselors. And that this bottleneck is constraining the delivery and promise of genomic medicine. Is this true?

It is 100% true, says Laura Hercher of Sarah Lawrence College in the second part of our interview on genetic counseling.

“We graduate just under 300 genetic counselors a year. And last year at our annual meeting [National Society of Genetic Counselors], there were posted over 600 jobs. We’re producing jobs at a much greater rate than we’re producing counselors.”

The interview moves to a broader discussion about how society goes about keeping up with the increasing amount and power of genomic technologies, such as new gene editing techniques. Laura reads an excerpt of her recent piece at the DNAExchange.com

“There is no simple solution to this, but the battle begins with how we define ‘we’. Genetics needs to remind us of what we share as often as it tells us how we are different. Many of you are out there every day fighting battles you may not recognize as part of a larger war: battling insurance companies for access, battling to bring diversity to our biobanks and clinical trials, supporting a new vision of family, in which our 99.9% shared DNA is enough, and we are not defined by the fraction that is identical by descent. We are educators in a field that is an agent of change, and so it falls to us to work for an ever more expansive and inclusive definition of ‘we’. Without that, we risk that the amazing technology of the genomic age will be perverted into a tool for doubling down on the things that divide us.

These are the days of miracles and wonder

This is the long distance call

The way the camera follows us in slo-mo

The way we look to us all

The way we look to a distant constellation

That’s dying in a corner of the sky

These are the days of miracle and wonder

And don’t cry baby don’t cry

Don’t cry

June 2016 with Nathan and Laura: GMO Labeling, Misspelling CRISPR, Sequenom Patent Loss, SmidgIon

Today's show was recorded July 1st, the first day that Vermont’s GMO labeling law went into effect. Just how big a win was this for the anti-GMO crowd, we ask our two commentators, Nathan Pearson and Laura Hercher. They have a surprisingly optimistic take, suggesting that the GMO labeling could become a positive marketing tool.

Laura says the scale and ease of CRISPR vs the older technology of zinc fingers is like going from manuscript writing to the printing press. She insists, therefore, that the approval of the first ever CRISPR trial is a big deal even though we’ve already been doing the same cell replacement therapy with zinc fingers. She also points out that the new trial is funded by Sean Parker’s foundation which is moving along at a Silicon Valley pace.

"The tech industry has never had their moment where it killed someone to move too fast.”

Last week the Supreme Court killed off Sequenom’s patent for prenatal screening. After Laura and Theral hotly debate whether there should be such patents, Nathan suggests there is a right balance.

“It’s sort of like tuning a carburetor,” he says. "Patents can encourage people to invest, but they can also inhibit the development of technology.”

And lastly, DNA has a new mascot. It’s called the SmidgIon.

April 2016 with Nathan and Laura: Big Money, More CRISPR Studies, Genomic Superheroes, and a Pot Chaser

This month we saw Big Money being infused into genomics and other life science research projects. There’s no question that science is big business, but do we see improved healthcare as a result?

Was the NIH too hasty in it’s ban on gene editing of human embryos?

Superheroes are lurking among us everywhere . . . or so the mainstream media would have us believe in their take on a new study from the Icahn School of Medicine.

Join us for our month-in-review program to hear what our regular commentators, Nathan Pearson and Laura Hercher, have to say about these questions. Stay tuned to the end for a pot chaser.

Is Oxitec Ready to Scale as Governments Seek Options to Control the Zika Virus?

With constant news topping the headlines about the Zika virus, a synthetic biology company out of Oxford England, Oxitec, has been getting some good press. For over ten years now, Oxitec has been developing their genetically engineered mosquitos as a way to lower virus spreading mosquito populations.

When we last talked to Oxitec's CEO, Hadyn Parry, a couple years ago, they were just introducing their genetically engineered mosquitos into a small rural town in Brazil. They've now had trials in the Cayman Islands and Panama as well and received phenomenal results.

“In all of the trials, we’ve got the same result, which is that we’ve controlled the Aeges Aegypti population in a town by over 90 percent,” says Hadyn in today’s interview.

Is the recent panic over the Zika virus helping out the synthetic biology company in terms of PR and regulatory hurdles? And what threat has CRISPR, the new gene editing technology, posed for the company, both in terms of the backlash in media against gene editing and also in lowering the barrier to entry for competitors?

