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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Genetic Engineering
The Chinese Scientist Who Made The First Genetically Engineered Babies Is Going To Prison – BuzzFeed News
Posted: January 5, 2020 at 3:54 am
A Chinese court sentenced biomedical scientist He Jiankui and two accomplices to prison on Monday for illegal medical practice for genetically engineering three babies.
In November 2018, He announced the birth of the first two children, twin girls named Lulu and Nana, as well as the pregnancy of a second woman carrying a genetically engineered fetus. The news created a scientific firestorm, with human genetic engineering experiments widely viewed as dangerous and unethical by scientific organizations worldwide. The third baby has now been born, according to reporting from Chinas state news agency.
The genetic engineering team fabricated an ethics review of their experiment, according to the Nanshan District People's Court of Shenzhen City ruling. They used the faked permissions to recruit couples living with HIV in hopes of helping them to conceive children genetically engineered to receive a mutation giving them immunity to some forms of the disease.
He, formerly a biomedical scientist at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzen, received a prison sentence of three years and a fine equivalent to $480,000. His associates, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, received jail terms of two years and 18 months with a two-year reprieve, according to the ruling, for practicing medicine without a license and violating Chinese regulations governing assisted reproduction.
The prison sentence and stiff financial penalty sends a message to other Chinese scientists that unsanctioned efforts at human germline editing will not be tolerated, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine researcher Kiran Musunuru told BuzzFeed News, by email. I expect that it will have a deterrent effect, certainly in China and possibly elsewhere.
At an October conference, Musunuru had reported that a draft study submitted to a scientific journal about the twins by Hes team suggested that the genetic engineering attempt had badly misfired, targeting the wrong location for the mutation and potentially seeding other mutations throughout the DNA of the children.
Science academies worldwide formed an oversight commission in March, following widespread condemnation of the experiments.
The court ruling found the three sentenced scientists acted "in the pursuit of personal fame and gain" and have seriously "disrupted medical order, according to Chinese state media.
Posted: at 3:54 am
Vance Crowe is a communications consultant who thrives on chaos. Heis a keynote speaker at the Land Expo 2020 in Des Moines on January 14. Successful Farming magazine caught up with him ahead of time to get a preview.
VC: My talk is called The Edge of Chaos, where and how society changes. What is accepted, what is desirable, and what is not allowed in a society? There is a difference between perceptions in the countryside and the city. What ramifications does this have for how things will be done in the future with agricultural lands, whether thats growing crops or raising animals? Which perceptions and demands of people living in the city are fads, and which ones actually have a chance of radically changing the way land is being managed?
VC: Ive only been involved in agriculture for the last five years. Before that, my jobs varied widely. I ran a camp for inner city kids, was a deckhand on a ship that traveled around the Western Hemisphere, lived in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, worked in public radio in northern California, worked at the World Bank, and then worked at Monsanto.
It has been an interesting journey. I have seen how ideas started and then flowed out into society. That became very real for me when I was working at Monsanto. A group of people who disagree with modern agriculture can alter the publics perception of the way the world ought to change. I saw what happened when society and culture turn against certain components of agriculture.
VC: Things you think are certain can change. The Overton window can shift on you. Changes in society that you couldnt imagine can happen. Even if you know something is far better for society, it may reject it.
On the other hand, you can change perception with enough coordinated effort. Five years ago, there was a lot of concern about whether or not you should eat GMOs, and that fight has basically dissipated. There are people who still think that, but the issue is nowhere near at the velocity and temperature that it was before. Agriculture figured out that it was a technology people didnt understand, so we have to explain it to them. Otherwise they will become so impassioned that they wont let us use this technology.
VC: Catastrophic. It is the manifestation of how our legal system can be profited by individuals. If you can sue glyphosate, you can do that to any chemical, because glyphosate is one of the most innocuous. That has very serious implications for the future.
It is a challenge to be in the number one spot. People focus on you. The companies in the number two, three, and four spots dont jump up to help you out. They kind of scoot back and let you take the slings and arrows, even though they all have a shared interest in genetic engineering or crop protection. They say, Monsanto is the one being sued for glyphosate, its not really our problem, were going to stay out of this. But if you can knock glyphosate out, any chemical in their portfolio could get knocked out.
VC: Societies wont live in chaos. Its not acceptable. They will accept suboptimal conditions before they will accept not knowing. So people will choose a certain future that is less good, rather than an uncertain feature with lots of potential.
There are good things that can come from chaos. If you stay too much on the ordered side of life, you dont make the changes you need to make to evolve and thrive and get better. If youre too ordered, you become tyrannical.
VC: The people who thrive the most in these situations are the ones who are the most curious about the chaos the ones most interested in learning what is on the edge. Its good to have opinions, but loosely hold them so that other people can give you a good argument that makes sense. Be willing to change and adapt and not be so rigid that you break.
The only way you make change is if you get up there on the edge of chaos. You figure out what changes society is asking us to make that we should make, and which ones are unreasonable demands that we should find a way to convince them otherwise.
VC: Kenya, a place I used to live in while in the Peace Corps, is close to approving BT. Once farmers see the benefits of genetic engineering traits, you may watch the adoption of genetic engineering technology in a place that gets more sunlight than anywhere else on earth the continent of Africa. They are adding technology in a very big way. That will change global agriculture. It will change where countries like China look to do trade deals.
