CRISPR


The Gene Edited Babies Saga - A Year Later with Hank Greely

On November 25th, 2018, the world was shocked to find out a Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, had edited the germline of twin girls-and the twins had been born. Many in the scientific community remember that Sunday afternoon well as the story broke on MIT's Tech Review, "EXCLUSIVE: Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies."

Today’s guest can even tell you what he had for dinner that Sunday and just what was his reaction. "Holy Shit!"

Hank Greely, a law professor at Stanford and author of "The End of Sex: the Future of Human Reproduction", has followed the “CRISPR baby” story just about as close as anyone we know. He joins us today to look back on that momentous week and reflect.

What was his and the scientific community’s immediate reaction? Now, a year later, what have we learned? How has the story evolved? And what is the future of germline editing?

"What strikes me most is the arrogance, the hubris, the foolishness, of He thinking he's going to be able to do this and be acclaimed as a hero. And maybe it wouldn't be immediately, but he would be Galileo who would ultimately be recognized as being ahead of his time. I think he was criminally reckless and so full of his own dreams and glory that he risked the lives and health of babies. And that's unforgivable to me."

October 2019 Review with Nathan and Laura: Prime Editing, Vertex Win, and ASHG

Our Halloween show this year summarizing October’s genomics news has more tricks and treats than spooks and scares. It’s Nathan and Laura back to sift through a big month of happenings from the cool CRISPR upgrade to Inscripta’s bold move in gene editing to Ancestry.com’s shift into health testing.

It’s all here, right now, on Mendelspod.

Genomics Going from a Passive to an Active Science: John Stuelpnagel on the “Write” Revolution

Not many people have had quite the same view on the genomics revolution as John Stuelpnagel. He co-founded Illumina, Ariosa, and Fabric Genomics (formerly Omicia). And he’s the Chairman of Fabric, 10X Genomics, and Inscripta. And not all had the foresight John did that biology would turn out to be so complex.

John is our guest today to preview and describe what he calls the new “writing” phase of genomics, which he says is already underway.

“Genomics has been mostly—and I hope I don’t offend the audience—a passive science. We’re limited by our cohort sets that we can put together. I think the next level of biological discovery is going to be where you can actively perturb the system—it’s called a cell—and then ask what kind of phenotype did we generate."

It’s a fascinating look ahead from one who not only founded some genomics tools companies, but founded several of THE genomics tools companies.

January 2019 Review with Nathan and Laura: Cloning, CRISPRing, DTC, and Paleogenomic Overreach

Nathan and Laura are back for the first time this year for a wild trip past cloned CRISPRd monkeys and the first gene drive in mammals. (Just that?) But first we have to deal with our hangover from the end of last year.

We talk DTC and end with a discussion of the ancient DNA controversy.

A Few Notes on Tomorrow's Holiday Special with Sci-Fi Writer Kim Stanley Robinson on the Gene Edited Baby Story

It was the headline of the decade in genomics. Humans had monkeyed with their own gene pool.

When Chinese scientist He Jiankui came to the podium at the 2nd International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong last month, journalist Kevin Davies, author of “The $1,000 Genome” wrote that he hadn’t seen as much press coverage of a genomics event since the announcement of the sequencing of the human genome. Genomics journalists have been in a tailspin.

Not to mention genomics podcasters.

George Church Has a Point. Do With the Messenger What You Will, Lulu and Nana Are Here.

When we first encounter Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s classic, the scientist has lost all his friends, his wife, his meaning in life because of his science. Now he is frozen half to death out on the sea ice chasing his creation of “gigantic stature” toward the North Pole. It’s the only thing he knows to do. Monster and creator, they are locked in an obsessive battle of existence, creation and loss, birth and death. They both know one thing surely. They have known it all along. There is no going back.

Is CRISPR Controversy Science or Spin? June 2017 Review with Nathan and Laura

It’s the end of the month--and the half year mark--so we open up today's monthly discussion with Nathan and Laura to include some of the headlines we’ve missed this year.

Last month a paper was published warning about the off target effects when using CRISPR. Laura and Nathan agree the kerfuffle which exploded into this month was more about Wall Street than adding anything new to science.

Remember the technology we used before CRISPR? Sangamo Biosciences launched the first ever “in vivo” (in human) trial for gene editing using Zinc Finger technology.

Also last month, the FDA approved a drug based on the genetic makeup of a tumor and not its location in the body. Nathan says, “Nyeh . . . And? Doctors have been doing it off label for years.” But Laura thinks it's more that just a symbolic gesture.

She also picked for her paper of the month this new study out by Robert Green’s group asking whether the benefits outweigh the risks for whole genome sequencing in healthy individuals.

"It’s preliminary, but it’s not PR. This is one of the really important questions for genomics in our time," says Laura.

Nathan highlights a paper propounding a new model for biology, the omnigenic model. Find out what that is in another fun and informative look back on the genomics headlines with Nathan Pearson and Laura Hercher.

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.



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