CRISPR Genetic Engineering Used to Create Custom Monkeys

custom monkey genetic engineering

Genetic engineering using CRISPRs has created these custom monkeys. http://rt.com/

The practice of genetic engineering in humans has been explored in numerous science fiction stories, such as Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In some stories manipulation of genes opens a door to a wild, dystopic future, such as the universe encountered in Samuel R. Delany’s Einstein Intersection. On the other hand, some speculative futures, such as Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, paint a picture where genetic engineering is a bridge to disease control, self-evolution, and more.

I’m not referencing awesome science fiction novels just because I’m a huge sci-fi geek. The term “genetic engineering” happens to be rooted in science fiction.  “Genetic engineering” was first coined in Jack Williamson’s science fiction book Dragon’s Island, which was published in 1952, one year before DNA’s role in hereditary was proven.

genetic engineering mice

Some genetically engineered mice can act as your own personal emergency flashlight.

Incredibly, it only took science two decades to perform what Williamson had only written in words. In 1973 Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen inserted antibiotic resistance genes into an E.coli bacterium, marking the creation of the first genetically modified organism. In 1974, scientists created the first genetically modified animal by injecting viral DNA into mice.

Related Article: It’s a Mini-Me: Mice Clones Provide Personalized Cancer Treatment

Genetic engineering has come a long way since the groovy 70’s. In 2010, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute created Synthia, the first synthetic life form. They accomplished this incredible feat by inserting a synthetic bacterial genome into a cell containing no DNA.

The creation of synthetic life is remarkable, but let’s get back to the natural, more complex, and messier kingdom of animals.  Last week researchers from China reported the successful creation of genetically modified monkeys using a relatively new and direct method of genome editing involving the use of CRISPRs, a type of nuclease found in many bacteria. The monkeys in the experiment were originally macaques, marking the first time targeted genome editing (direct genetic engineering) has been used in primates. This could potentially pave the way for quick and easy genetic engineering in humans.

Scientists have genetically engineered monkeys in the past, but never before have they been able to directly add, remove, or alter a target gene site. A past example of genetic engineering in a primate that you may remember is when scientists injected jellyfish DNA into a rhesus monkey in 2001. The difference between 2001 and 2014 is that thirteen years ago scientists were practically shooting blind. Using different synthetic nuclease like CRISPR, scientists have unparalleled control over the genes they choose to alter, and in what ways they are able to alter them. As the Chinese researchers explain,

the application of monkeys in biomedical researches has been significantly hindered by the difficulties in producing animals genetically modified at the desired target sites. Here, we first applied the CRISPR/Cas9 system, a versatile tool for editing the genes of different organisms, to target monkey genomes.

genetic engineering geneticist

Geneticists like this DNA wizard will one day give us the freedom of genetic engineering in humans. themindunleashed.org

Three specific genes in the monkeys were modified by the researchers: one that regulates immune cell development, another that regulates metabolism, and a third that regulates sex determination as well as stem cells. Interestingly, the monkeys were altered in various ways depending on how far along the monkey embryo had developed. According to Wezhi Ji, a researcher at the Yunnan Key Laboratory of Primate Biomedical Research,

data from this species should be very useful for curing human disease and improving human health.

Human health and longevity are major focuses for genetic engineers. The discovery and use of various synthetic nuclease launched genetic engineering in humans from a dream to an exponentially growing reality.

Related Article: Immortal Animals and the Human Link

A nuclease is a naturally occurring type of genetic code found in the genome of many bacteria and archaea. Nuclease are of particular interest to scientists in the field of genetic engineering because nuclease have the unique capacity to be used as “molecular scissors.”  They can literally cut DNA at target areas without harming the two newly created DNA strands in any way. They’re like a real-life cut-copy-paste tool for working with genetic code.

Genetic engineers create synthetic nuclease in the lab to aid them in genetic engineering. To date, four different synthetic nuclease have been created for use in genomic editing. These are:

  • Meganucleases
  • Zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs)
  • Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs)
  • CRISPRs
crispr genetic engineering

CRISPRs are what allow all the custom magic to happen. http://www.nature.com/

CRISPRs are the newest and arguably most effective synthetic nuclease used in genetic engineering today. CRISPR stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat,” and are used by bacteria to fight off viruses by destroying targeted DNA. By harnessing the CRISPR mechanism, geneticists revolutionized the field. According to an article entitled “The CRISPR Craze published in August 2013 on sciencemag.org,

In January, four research teams reported harnessing the system, called CRISPR, to target the destruction of specific genes in human cells. And in the following 8 months, various groups have used it to delete, add, activate or suppress targeted genes in human cells, mice, rats, zebrafish, bacteria, fruit flies, yeast, nematodes and crops, demonstrating broad utility for the technique. With CRISPR, scientists can create mouse models of human diseases much more quickly than before, study individual genes much faster, and easily change multiple genes in cells at once to study their interactions.

