Is it ethical to select advantageous genes and select against disadvantageous genes when having babies? Julian Savulescu, Director of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in Oxford, discusses this question with Nigel Warburton. This bonus episode was originally made for Bioethics Bites in association with the Uehiro Centre and made possible by a grant from the Wellcome Trust.
Tagged with “genes” (9)
Richard Francis discusses the new scientific field of epigenetics, the study of how stress in the environment can impact an individual’s physiology so deeply that those biological scars actually can be inherited by the next generations. In Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance he explains why researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes.
Scientist and entrepreneur Craig Venter made headlines in 2000 when he was one of the first to sequence the human genome.
Now, he’s announced another big step: the creation of synthetic life in a laboratory – a bacterium with a cooked-up, man-made genetic code.
The breakthrough could eventually lead to tailor-made organisms and big benefits in medicine, energy and beyond.
But what about the ethics – and the risks – of making life in a lab?
Homo sapiens have been around for 250,000 years - surely long enough to have become fully evolved?
It was thought that the dramatic extension of life spans during the 20th century eliminated natural selection, but new evidence shows that to be false.
Will selection always be natural, or could postmodern also mean posthuman?
So if we can design crops that reduce pesticides, grow more effectively in poor soil, bring nutrients such as vitamins A to populations with high incidences of blindness, or even just taste better, why are we hesitating? Why isn’t there a wide consumer acceptance of genetically modified (GM) foods?
Richard Dawkins - known for his ”brilliance and wit” (New Yorker) - is one of the most influential scientists of our time and holds a chair at Oxford University. His highly acclaimed books include The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene and A Devil’s Chaplain; the New York Times has called him ”one of the most incisive science writers alive.” The Ancestor’s Tale, loosely based in form on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, offers a comprehensive look at 4 billion years of evolution.
Synthetic biology will be one of the driving technological forces of this century. By transforming the complexity and diversity of life into a technology malleable by man, it simultaneously offers some of science’s highest hopes and gravest threats. Like splitting the atom, synthetic biology holds a great wealth of power that must be wielded with care.
Bioengineer Drew Endy is the leading enabler of open-source biotechnology. Technology historian Jim Thomas is the leading critic of biotech, based with ETC Group in Ottawa. Moderated by Stewart Brand, they will meet to discuss how the emerging and potentially revolutionary capabilities of synthetic biology can be utilized safely, equitably and openly.
Synthetic biology is swarming ahead all over the world, at a self-accelerating pace far greater than Moore’s Law, with a range of impacts far greater than genetically engineered food crops. Jim Thomas raises the question: "Is Synthetic Biology reckless or wise from the perspective of ‘the long now?’. I feel the synthetic biology community is driven by immensely short term assumptions and motivations, and as a result the medium term prospect for this platform holds both predictable problems and nasty surprises."
To really read DNA accurately and understand it thoroughly, you need to be able to write it from scratch and make it live, Venter explained.
His sequencing the first diploid human genome (with the genes from both parents) last year showed there is much more genetic variation between humans than first thought. His current goal is to fully sequence 10,000 humans and bring the price for each sequence down to $1,000. With that data, his says, “We’ll begin to really learn what’s nature and what’s nurture.”
“Microbes make up one half of the Earth’s biomass.” Venter’s shotgun sequencing of open-ocean microbial samples revealed that every milliliter of ocean has one million bacteria and archaea and ten million viruses even in supposedly barren waters. Taking samples on a round-the-world sailing trip showed that every 200 miles the genes in the microbes are 85% different.
“Microbes dominate evolutionary diversity,” Venter said. Some 50,000 major gene familes have been discovered. Humans and other complex animals have a small fraction of that in our own genes, but the “microbiome” of our onboard microbes carry the full richness. Only 1/10th of the cells in a human are human; the rest are microbes. There are 1,000 species in our mouths, another 1,000 in our guts, another 500 on our skins, and those with vaginas have yet another 500 species.
Keith Stanovich talks about the implications of universal Darwinism. Can natural selection explain just about anything? Pretty much.