VC: Synthetic biology, whether it pertains to synthetic meat or other types of products that were naturally grown, is coming on in a big way. Where do farmers fit into that? Dont focus on the micro issues, because this is starting to blossom all over the world.
VC: Farmers either get mad or they get very dismissive of it. The biggest impact of synthetic meat is not going to be the burgers and steaks that the beef industry is so worried about. Its going to be pet food. Its like what the rebar market in steel did to the steel manufacturers. In Mexico, they built these tiny foundries that made cheap steel, and they stole 3% from the steel market, which was enough to grind that to a halt in the United States. Synthetic meat is going to enter through the pet food market, or some ancillary market that isnt going to compete on taste and texture.
VC: Absolutely, with 100% certainty. The things that are possible to do with precision gene editing over the long term are so mind bending as to be difficult to believe. It will have profound implications not only on the way we grow things, but also what we grow.
VC: Sensors will become inexpensive to put in peoples fields. Sensors can start figuring out exact applications of nitrogen for your field, meter by meter. Farmers will be able to conduct those tests themselves; they won't have to wait for an agronomist or a seed company to come by and tell them what to do. Thats coming very soon.
VC: I happen to know quite a bit about banking and the marijuana system. Banking is one of the biggest impediments, but once that flips and you can now start loaning on capital for hemp or for marijuana production, that is when the whole game takes off. Marijuana has been held off because you havent been able to do proper banking. We are within six months of that flipping, and then youre going to see a whole bunch of bankers looking for farmers to be taking those loans.
VC: There has not been a new active ingredients for crop protection approved by the USDA in the last 20 years. The rise of biologicals is because theyre regulated in a completely different way. Youre bringing it in through a side door. There is way more innovation going on there. A lot of it is snake oil, but some of it is solid gold. Biologicals are going to come on in a big way in feed. Its a way to lower methane emissions.
VC: I love Bitcoin. Thats one of my favorites. Its held its value. Its far and away the best investment Ive ever made by orders of magnitude. I was in pretty early.
VC: There is a concept called the intransigent minority. It was developed by a brilliant guy named Nassim Taleb, whos a mathematician that hates genetic engineering. He really hated Monsanto. The intransigent minority is the number of people you need in a given society to be absolutely entrenched on an idea that society relents to them and gives them whatever they want. For example, how many vegans would you need before you require all food to be vegan. Or organic?
Posted: at 3:54 am
Changing landscapes, habitat loss, fragmentation, and global climate change have been listed as the main reasons for biodiversity decline worldwide. Now, a new study from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, has added to the growing knowledge that anthropogenic activities can impact genetic connectivity or the movement among habitat patches usually resulting in mating and genetic exchange.
In several mammalian carnivores, juveniles disperse away from their mother's territory to establish their own territory. Males are known to travel longer distances than females. Isolation of habitat patches (due to habitat destruction and fragmentation) can restrict animal movement among habitat patches and thus reduce genetic exchange and increase the probability of extinction. Hence maintaining connectivity is critical to ensure long term persistence of a species, Prachi Thatte explains. Dr. Thatte is the first author of the paper published in Diversity and Distributions and now works with WWF-India on connectivity conservation
Four wide-ranging mammals Jungle cats, leopards, sloth bears, tigers were investigated for the genetic differentiation in central India, which is a critical landscape for several species. The DNA extracted from faecal samples were used for understanding genetic connectivity. The samples were collected from nine protected areas during the period 2012-2017.
The team looked at how land-use, human population density, nearby roads and traffic affected the genetic structure. The paper notes that tigers were impacted the most by high human footprint. Although known to travel long distances and move through agricultural fields to some extent, tigers in central India do not have equally high genetic exchange throughout the landscape. Some protected areas like Bandhavgarh tiger reserve seem to be getting relatively isolated (the 2014 tiger census report also shows the same), explains Dr. Thatte.
Jungle cats were found to be the least impacted. That is likely because in central India, they occupy a variety of habitats including forests, scrublands, grasslands and even irrigated agricultural fields close to the forests, she explains.
Despite being the least impacted by human activity, the team encountered several jungle cat road-kills while carrying out fieldwork. She explains that with increasing infrastructure and traffic, systematically studying the impact of roads on smaller species like jungle cat and jackals and ensuring the presence of mitigation structures like underpasses and overpasses would be crucial to ensure that we don't fragment the currently well-connected populations.
IIndia has also started paying attention to wildlife corridors and encouraging engineering reforms to promote wildlife movements. Last year, the Ministry of Environment along with the Wildlife Institute of India released a document that lays out the regulatory requirements for developing roads, railways, powerlines while recognising the impacts on wildlife and people. NHAI and all PWDs have been instructed to follow the guidelines.
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How humans affect genetic connectivity of four mammals - The Hindu
Posted: at 3:54 am
Hemophilia. Cystic fibrosis. Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Huntingtons disease. These are just a few of the thousands of disorders caused by mutations in the bodys DNA. Treating the root causes of these debilitating diseases has become possible only recently, thanks to the development of genome editing tools such as CRISPR, which can change DNA sequences in cells and tissues to correct fundamental errors at the sourcebut significant hurdles must be overcome before genome-editing treatments are ready for use in humans.