Hadyn says he has always embraced the PR issue head on, and is now giving 2-3 interviews some days. Does he have any suggestions for other synthetic biology companies who also face uphill PR battles?

Sci-Fi Author Kim Stanley Robinson Talks Life Science 2015

At the end of the year our goal is to bring the audience some unusual programming, some new outside perspectives on the topics we cover. As with last year, we talk today with science fiction writer, Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Mars Trilogy, 2312, and Shaman

Known for working with science and technology that are feasible today, Stan goes out on his yet furthest journey into the future with his newest novel, Aurora. As the novel begins, we are with the descendants of a group of people who left our solar system a couple hundred years previously for the solar system of the star Tau Ceti. This star is eleven light years away, and the novel starts as the ship begins “deceleration” with the goal of landing down not on a planet in the “Goldilocks” position, but on that planet’s moon, Aurora. We learn right away that Stan is not really in Gene Roddenberry space here (creator of Star Trek). For once the travelers begin the process of trying to settle, the biology already on Aurora isn’t what you’d call friendly or indifferent.

In Aurora, Stan faces head on a notion we’ve pursued here on Mendelspod: the field's overly reductionist approach to the study of biology. The best example I can think of here came from one of our guests, John Dupre, who asked the question, "if you took all the atoms of an elephant into space and were able to reassemble them, would it still be an elephant?”

No, is Stan’s clear answer with this latest novel.

“This idea that we’ve had for a hundred years, or two thousand years, however long—of travel to the stars: it’s an impossible idea."

Not only does Stan bit by bit deconstruct biology and ecology, arguing that earth’s ecological success has as much to do with it’s size as other factors, he also deconstructs the process of formulating narrative and of  novel writing itself. On the spaceship is a computer which over the course of the first part of the book receives extensive training in doing narration.  Stan reads from one of these passages where the computer is wrestling with the idea of whether to use metaphor or not.

“A quick literature review suggests the similarities in metaphors are arbitrary, even random. They could be called metaphorical similarities. But no AI likes tautological formulations, because the halting problem can be severe, become a so called “ouroboros” problem, or a whirlpool with no escape. Ah hah, a metaphor.”

In Aurora, Stan is fascinated by problems which underlie current trends in the life science industry. For example, what training will IBM’s Watson need to receive as it is used more and more in the clinic? How important is our microbiome and the environmentalome to our own health?

We also push Stan to talk about the issue of drug pricing. To fully flesh out his ideas, he has to go quite far into a post capitalist society, but he does agree that price controls at this point might be a first tool. As for the power of the new CRISPR gene editing technique, Stan says doing gene drive on humans is an old science fiction idea.  "But I always thought that it was a hundred or two hundred years off. So I was wrong.  Now we have to decide how to keep it safe, and what we should allow.”

It's a fun time with Kim Stanley Robinson.  Enjoy.

I Prefer My Bacon Crispy: Why I Don’t Think CRISPR is Really That Big of a Deal

With all the recent news around CRISPR my reaction is “meh” (coincidentally, the same reaction I’m having to the current US presidential election noise). We are a wee bit early for both.

Is Jurassic Park – and now Jurassic World real? No.

Should We Hold Back the Reins on Biotechnology? with Chris Gunter

A very unique biotechnology event took place this week.

BEINGS 2015, or the Biotech and the Ethical Imagination Global Summit, was held at The Tabernacle, a former church turned concert hall in Atlanta, Georgia. The venue was not the only unusual thing for a summit about science. Speakers at the meeting included a well known linguist, a famous Canadian novelist, and Catholic rector along with professors of bioethics, law, and, of course, biology.

The summit was not particularly about science, but about biotech in a cultural context. Speakers pursued some of the most daunting questions humans face: Should we ever try to slow science down? Is this even possible? And if it is, who should be the regulators?

Chris Gunter is an Associate Professor at Emory University, host of the event. She not only attended the meeting but was one of the delegates who took part in a session after the main conference. The delegates were tasked with arriving at a consensus on standards to guide the future of biotechnology. That’s all.

“There’s never been an event like this before,” says Chris, a former editor at Nature, at the outset of today's show.




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