Bill Nye Talks to Dogs and Explores the Lessons of Canine Evolution

The Science Guy returns to Big Think to discuss dogs, evolution, and racial myths.

Bill Nye:  I love dogs as much as the next guy.  I talk to dogs.  In preparing this book I spoke with dogs at length.  Maybe I spoke more to dogs than with them.  But they’re all dogs, that’s the thing.  I know we all love our kennel club show we all go there.  We obsess about whether our dog is a pug, Jack Russell terrier mix with corgi overtones and an oaky finish.  An approachable little dog, whatever.  They’re all dogs, okay.  And so the idea of a purebred is just a human construct.  There’s no such thing – in a sense there’s no such thing as a purebred dog.  And that’s – I don’t have a problem with that.  That’s the way it is.  By the way you talk to any veterinarian and they’ll tell you that a mutt is a much healthier dog generally because they have this mix of genes, they’re not inbred, they haven’t made the same gene repeat too many times.  And so it’s funny, it’s charming to me but there’s a great lesson to be learned.  Dogs are a descendent either from wolves or from one ancestor before wolves.  But what you and I think of as a modern wolf may or may not be the direct – what led to a modern dog.

People talk about this as I’m writing the book.  In the next five years it will probably be resolved.  Somebody will come up with a definitive answer to that.  But anyway, apparently these experiments were done with foxes which are just the coolest thing where the foxes that were friendlier, that they were more comfortable around people, they were allowed to approach, they were allowed to use human food.  After just three generations they had floppy scritchable ears and they were much more like dogs.  And it just shows you that dogs are almost certainly a result of a human wolf ancestor interaction.  As we became friends with them they became friends with us and we have a dependency that’s charming.  It’s enriched both the dog lives and the human lives.  It’s really quite an insight and it’s a result of evolution.  The other lesson to be learned from dogs for me is since they’re all dogs it’s just – if you have a dachshund and a Great Dane and they interact, can we say interact on Big Think?  If they interact all you get is a dog.  You don’t get any new thing, new species, you just get a dog.  In the same way if a Papua New Guinean hooks up with a Swedish person all you get is a human.  There’s no new thing you’re going to get.  You just get a human.  Japanese woman jumping the African guy, all you get is a human. They’re all humans.  So this is a lesson to be learned.  There really is, for humankind there’s really no such thing as race.  There’s different tribes but not different races.  We’re all one species.



Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton


 

 

Bill Nye the Science Guy returns to Big Think to discuss evolution, this time from a canine point of view. Nye explains how dogs evolved out of an early human-wolf interaction which today benefits both species. He also draws a comparison between dog breeds and the social construct of race, claiming that both are man-made myths not steeped in science.


Bill's latest book is "Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation."

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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