Enter the National Institutes of Health Common Funds Somatic Cell Genome Editing (SCGE) program, established in 2018 to help researchers develop and assess accurate, safe and effective genome editing therapies for use in the cells and tissues of the body (aka somatic cells) that are affected by each of these diseases.
Todaywith three ongoing grants totaling more than $6 million in research fundingDuke University is tied with Yale University, UC Berkeley and UC Davis for the most projects supported by the NIH SCGE Program.
In the 2019 SCGE awards cycle, Charles Gersbach, the Rooney Family Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and collaborators across Duke and North Carolina State University received two grants: the first will allow them to study how CRISPR genome editing affects engineered human muscle tissues, while the second project will develop new CRISPR tools to turn genes on and off rather than permanently alter the targeted DNA sequence. This work builds on a 2018 SCGE grant, led by Aravind Asokan, professor and director of gene therapy in the Department of Surgery, which focuses on using adeno-associated viruses to deliver gene editing tools to neuromuscular tissue.
There is an amazing team of engineers, scientists and clinicians at Duke and the broader Research Triangle coalescing around the challenges of studying and manipulating the human genome to treat diseasefrom delivery to modeling to building new tools, said Gersbach, who with his colleagues recently launched the Duke Center for Advanced Genomic Technologies (CAGT), a collaboration of the Pratt School of Engineering, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, and School of Medicine. Were very excited to be at the center of those efforts and greatly appreciate the support of the NIH SCGE Program to realize this vision.
For their first grant, Gersbach will collaborate with fellow Duke biomedical engineering faculty Nenad Bursac and George Truskey to monitor how genome editing affects engineered human muscle tissue. Through their new project, the team will use human pluripotent stem cells to make human muscle tissues in the lab, specifically skeletal and cardiac muscle, which are often affected by genetic diseases. These systems will then serve as a more accurate model for monitoring the health of human tissues, on-target and off-target genome modifications, tissue regeneration, and possible immune responses during CRISPR-mediated genome editing.
Currently, most genetic testing occurs using animal models, but those dont always accurately replicate the human response to therapy, says Truskey, the Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering.
Bursac adds, We have a long history of engineering human cardiac and skeletal muscle tissues with the right cell types and physiology to model the response to gene editing systems like CRISPR. With these platforms, we hope to help predict how muscle will respond in a human trial.
Gersbach will work with Tim Reddy, a Duke associate professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics, and Rodolphe Barrangou, the Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Professor in Probiotics Research at North Carolina State University, on the second grant. According to Gersbach, this has the potential to extend the impact of genome editing technologies to a greater diversity of diseases, as many common diseases, such as neurodegenerative and autoimmune conditions, result from too much or too little of certain genes rather than a single genetic mutation. This work builds on previous collaborations between Gersbach, Barrangou and Reddy developing both new CRISPR systems for gene regulation and to regulate the epigenome rather than permanently delete DNA sequences.
Aravind Asokan leads Dukes initial SCGE grant, which explores the the evolution of next generation of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs), which have emerged as a safe and effective system to deliver gene therapies to targeted cells, especially those involved in neuromuscular diseases like spinal muscular atrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other myopathies. However, delivery of genome editing tools to the stem cells of neuromuscular tissue is particularly challenging. This collaboration between Asokan and Gersbach builds on their previous work in using AAV and CRISPR to treat animal models of DMD.
We aim to correct mutations not just in the mature muscle cells, but also in the muscle stem cells that regenerate skeletal muscle tissue, explainsAsokan. This approach is critical to ensuring long-term stability of genome editing in muscle and ultimately we hope to establish a paradigm where our cross-cutting viral evolution approach can enable efficient editing in multiple organ systems.
Click through to learn more about the Duke Center for Advanced Genomic Technologies.
Posted: at 3:53 am
Venezuelan philosopher, Antonio Pasquali, who wrote extensively about how media and society affected each other, passed away on Oct. 5, 2019, in Spain.
In 1984, Pasquali was appointed Deputy Director General of the Communications Sector of UNESCO and Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean of UNESCO from 1986-1989. He played an important role in UNESCOs New World Information and Communication discussions.
Pasqualis contributions to media studies are well-known in Latin America, but his research is less known in the English-speaking world. His research on media and communication inspired many Latin American scholars and media practitioners including myself who place ethics at the centre of the discussion.
Pasquali was a fierce critic of Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhans view that the medium is the message that the medium in which things are disseminated determines their meaning. Always returning to human communication as the basis of relationships betwwen people, Pasquali warned us about the necessary conceptual and practical difference between communication and media.
For Pasquali, the ability to communicate is inherent to the formation of society. And so, any modification or control of communications becomes to a modification or control of society itself. He argued that technological changes, with their benefits and disruptions, have yet to transform the essence of human communication.
Pasqualis work is important to consider because he warned us about some troubling challenges that we can see around us.
