genetics tags

Bull Session

Three Parents and a Baby

October 7, 2016          

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Episode Summary

This week on The Digital Life we discuss the recent announcement that the world’s first baby was born from new procedure using DNA of three people. Dr. John Zhang, from the New Hope Fertility Center in New York, led the team that attempted the mitochondrial transfer procedure. The procedure replaces faulty DNA in a mother’s egg with healthy DNA from a second woman — the baby inherits genes from two mothers and one father. This prevents certain, potentially fatal genetic diseases from being passed on to the child. The United Kingdom was the first country to legalize mitochondrial transfer in 2015, but, no other country has followed with a similar law. The procedure was conducted in Mexico where there are no rules in place for this kind of activity, with a team from the US. While this technique does not specifically impact the concerns about “designer babies”, it’s clear that the genomic technology is advancing far more quickly than governments are able to deal with it.

 
Resources:
Exclusive: World’s first baby born with new “3 parent” technique


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Jon Follett
@jonfollett

Dirk Knemeyer
@dknemeyer

Bull Session

Chimeras and Bioethics

August 25, 2016          

Episode Summary

This week on The Digital Life, we discuss human-animal chimeras and bioethics. If you know your Greek mythology, you might be familiar with the chimera — a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature, part lion, part goat, with a tail that ends in a snake’s head. Today, the term chimera is used in embryology to describe a hybrid organism that has tissues from multiple species. And there’s interest in producing chimeras for studying disease pathology, testing drugs, and eventually organ transplantation.

Last year, however, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said it wouldn’t support this research and banned funding for it, due to bioethical and animal welfare concerns. Now, the NIH is requesting public comment on a proposal to amend sections of their guidelines for human stem cell research on the proposed scope of certain human-animal chimera research.

 
Resources:
You Can Soon Grow Human-Animal Hybrids, But You Can’t Breed ‘Em
Strange Beasts: Why Human-Animal Chimeras Might Be Coming
NIH consideration of certain research proposals involving human-animal chimera models

Bull Session

Writing Human Code

June 2, 2016          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the plan to create a complete artificial human genome. A few weeks ago, scientists, entrepreneurs, and government officials met in a closed door meeting at Harvard University at an event intended to create interest and momentum around the follow-up to the Human Genome Project — a public / private collaboration to synthesize a human genome.

Over the past decade, the technology for encoding genes has improved at a fantastic rate. Since the early 2000s, the cost has dropped from four dollars to just three cents per base pair. However, while big pharma and big agriculture currently synthesize gene sequences for products including biologic drugs and GMO plants, these strands of genetic material are usually only a few thousand letters in length. Contrast that with the 6 billion letters needed for the human genome, and we can begin to see the ambition of this new proposed endeavor. In this episode, we explore some of the arguments in favor of and against writing human code.

Resources:
Ethical Questions Loom Over Efforts to Make a Human Genome from Scratch


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