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Current Topic: Biotechnology

It takes a gene genie to feed a village
Topic: Biotechnology 11:13 pm EDT, Jul 31, 2007

Freeman Dyson is certainly working hard to get his message out ...

We are suspicious of genetic engineering, but bio-sciences are about to become the new industrial revolution. It’s not just about GM crops: soon we’ll be designing our own pets and tackling global poverty

This article covers the same ground as Our Biotech Future -- you know, things like housewives sharing "recipes" for "canine-based" automatic toilet bowl cleaners, and kids arguing over genetic "cheats" in Pokémon Live (think doping, a la Tour de France, or baseball) -- but for the newspaper audience, he leaves out the pointers to Carl Woese.

It takes a gene genie to feed a village

Our Synthetic Futures, by Rudy Rucker
Topic: Biotechnology 6:37 am EDT, Jul 30, 2007

What might happen if we repurpose biology to our own ends?

Our Synthetic Futures, by Rudy Rucker

High drama inside a cell
Topic: Biotechnology 6:32 pm EDT, Jul 25, 2007

David Bolinsky and his team at XVIVO illustrate scientific and medical concepts with high-drama animation.

These animators are true auteurs, carefully scripting and editing the story of cellular processes to show everyone -- expert and amateur alike -- the truth and the beauty of our bodies.

You've never seen the life of a cell quite like this.

High drama inside a cell

Our Biotech Future, by Freeman Dyson
Topic: Biotechnology 9:34 pm EDT, Jun 29, 2007

Al Gore is such a wonk! Dyson rocks.

The question I am asking is, how long will it take us to grow plants with silicon leaves?

Dyson has been honing this piece for a few years now, and it just keeps getting better. If the US had a Scientist Laureate, it would be Dyson.

Will the domestication of high technology, which we have seen marching from triumph to triumph with the advent of personal computers and GPS receivers and digital cameras, soon be extended from physical technology to biotechnology?

I believe that the answer to this question is yes.

Here I am bold enough to make a definite prediction.

I predict that the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives during the next fifty years at least as much as the domestication of computers has dominated our lives during the previous fifty years.

Join the Homebrew Cloner Club, which meets every first Friday in the mall food court next to Chick Fil A. Please, no chimeras over 36 inches, or the mall police will hassle us. Unless, of course, you are the chimera. Also: plants that make loud noises have to be left outside, unless they have a headphone jack or a mute button.

I wait in eager anticipation of Grey Goo Graffiti.

Meanwhile, Dyson plows right into Joyland:

First, can it be stopped? Second, ought it to be stopped? Third, if stopping it is either impossible or undesirable, what are the appropriate limits that our society must impose on it? Fourth, how should the limits be decided? Fifth, how should the limits be enforced, nationally and internationally?

It's time to reinvigorate the hacker ethic:

Whatever Carl Woese writes, even in a speculative vein, needs to be taken seriously. In his "New Biology" article, he is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.

"You shared your code, you shared your genes, ..."

Our Biotech Future, by Freeman Dyson

The New Science of Metagenomics
Topic: Biotechnology 5:18 pm EDT, Apr  9, 2007

The emerging field of metagenomics, where the DNA of entire communities of microbes is studied simultaneously, presents the greatest opportunity -- perhaps since the invention of the microscope -- to revolutionize understanding of the microbial world, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report calls for a new Global Metagenomics Initiative to drive advances in the field in the same way that the Human Genome Project advanced the mapping of our genetic code.

That's a pretty great opportunity!

The New Science of Metagenomics

Biotechnology | Roses are blue, violets are red |
Topic: Biotechnology 5:10 am EST, Feb 21, 2007

Mere colour is for unsophisticated lovers. A truly harmonious Valentine gift should smell beautiful as well. Sadly, commercial varieties of cut rose lack fragrance. This is because there is a trade-off between the energy that plants spend on making the complex, volatile chemicals that attract women and insects alike, and that available for making and maintaining pretty-coloured petals. So, by artificially selecting big, long-lasting flowers, breeders have all but erased another desirable characteristic.

The author of this article does a great job of making the science accessible to the general reader.

Biotechnology | Roses are blue, violets are red |

Biotech is for Toddlers, by Freeman Dyson
Topic: Biotechnology 8:29 am EDT, Apr  5, 2006

Now, after some three billion years, the Darwinian era is over.

In the post-Darwinian era, biotechnology will be domesticated. There will be do-it-yourself kits for gardeners, who will use gene transfer to breed new varieties of roses and orchids. Also, biotech games for children, played with real eggs and seeds rather than with images on a screen. Genetic engineering, once it gets into the hands of the general public, will give us an explosion of biodiversity. Designing genomes will be a new art form, as creative as painting or sculpture. Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but all will bring joy to their creators and diversity to our fauna and flora.

This article is older and much shorter than the essay in New Scientist, but there is overlap between them.

The journal article Dyson mentions was covered here last year.

Biotech is for Toddlers, by Freeman Dyson

The Future of Genetically Modified Crops
Topic: Biotechnology 2:08 am EDT, Aug 31, 2004

The world is now on the cusp of a new agricultural revolution, the so-called Gene Revolution, in which genetically modified (GM) crops are tailored to address chronic agricultural problems in certain regions of the world.

This report investigates the circumstances and processes that can induce and sustain this new agricultural revolution.

The authors compare the Green Revolution of the 20th century with the GM crop movement to assess the agricultural, technological, sociological, and political differences between the two movements.

The Future of Genetically Modified Crops

Biotechnology In The Global Communication Ecology
Topic: Biotechnology 2:08 am EDT, Aug 31, 2004

Public debates about the safety of new products introduced in the market go back centuries and were often based less on science than on the politics of the time.

Similarly, today, much of the debate about agricultural biotechnology is steered by myths and misinformation and not by science.

The scientific community, with stronger support from governments, must do more to openly address science and technology issues with their publics.

Biotechnology In The Global Communication Ecology

Art or Bioterrorism?
Topic: Biotechnology 2:00 am EDT, Aug 31, 2004

One spring morning, Professor Steven Kurtz of the State University of New York (SUNY), Buffalo campus, woke to the horrid discovery that his wife of 20 years had died overnight from a cardiac arrest.

He called 9-1-1.

Paramedics arriving at the Kurtz home noticed technical equipment that would normally only be found in a laboratory. If the emergency responders had not been suspicious and reacted, it would have been worrisome, particularly given the unexpected death.

What happened later -- the investigation of Kurtz and colleagues by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Joint Task Force on Terrorism under bioterrorism statues -- may have more worrisome implications.

Art or Bioterrorism?

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