Pasquali wrote about the ethics of communication, or what he called the moral dimension of communication. In his book 18 essays about communications, he identified six hard trends that would mark humanitys future:
1) A process of human-made environmental degradation that approaches the point of no return, as in the impending ecological crisis brought about by climate change and its consequences;
Read more: Dealing with the absurdity of human existence in the face of converging catastrophes
2) Human interference in natural evolutionary processes. He warned that advances in genetic engineering that bring hope for the treatment of diseases and also open the door to sophisticated mechanisms of social engineering and control;
3) Challenging the very idea of what being human is by: a) machines combined with living beings (cyborgs), and b) by the shift of human decision-making to artificial intelligence that could make humans irrelevant and even disposable. This will require new ways of understanding the relations between digital machines and human;
4) The persistence of nuclear, bacteriological, chemical and terrorist dangers, in a context of political polarization coupled with the emergence of extremist ideologies that could lead to internal and external violent confrontations;
5) The consolidation of the disparity between rich and poor that is already generating social unrest in different regions, as we have seen recently in Latin America and the Middle East;
6) The transformation of democracy into a plutocratic dictatorship (the government by the wealthy) based on the technological manipulation of social consensus, as illustrated in the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal.
Pasquali was persistent in his struggle to establish a public broadcasting service in Latin American countries. His passion in defence of the need for a public media service never declined, and seems to be more relevant than ever in the midst of the Internet explosion.
Pasquali observed that the internet is now largely controlled by monopolies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, and manipulated by big emerging powers like China. He vehemently denounced the communication hegemony of the authoritarian government of Hugo Chvez and his successor Nicols Maduro. Pasquali documented the setbacks that the regime has inflicted on Venezuelan society from the point of view of telecommunications, the media and transportation infrastructure.
At the end of his essay Will we communicate or inform ourselves?, Pasquali wondered if we are ready to give up a fundamental condition for our existence the ability and experience of communication. For him, communication was a mixture of intellect, passions and will that was intrinsic to how people and made meaning, personally and socially. He asked: Are we going to give up without a fight the possibility of communicating to another human being that we love him/her?
The great body of work that Pasquali produced will help us to answer these fundamental questions about the future of communication. Pasqualis intellectual legacy will live on through his writings and teachings.
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How innovation works: ‘A perfect human being is the danger that genetic manipulation poses’ – Innovation Origins
Posted: at 3:53 am
The days when an inventor sat behind closed doors tinkering with groundbreaking technology are over. Nowadays, scientists from a variety of backgrounds work together to come up with an invention or a product. They also dare to bring it to the market at an ever-increasing rate. By no means are all innovations a success, but one invention is enough to change the world.
Innovation Origins regularly speaks to innovation leaders, trendsetters who are high on the innovation ladder. Steef Blok has the floor today. The director of TU/e Innovation Lab is responsible at Eindhoven University of Technology for valorization. That entails bringing knowledge from the university back to society. He has to deal on a daily basis with technologies that the rest of the world might not become acquainted with until ten years from now. Technology forms the foundation for the growth of prosperity in the Netherlands. Our daily lives are wholly influenced by it, Blok states.
He talks about the impact of technology in the past and its importance for the future: Our ancestors used to spend all day collecting and preparing food. Technology made it possible for food to be produced on a greater scale. As a result, not everyone had to deal with food and people started providing services. This is how the economy as we know it today came into being. Later on, machines began to take over more and more of the heavy work that people had to do, for example on farms. As a result, the economy grew and so did prosperity.
Sticking with that example for a moment, the advent of machines meant that the farms had to continue to grow as well. You cant put a large machine on one hectare of land. More space is needed for that. Besides that, farmers have to produce more in order to recoup the cost of those machines. Thats how mass production came about.
Although Blok believes that this type of mass production is now going to be phased out again with the advent of intelligent systems. We can connect machines through these intelligent systems. This allows us to remotely switch on the heating at home, but it also enables ASMLs machines to communicate with each other. The possibilities are unimaginable. Even for the aforementioned farmers. For example, a Brabant potato farmer flies drones over his land in order to measure the amount of manure and water thats on the land. He only fertilizes the soil that actually needs it. That saves time and money and is also better for the environment. The harvest will be better as a result too.
A potato is still a potato, but this farmer takes care of his land in a tailor-made way. Thanks to smart technologies, the more of the same mentality is a thing of the past. This can have several meanings. As an example, in the future, a machine could make a different product for one customer than for another.
Universities are indispensable when it comes to these kinds of developments. This is where such systems are conceived. Universities are about ten years ahead of the market. But not everything that is designed at a university will survive on the market. Some projects dont even get further developed into a product. If that does happen, it sometimes doesnt yield the results you envisage. Weve come up with inventions that I thought would make the world a better place. And nobody on the market cared.
I heard, for example, that early menopause is one of the main reasons why some women cant have children. Women are already really reduced in their reproductive ability ten years before the onset of menopause. For example, if someone starts menopause prematurely, at around 40 years of age, they would have already had low fertility from the age of 30. The average age at which a woman has a child in The Netherlands is now over 29 years of age. Technology might offer a solution to this problem.
At the university, we designed a diagnostic chip that allows us to detect the gene that can predict a womans early onset of menopause. As a result, women know at an early age whether they will start menopause early, and they can tailor the time when they can begin to have children. The chip costs about 6 million. So it seemed like the ideal solution. Expensive and often unpleasant treatments with hormones and IVF would be used less as a result. But in the end nobody wanted it. Women didnt want to know at all when they were going to go through menopause. Oh well. The world is full of surprises.
Consumers will ultimately use a product. Naturally, they have to want to do that. This is not only true in the field of healthcare, but also in the field of sustainability and circularity. Things are already improving in those areas. For example, we are already using more and more refurbished computers instead of immediately throwing away all our electronics. We are also handling food more carefully. If we dont want to burn waste anymore, but want to re-use everything instead, that should already be taken into account during the production process. In order to achieve this, entire production processes need to change.
