GMOs


September 2017 with Nathan and Laura: Venter Blunder, RNAi Returns, and Monthly Science Moments

To honor Laura's pentametric thirst,

We write the summary today in verse.

 

Was it a quake that had no epicenter,

That silly paper out by J. Craig Venter?

 

And after years of silencing the market

Has RNAi at last knocked out its target?

 

Then Nathan gives to yuppies devil's choice.

Which one libs: gluten dough or GMOs?

 

What Does the Election Mean for Genomics? November 2016 with Nathan and Laura

While everyone is asking what will become of Obamacare, we ask our regular commentators, Nathan Pearson and Laura Hercher, specifically about genomics and medicine.

Nathan begins by saying that data scientists everywhere should be humbled. Does the failure to predict the election send out warnings about big data predictions in genomics?

Laura points out that Obamacare covers many of the new genetic tests which have become available in the past decade, such as screening tests for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome and lynch syndrome. Coverage for these tests is now up in the air.

"It is cruelly absurd to talk about the value to the human race of identifying the people with these syndromes if we don't then give them the ability to act on the information," she says.

No matter what happens to Obamacare, isn't there bipartisan support for genetic testing and for research funding? (See the passage yesterday of the 21st Century Cures Act.)

Both Nathan and Laura agree that genomic medicine will continue apace. However, they worry that under a Trump administration the less fortunate will become even more vulnerable and have less access to improvements in healthcare. They point to an area of testing that is already highly politicized: prenatal screening. Will women lose access to testing in an era that reverses gains made in women's reproductive rights?

We finish with a local election in the Florida Keyes where residents approved the use of Oxitec's genetically modified mosquitos. Fear, Laura points out, can quickly change suspicion into acceptance.

August 2016 with Nathan and Laura

It’s the end of summer and end of another month. Joining us to discuss the genomics headlines of August are Laura Hercher and Nathan Pearson.

A recent study demonstrating that breast cancer patients with low genomic risk may not need chemotherapy is just what precision medicine is all about, isn’t it? Theral and Laura think the study is a big deal. Nathan’s not so sure.

Nathan is convinced though that Eurocentric studies have implicit racism. Laura agrees, saying the lack of racial diversity in biological databases is a major weakness that we must face head on.

Also, the FDA issued a report supporting Oxitec’s GM mosquitos for use in Florida. Laura is on board with the science but warns about smugness on the part of the scientific community. And George Church’s lab released a reengineered e. coli. Nathan imagines a new genomic language of 2 letter codons.

Gene and Tonic, July 7, 2016: Vermont's New Law and the Nobel Laureates

On July 1st, Vermont’s GMO labeling law went into effect. All food sold in the state that has been genetically modified has to say so on the label.

While some geneticists are throwing their hands up in the air in total exasperation, others are consulting big food.

“It’s all been genetically modified at some point. So put GM on every piece of food,” reads one consultant’s email. “They’re Vermonters. While you’re changing the labels--which I do understand isn’t cheap--you might as well put, ‘Have a beautiful and pleasant day, Vermont!’”

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.

A Tool to Strengthen the Voice of Science in Online Journalism

Emmanuel Vincent is the founder of Climate Feedback, a project which includes a new tool for scientists to comment directly on climate science news. The tool is a plugin which can be downloaded for free and gives a viewer real time access to the feedback of scientists on a particular online article.  Though the project is just for news about climate science, Emmanuel says in today’s interview, that the project could scale for other science journalism as well. 

What would it take to get something like this up an running for biologists who want to keep journalists honest about such topics as GMOs and the latest in genome editing techniques? Would the model be a non-profit such as Wikipedia, or a company like Reddit? 

Join us in probing a new approach to improving not only science, but the delivery of science to a wider audience.

Gene & Tonic: Disruption in Sequencing, Scientist Politicians, Some Cool Synbio

Join Theral for a quick wrap-up of the week's biotech news:

The biggest news this week has been the flow of stories coming from last week’s AGBT conference held in Florida. This is the annual all out party for the all out darling of our industry, the sequencing space. Like a debutante ball, it’s where anybody who’s anybody comes out and does their curtsy to society.

This year’s debut favorite was no doubt 10X Genomics. It turns out they can almost turn water into wine. Well, almost. What they do is turn short reads into long reads, piggybacking on Illumina’s technology. Have you been following our series on the rise of long read sequencing? It turns out that scientists just decided that they want to actually see the whole genome. Hence the use of long reads.

Illumina has reigned king in sequencing for several years, but their platform is based on short reads. We heard from one of our guests on the program this week that Illumina’s dominance is vulnerable. David Smith at the Mayo Clinic says their platform is about maxed out. Instead he looks for some big stuff from BGI.

Huh? BGI? Isn’t that just Illumina’s platform? Well no. He’s talking about Complete Genomics. Remember them? They were at one time a debut darling then got sold to BGI for a song and a dance. (Every debut is followed by a depression, isn’t it?) But we heard this week that Complete’s still got some juice. David Smith says they’ll be coming out with an assembled human genome for $1,000 come June. That’s an assembled genome.

