Mixing human + animal DNA and the future of gene editing

"The question is which are okay, which are not okay."

  • As the material that makes all living things what/who we are, DNA is the key to understanding and changing the world. British geneticist Bryan Sykes and Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project) explain how, through gene editing, scientists can better treat illnesses, eradicate diseases, and revolutionize personalized medicine.
  • But existing and developing gene editing technologies are not without controversies. A major point of debate deals with the idea that gene editing is overstepping natural and ethical boundaries. Just because they can, does that mean that scientists should be edit DNA?
  • Harvard professor Glenn Cohen introduces another subcategory of gene experiments: mixing human and animal DNA. "The question is which are okay, which are not okay, why can we generate some principles," Cohen says of human-animal chimeras and arguments concerning improving human life versus morality.

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For $50, convert your phone into a powerful chemical, pathogen detector

A team of scientists managed to install onto a smartphone a spectrometer that's capable of identifying specific molecules — with cheap parts you can buy online.

  • Spectroscopy provides a non-invasive way to study the chemical composition of matter.
  • These techniques analyze the unique ways light interacts with certain materials.
  • If spectrometers become a common feature of smartphones, it could someday potentially allow anyone to identify pathogens, detect impurities in food, and verify the authenticity of valuable minerals.
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The science behind ‘us vs. them’

Humans may have evolved to be tribalistic. Is that a bad thing?

  • From politics to every day life, humans have a tendency to form social groups that are defined in part by how they differ from other groups.
  • Neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky, author Dan Shapiro, and others explore the ways that tribalism functions in society, and discuss how—as social creatures—humans have evolved for bias.
  • But bias is not inherently bad. The key to seeing things differently, according to Beau Lotto, is to "embody the fact" that everything is grounded in assumptions, to identify those assumptions, and then to question them.

The nomological argument for the existence of God

Regularities, which we associate with laws of nature, require an explanation.

Credit: Michelangelo via Public Domain / Wikipedia
  • The nomological argument for the existence of God comes from the Greek nomos or "law," because it's based on the laws of nature.
  • There are pragmatic, aesthetic, and moral reasons for regularities to exist in nature.
  • The best explanation may be the existence of a personal God rather than mindless laws or chance.
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Reductionism vs. emergence: Are you “nothing but” your atoms?

Reductionism offers a narrow view of the universe that fails to explain reality.

Credit: NSF / LIGO / Sonoma State University / A. Simonnet
  • Reductionism is the view that everything true about the world can be explained by atoms and their interactions.
  • Emergence claims that reductionism is wrong, and the world can evolve new stuff and new laws that are not predictable from "nothing but" atoms.
  • Which perspective on science is correct has huge implications, not only for ourselves but for everything from philosophy to economics to politics.
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