Genetic engineering is also one of the topics that we do a lot of research on at the university, but on which public opinion is really divided. Bananas grow in a greenhouse under controlled conditions at the University of Wageningen. This way the plants are no longer affected by disease. This allows for a constant supply of bananas. These plants are genetically manipulated. I wouldnt hesitate for a second to use that on a large scale.
Genetic engineering in humans is also being explored more extensively. Ive worked in the hospital sector. Here Ive seen people suffer from diseases like cancer and Ive seen people die. Suppose theres a child on its way who has a disease or disability. But when you remove one gene, its completely healthy. Id do it. Although genetic manipulation does pose a risk to people. Imagine, for example, that over time youve designed a perfect human being. But thats true for other technologies: Atomic energy isnt bad, but an atomic bomb is. I admit that the engineered human being is a bit scary. But we can t stop technological progress.
Posted: at 3:53 am
We are Earths Tech Support, declared Randall Kirk, Executive Chairman of the Board of Directorsand former CEO ofIntrexon. Intrexonis one of the biggest developers of synthetic biology (or engineering biology) applications in therapeutics, agriculture and chemicals. Kirk gave a keynote speech atSynbio Marketson synthetic biologys struggle to break into mainstream markets and its revolutionary new approach for industrial biotech in the food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and materials sectors.
Before these new technologies can save the world, they need to be accepted and get to market. Companies must overcome the usual hurdles in finding investment and meeting regulatory requirements. They must find compatible scale-up partners and face new challenges in communicating the benefits and safety of their novel technology to society.
Partnerships for Success
Collaborations are beginning to blossom in synthetic biology. The field is often likened to the silicon chip industry. In its infancy, a single company would design, build and use their own chips. Now, companies outsource the design, building, testing and manufacture of chips along a structured value chain thanks to standardization of parts and uniformity in the field. This took years to achieve. Synthetic biology companies are currently developing their own unique tools to perform new feats in engineering biotechnology. Standardization is the dream and, to achieve this, companies must work together to break into the market.
A striking partnership at the conference was that ofAMSilkandAirbus. The airline industry has a problem: they must increase fuel efficiency by reducing weight of their aircraft without compromising on safety. Composite materials are an alternative to hefty sheet metals and AMSilk produces a durable but lightweight material: synthetic spider silk. AMSilk is interesting for its energy absorption, which is important for safety of the aircraft, Detlev Konigorski of Airbus explains. This partnership could help Airbus develop safe new materials while helping the carbon footprint of the airline industry.
One of the kings of collaboration isGinkgo Bioworks. Ginkgo uses several automated platforms to speed up and precisely carry out genetic manipulation, growth and testing of cells. To build their analytical power, they collaborated withBerkeley Lights, whose technology allows functional screening of thousands of cells simultaneously, increasing throughput.
Ginkgo has used this actively in their healthcare collaborations, such as a recent team-up withSynlogic, a microbiome therapeutics company developing living medicines. Ginkgo used its platform to increase the potency of SynlogicsE. coli-based drug in non-human primates in less than a year. Ginkgo CCO Matt McKnight wants to build on these partnerships by partnering with early-stage companies. Theyrecently announced a $350 m platformto build companies using Ginkgos foundries. He foresees more partnerships in the synthetic biology space in future, I think we shouldnt have full stack engineering biology companies. In any discipline, we dont see this. People work together.
Chemicals giantBASFis also interested in partnering with synthetic biology companies. Markus Pompejus, Vice President for Innovation and Scouting addressed the conference in Berlin citing the companys wide range of products. In principal, many products could be produced with biotech methods. Synbio is a research topic, but biotech is the application, Pompejus says.
Partnering may be off-putting for early-stage companies who want to maximize ownership of their company and the topic came up repeatedly at Synbio Markets. Where do you draw the line? Where do you co-develop with customers or should you do it more yourself? asks session chair James Hallinan ofCambridge Consultants, an expert engineering firm.
Depends where you are, says Alexandre Zanghellini of protein design companyArzeda, The later you partner, the more value you capture. You certainly want to keep the process propriety until the point where it can be scaled, then partner with marketing, scale up and development partners.
Talking Tech and Selling Solutions
Synthetic biology exists at the nexus of biology and nearly every other field. Its less a field of study and more of a precision engineering approach to traditional biotechnology using standardized tools and platforms. Kirk argued in his speech humanity has been using synthetic biology for thousands of years, using crop breeding as an example of humans precisely selecting and breeding desirable traits to engineer better strains of corn, for example. Now our role in the world has changed.
Weve been doing it for 12,000 years and weve been doing it without thinking of the consequences. Synthetic biology allows us tremendous specificity and potential to solve world problems by targeting individual species, he said.
How does this help us synthetic biology products access new and existing markets? Every process has biology in it, McKnight says.InscriptasCCO Jason Gammack thinks the solution lies in getting a few tangible products to lead the way. We need to make the products tangible. In the US were in hyperdrive mode. Two years ago, there was very little. Now,Impossible Foodsis in Burger King, says Gammack. Gary Lin ofPurple Orange Venturesthinks we need to raise the profile of synthetic biology among the public, adding One of the hard challenges, we need policymakers and government funding to support this. The amount of capital gone into this space is a drop in the ocean.