But this is unofficial. BGI/Complete were not saying anything at AGBT. According to all accounts, the biggest presence at the conference was PacBio. They held this workshop with an incredible lineup of scientific superstars. Temporarily the IQ in the state of Florida rose to the national average.

Craig Venter was there. We heard PacBio flew him in on a private jet with a private security detail.

I mean. Wow. Treatment like the President of the United States.

In fact, I’m going to ask why doesn’t Venter just run for president in 2016? Right, why can’t we have a scientist president? Scientists and technologists are basically in control of the planet anyway. Why not get some on Capitol Hill and recognize them for who they already are.

We found out this week that Harold Varmus is stepping down from the NCI. Why doesn’t he run for a higher office? Why do scientists give up at that level?

Did you see the Science Magazine article this week about the one lone physicist in congress. Bill Foster of Illinois. The news was that he is joining the science committee in the House of Representatives. Wait--there is a scientist committee in congress? So who else is on it then? The lone physicist congressman was quoted in the article:

“There are good conversations to be had on both sides of the aisle. But it’s important that those be fact-based.”

D’ya think?

We asked George Church of Harvard why he doesn’t run for the senate. He looks very senatorial, right? He wrote back and said that if he wanted to hang out with a bunch of Neanderthals, he prefer they be of his own make.

No, he didn’t really say that. We made that up.

But speaking of synthetic biology projects, one of our guests this week is making color changing flowers. You can see it on video. These flowers literally change to another color while you’re watching them. Isn’t it just amazing what mankind can do when we get bored? Next thing you know, we’ll be bringing back smallpox, polio and the measles to the U.S. Because living in the age of vaccines just hasn’t been fun enough.

And that’s Gene & Tonic for Friday March 6th. Stay tuned next week when we’ll continue our conversation on long reads with a researcher from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. We’ll also be talking about arrays in this age of sequencing in an exclusive interview with the CEO of Affymetrix, Frank Witney.

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U.K. Life Science Update with Eliot Forster, MedCity

Guest:

Eliot Forster, Executive Chair, MedCity Bio and Contact Info

Listen (2:54) Cashing in on illustrious life science tradition

Listen (2:56) Culture of collaboration strong in the UK

Listen (5:01) A growing acceptance of GMOs

Listen (4:59) Did you ever think you would see American companies moving to the UK?

Listen (7:49) How goes the shift toward personalized medicine?

From Darwin's seminal work to the discovery of the structure of DNA to the 100K Genomes Project, the U.K. can boast of an illustrious life science tradition. Today, the U.K. government is backing a major push to cash in on that tradition, seeing life science business--from personalized medicine to genetic engineering—as a a major component of their new economy.

MedCity is a non-profit representing the life science community in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. Eliot Forster, Executive Chair of MedCity, joins us to give an update on the U.K.’s bio-economy. With support from the highest offices in government, the life science community there is benefiting from some important trends. Forster says there is a strong culture of collaboration and a regulatory and tax environment that is favoring more innovation.

Forster chuckles at the thought that some American companies are taking advantage of these new trends in England in the form of tax inversions. Thirty years ago, you wouldn't have predicted it, he says.

The commitment to biotech in the U.K. was on full display earlier this year when Prime Minister David Cameron created the new cabinet role of life sciences minister.

“If you’re looking to do work in the life sciences sector--whether a startup or a subsidiary of a major international—come to London, come to Oxford, come to Cambridge,” says Forster. "You’ll be very surprised by what you find, and pleasantly so."

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

New Yorker Takedown of Leading Anti-GMO Activist

Michael Specter has written an excellent comprehensive piece on the GMO debate over at the New Yorker this morning.

The Perfect 46 with Brett Ryan Bonowicz, Filmmaker

Guest:

Brett Ryan Bonowicz, Filmmaker
Bio and Contact Info

Listen (4:00) Where is the "fiction" in your science fiction?

Listen (4:47) Upcoming screenings

Listen (3:51) Learning where to draw the ethical lines

Listen (3:43) What would a biotech company look like with Steve Jobs or Elon Musk as CEO?

Listen (2:42) Would you personally try a service like GenePeeks?

Listen (6:53) Tackling the topic of GMO's next

In today’s interview, we talk with filmmaker, Brett Ryan Bonowicz. He’s the writer, director and producer of The Perfect 46, a new film exploring the future of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Whereas our industry often gets demonized by Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters that are full of special effects and fancy sets, Brett’s film seeks to ask tough ethical questions and show the industry in a more nuanced way.

“I knew I wanted to get into science fiction. And I knew I wanted to get into discussions that didn’t have definitive answers, where I could explore a lot of grey area where each person was right in their own way,” he says in explaining why he chose his topic.

While the film is set just barely into the future, and there is no company existing today like the one in the film, the screenplay unfolds in a very plausible way. A geneticist creates a website called "The Perfect 46" that pairs folks with their genetic match for having children.

To better describe his interest in portraying events that might be right around the corner, Brett calls his work “science-factual,” a term he says he borrowed from some Walt Disney work.

Brett was first attracted to the topic in 2008 when he read about 23andMe in Time Magazine and subsequently used their service. Watching his film and talking with Brett gives us a chance to see the industry from an outsider’s perspective.

The film’s next screening is at Stanford on August 4th, accompanied by a panel discussion with local life scientists.

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