The issue spills over into the regulation of gene-edited technologies, especially in Europe. We recently had a debate on CRISPR plants, says Nadine Bongaerts-Duportet ofScience MattersandHello Tomorrow. The European Union regulations says CRISPR-edited crops are defined as genetically modified (GM), while those edited by radiation exposure are not. Bongaerts adds, The difference between UV exposure and CRISPR [as gene-editing methods], everybody understands the regulations dont make sense. How do you, with a positive message, make sure everyone gets it? All the panelists agree that building trust is key.
The trust us, were scientists approach doesnt work because people dont understand the technology, according to Gammack. I would fault all the synbio community, says Kirk. We look at polling data on GMO attitudes, I thought healthcare would be the first area [accepted]. In terms of polling, people have the greatest acceptance to insect disease vectors, he says, citing IntrexonsOxitecand theirGM mosquitoas an example.
The messaging, particularly around GM and especially here in Europe, is a minefield. From our perspective, we need to be mindful of potential roadblocks, says Lin, GM in food is the most difficult to grapple with. Part of the process is creating awareness of what the food process looks like. Transparency and openness about the technology is a major factor in getting this technology to market.MonsantosFlavr Savr tomatodisaster is still fresh in peoples minds. Public acceptance to this technology is a must before the market can be broken into reliably.
We need to understand emotions and backgrounds of people we talk to, to link our advancements to the incentives they care about. We should not over-hype, because if you can be critical and open about it, people will trust you, says Bongaerts.
Posted: at 3:53 am
By Chris LangeJanuary 3, 2020 11:15 am
Companies in the biotech industry face an incredible amount of risk while getting their drugs to market. A study coming back negative or a candidate not being approved could crush a company. On the other hand, a positive clinical trial, or even an update from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), could send shares skyrocketing.
On a company by company basis, this makes investing in biotechs somewhat tricky. However, there is an investment strategy that makes this process much easier.
To mitigate this risk and concern about picking the winners or the losers within the biotech (or any) industry, exchange-traded funds offer a sampling and exposure to this market without an all-or-none risk in any single companys stock. As the saying goes: Theres an ETF for that strategy. ETF Database has collected much of the information about these ETFs, among others, and made it easily accessible for those looking to get into the game. Investors can use a number of ETFs to invest in a risky biotech industry.
iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (NASDAQ: IBB) has been around since February 2001, and it aims to track the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index. This fund seeks to track the investment results of an index composed of biotechnology and pharmaceutical equities listed on the Nasdaq. Note that this is the largest biotech ETF, with $7.59 billion in assets under management. Its overall expense ratio is 0.47%, and it posted gains of over 22% in 2019. This ETF has a total of 218 holdings. The top 10 holdings include a mix of large-cap domestic biotech companies:
SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (NYSEARCA: XBI) has been around since February 2006 and aims to track the S&P Biotechnology Select Industry Index. This fund seeks to provide exposure to the biotechnology segment of the S&P. It has $4.37 billion in assets under management. Its overall expense ratio is 0.35%, and it traded up 30% over the course of 2019. This fund has 127 holdings. The top 10 holdings include a smattering of U.S. biotechs in the S&P 500:
First Trust NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index Fund (NYSEARCA: FBT) has been around since June 2006 and aims to track the NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index. The fund targets biopharma companies involved with recombinant DNA technology, molecular biology, genetic engineering, monoclonal antibody-based technology, lipid/liposome technology and genomics. It has $1.81 billion in assets under management, its overall expense ratio is 0.57% and it gained over 19% in 2019. This ETF has 31 holdings. The top 10 include mostly domestic biopharma firms:
VanEck Vectors Biotech ETF (NASDAQ: BBH) has been around since December 2011, and it aims to track the MVIS US Listed Biotech 25 Index. This ETF seeks to track the overall performance of companies involved in the development and production, marketing and sales of drugs based on genetic analysis and diagnostic equipment. It was last seen to have $362.6 million in assets under management. Its overall expense ratio is 0.35%, and it traded up nearly 26% in 2019. This fund has a total of 25 holdings. The top 10 holdings include mostly domestic biotech firms:
By Chris Lange
Posted: at 3:53 am
Illustrations by Lisa Larson Walker, Franco Zacharzewski, Natalie Matthews-Ramo, and Sarula Bao.
Future Tense started experimenting with publishing science fiction in 2016 and 2017, but we really invested in it in 2018, publishing one story each month. That year was capped off by Annalee Newitzs quirky and urgent When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis, which won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short science fiction of the year. Our hope was that these glimpses into possible futures could provide a thought-provoking parallel to our coverage of emerging technology, policy, and society today, inviting us to imagine how the decisions were making today might shape the way we live tomorrow, illuminating key decision points and issues that we might not be giving enough attention.
In 2019, buoyed by the enthusiastic reactions of our readers, we published 12 stories by a diverse array of talented authors. Every story is paired with a response essay by an expert who provides additional context and delves into themes and challenges raised by the fictionand each story comes with arresting original illustrations in a plethora of styles, from bracing realism to mind-bending abstraction and surrealism. Each quarter is organized around a broad theme, giving us the chance to create a dialogue among the pieces and underlining our conviction that the future is a spectrum of possibilities, shaped by our collective decisionsnot a fait accompli or a foregone conclusion.
This October, we celebrated another milestone, publishing our first anthology, Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow, with Unnamed Press. The book, which collects our short stories from 2016 through 2018, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. We launched the anthology with scintillating public conversations with fiction authors, experts, and others in Washington, San Francisco, New York, and Phoenix.
Were more convinced than ever of the power of science fiction to expand our sense of empathy for people whose identities and day-to-day experiences are vastly different from our owneven beyond the bounds of what we currently consider human. This year, many of our authors grappled with issues of difference, exclusion, and inequality; with bullying and abusive behavior, from the schoolyard to the space station; with the dangers of alienation in digital spaces, and the opacity of technologies designed solely for profit; and with radical possibility and hope, from giant nutritious plants grown in space to entirely new forms of music and self-expression enabled by technological change. In a moment where the future seems impossibly turbulent, leaving us feeling powerless, science fiction can help us get our heads around the complexity, reminding us of the human minds, relationships, and problems buried under branding, hype, and jargon.
Future Tense Fiction will continue in 2020, with a new story, essay, and illustration each month. The first theme of the year (we couldnt resist): politics.
You can find all of our stories on the Future Tense Fiction landing page, and sign up for the Future Tense newsletter to get notified whenever we publish something new. (Its been on hiatus for a little while, but it will be back in 2020.) And dont forget to follow Future Tense on Twitter.
Thoughts and Prayers, by Ken Liu: A family grieving in the wake of a mass shooting finds themselves in a maelstrom of abusive, inescapable trolling powered by cutting-edge artificial intelligence.
Response essay: Whats in It for the Trolls? by digital culture researcher Adrienne Massanari
Mpendulo: The Answer, by Nosipho Dumisa: Two genetically modified young people navigate bullying and prejudice, and discover the secrets locked inside their DNA, in a world wracked by anxiety after a pandemic.
Response essay: Why Are We So Afraid of Each New Advance in Reproductive Technology? by journalist Sarah Elizabeth Richards, who often reports on reproductive technology and genomics
The Arisen, by Louisa Hall: A fairy tale from a future where truth-checkers, an elite caste implanted with chips that suppress emotion, are charged with sorting official fact from distortion and fiction.
Response essay: What Are Facts Without Fiction? by librarian Jim ODonnell
The Song Between Worlds, by Indrapramit Das: An overprivileged teen dragged to Mars on a family vacation stumbles beyond the cushy confines of their resort and encounters an entirely new form of musical performance.
Response essay: What Would Sound Be Like on Mars? by astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz
No Moon and Flat Calm, by Elizabeth Bear: A team of safety engineering students in a spacefaring future are plunged into a real disaster.
Response essay: How Will People Behave in Deep Space Disasters? by disaster journalist Amanda Ripley
Space Leek, by Chen Qiufan: An astrobotanist for the China National Space Administration, assigned to a distant space station, contends with stifling family expectations while researching how to successfully grow food off-worldand deals with a sudden, deadly crisis.
Response essay: What Will Humans Really Need in Space? by architecture professor Fred Scharmen
Zero in Babel, by E. Lily Yu: In a world where on-demand and even DIY genetic modification is commonplace, a young woman struggles to keep up with the punishing cycle of high school trends.
Response essay: The Future Will Grind On, by law professor Diana M. Bowman
What the Dead Man Said, by Chinelo Onwualu: A woman returns to her hometown in Nigeria after her fathers death, opening old wounds, in a future entirely reshaped by migration and climate chaos.
Response essay: The Scars of Being Uprooted, by journalist Valeria Fernndez, who frequently covers immigration
Double Spiral, by Marcy Kelly: An at-home DNA testing company turns to targeted advertising after a privacy scandal and a spate of new regulations, and a researcher at the firm uncovers a shattering conspiracy.
Response essay: Crossing the Germline, by bioethicist Josephine Johnston
Affordances by Cory Doctorow: People from all walks of lifefrom migrants and hapless teens to tech CEOsfind themselves in the clutches of terrible algorithms and search for ways to evade, confound, and even reclaim these technologies of oppression.
Response essay: Not Just a Number, by artist and educator Nettrice Gaskins
A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Robot Walk Into a Bar, by Andrew Dana Hudson: A rabbinical school dropout and a seminary dropout start a company that trains algorithms to be sensitive to issues of faith and beliefand find themselves in an escalating series of ethical conundrums.
Response essay: A.I. Could Bring a Sea Change in How People Experience Religious Faith, by Slates Ruth Graham, who often writes about religion
Actually Naneen, by Malka Older: In a future where artificially intelligent nannies are the norm for the wealthy, a mother copes with complicated emotions when her familys nanny becomes buggy and perhaps obsolete.
Response Essay: What Role Should Technology Play in Childhood? by digital humanities professor Ed Finn
Read the original post:
All of the Sci-Fi Stories We Published This Year - Slate
Posted: at 3:53 am
My hope is that we pay more attention to the way we talk about food; dietary regimes have become a means of self-definition a set of rules to follow, a clan to be a part of, which creates the potential to become divisive.
iStockPhoto / Getty Images
In this part of the world, it will be increasingly difficult for small agricultural operators to survive, let alone compete in the years to come, says Tony Marshall, who with his wife, Penny, runs a small-scale organic farm in High River, Alta., that has been in the family since 1899. He predicts that the increasing cost of land, equipment and labour could limit growth of small family farms, which are also increasingly impacted by fluctuating weather patterns. In addition, he foresees the cost and sophistication of regulatory compliance, food safety, organic certification, etc., will increase to the point of being prohibitive for smaller producers and processors, leaving only large enterprises able to afford the implementation and ongoing maintenance of complex programs such as the Safe Food for Canadians Act, which became law in January, 2019.
Certain segments of the public will continue to pursue connections with the people growing and making their food, but overall the marketplace will gradually slip away from any direct association to the land and their food sources, Marshall says. Highly processed foods like Beyond Meat and other lab-based alternatives will exacerbate this disconnect. Increasing food security demands from a growing global population will put even more pressure on agricultural producers to embrace technologies such as genetic engineering, farmed fish and factory-grown designer meat.
Feeding a hungry world is as dependent on government policies, distribution and food waste as it is upon increasing production outputs, Marshall says. Addressing the problem of food waste, on the farm and during transport, storage, processing, distribution, in retail and by end-users, will be essential to resolving food security issues.
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Im hoping restaurants will survive, restaurateur Tannis Ling says of the popular Bao Bei and Kissa Tanto in Vancouvers Chinatown, eateries that cultivate unique dining experiences with attention to decor, music, service and other details that are lost when food is ordered via delivery options, such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. Ling sees an increasing desire for fast casual, takeout and non-committal eateries that focus on just a few items, such as Juke Fried Chicken across the street from Bao Bei. Those who are doing it well are killing it, she says.
Though she has witnessed a dramatic shift in restaurant culture over the decades cooks, kitchen and front of house staff are paying more attention to their physical and mental health, and prioritizing a more manageable work-life balance Ling worries, as does the back of house operations manager Alain Chow, about staffing becoming even more challenging in the coming years. In a gig economy, many young people who have traditionally sought jobs in the food industry are opting to make money doing multiple smaller tasks, many of them virtual or digital. Were still finding passionate young cooks, Chow says, but retaining them is the hard part.
They both expect technology to have an ever-increasing presence in the coming decade, citing a local hot pot restaurant at which diners order from their tables on iPads, but believe that social media has hit a plateau in terms of its influence on the dining experience. With such a constant barrage of imagery and information, Ling says, it no longer has the same impact.
Big changes are gradual, almost imperceptible, but were in the midst of one, says educator, activist and historian Anita Stewart, who has been writing about food in Canada for almost 40 years, and this year will see the creation of her namesake Alumni Food Laboratory at the University of Guelph, a multifunctional lab and teaching studio that will enable hospitality and nutrition students to learn innovative practices in food preparation, production and food science.
Our food supply is among the best in the world and Canadian chefs, restaurateurs and even grocery chains with branding programs have adopted local/regional foods as a point of differentiation, she says. Even a generation ago, locally grown food was not commonplace on restaurant menus; today its almost a given that restaurants will support local farms and producers. Stewart sees that trend continuing, propelled by a rise in concern over the impact our food choices have on the environment. Reducing the miles our ingredients travel has to be a factor, she says.
My hope for the coming decade is that the industry be more collaborative, Stewart says. Look down, on whose shoulders are we standing? Look beside, whos travelling on a similar pathway? Look ahead, there are way too many silos and we need to build some bridges. We all, as consumers, need to be more grateful, introspective and well-informed advocates for Canadian agricultural and processing communities who are competing not only with the world, but increasingly devastating weather.
I probably check the weather three times a day, says Ann Sperling, winemaker and director at Canadas first biodynamic vineyard and winery, Southbrook Vineyards, in Ontarios Niagara on the Lake, and owner and winemaker at Sperling Vineyards in Kelowna, B.C.
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Covering two growing regions in Canada, she says our wine industry is flourishing, and yet all regions Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia have had challenges in recent years, much related to erratic weather. More investments are being made to develop technology to mitigate environmental instability issues; textiles to cover vines in colder regions, wind machines to minimize frost risk and irrigation for periods of drought are just some of those innovations. But there are still no systems in place to deal with crop failures, and government has been reducing its support for the industry, and agriculture in general. Theres no bigger picture safeguard, she says. Were more on our own.
The more people realize there is an impact on climate, that C02 levels are rising, the more people will start to make their buying decisions based on environmental impact, Sperling says. The good news: By next year, B.C. will have one of the highest percentages of organic vine production in the world, at around 12 to 15 per cent.
Because, generally, we do not find wine as intimidating as it used to be, Sperling doesnt see new cannabis legislation affecting the industry; the two fit a different niche in peoples lives. And much of the industrys marketing is geared toward younger consumers, who have increasing buying power without the same biases of generations past. Theyre more inclined to try new things, Sperling says, and they think more globally in terms of how they spend their money.
A shift in attitude toward food excites me. At home, people are paying attention to food waste and learning to cook more intuitively, approaching mealtimes from the standpoint of whats in the fridge that needs to be used, rather than sourcing specific ingredients for a recipe they perhaps saw online. Home cooking is becoming more valued and less competitive. People are sharing more meals at home, and even at work. My hope is that we pay more attention to the way we talk about food; dietary regimes have become a means of self-definition a set of rules to follow, a clan to be a part of, which creates the potential to become divisive.
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Read the original here:
How we'll eat in the decade ahead - The Globe and Mail