Even DuPont has used CRISPRs to create improved bacterial strains for food production. CRISPRs are now used almost ubiquitously throughout laboratories that perform genetic engineering.  CRISPRs provide researchers with incredible flexibility and the ability to create a genetically modified animal in a single generation. The recent custom monkey study is a boon that will inevitably launch the industry to even greater heights.

Related Article: Court Battle Begins Between David and Goliath, Bowman and Monsanto

Researchers such as Robert Desimone, director of MIT’s McGovern Brain Institute for Brain Research, have openly expressed their interest in genetically engineering their own custom monkeys. According to Desimone,

Although mice are giving us tremendous insight into basic brain biology and the biology of the disease, there’s still a big gap in between the mouse brain and the monkey brain.

genetic engineering humans

Big hand, tiny feet, whatever. I just want to fly! http://www.marymeetsdolly.com/

There is yet an additional gap between a monkey brain and human brain. However, the fact that direct genome editing works to create modified monkeys suggests it might also work to create genetically modified humans. CRISPR has already been used to modify human cells grown in laboratories, but it has yet to be tested on developing or developed humans. The authors conclude their statements on genetic engineering with CRISPRs with a note of prolonged optimism, announcing that,

We believe the success of this strategy in nonhuman primates gives lots of potential for its application in humans, but we think due to the safety issue, it will take a long way for expanding this strategy to human embryos.

One day genetic engineering will revolutionize the medical industry, the fashion industry, countless more industries, and then it will one day be taken for granted. The faster we can genetic engineering technology for granted, the faster I can take having night-vision and a few extra arms for granted. Let’s do this world!

 

Sources:

Gattaca

Brave New World

Einstein Intersection

Last and First Men

Dragon’s Island

http://jgp.rupress.org/content/36/1/39.full.pdf

http://www.pnas.org/content/70/5/1293.short

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/329/5987/52

http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674%2814%2900079-8

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/523986/monkeys-modified-with-genome-editing/

http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=94412

http://www.nature.com/nrg/journal/v11/n3/full/nrg2749.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_engineering#Genome_editing

http://msb.embopress.org/content/9/1/641

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6148/833

Read for Pleasure to Significantly Boost Intelligence

 

According to a recent study from the Institute of Education in London, children between the ages of 10 and 16 who read for pleasure are significantly better at math, spelling and vocabulary compared to their peers.

The study, conducted by Dr. Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown, examined 6,000 young people who had been observed by a 1970 British cohort study. The study focused on how often teenagers read during childhood and their subsequent scores in math, vocabulary, and spelling at ages 5, 10, and 16.

Related Article: Brazilian Prisoners Read Their Way to Freedom

The study found that:

those who read books often at age 10 and more than once a week at age 16 gained higher results in all three tests at age 16 than those who read less regularly.

As a lifelong, daily pleasure-reader myself, this struck me as remarkable news.  Reading for pleasure, something I find incredibly entertaining and engaging, has been shown to be intellectually beneficial, even in the realm of math!

The best part of the study though is that the researchers found that reading for pleasure is even more important for cognitive development than the parent’s level of education.

The combined effect on children’s progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree.

This means that we are in control of our cognitive development in the same way that we can exact change on our genetic dispositions through epigenetic markers. However, parents can still play a vital role in their child’s development by reading regularly to their kids.  Children at age 5 who had parents who read to them scored better in all three tests when they were 16 compared to children without bedtime stories.

Related Article: Neocortex: How Human Memory Works and How We Learn

While it is surprising that reading for pleasure can have such a wide array of benefits on the mind, Dr. Sullivan explained that:

It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children’s maths scores, but it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.

The study showed that it is also highly important for parents to use a high vocabulary when speaking to their children as this will greatly boost the child’s vocabulary from an early age.

460578715_5acbd5643e_z

“Geeky is beautiful” staticflickr.com

As Dr. Sullivan notes in her conclusions, it is is important to encourage children to read for pleasure. One of the best ways to do this is to show children the fun of reading.  Turn off the television and explore a world written on pages with your child.  Go to those worlds with them from an early age, and they will likely continue to independently read for pleasure for the rest of their lives.

Related Article: TVs, Brains and Zombies, Oh My: The Effects of TV on the Mind

Find out what your child is truly interested in, be it mystery, science fiction, fantasy, drama, romance, adventure, etc. and shower them in books. Their superior intelligence will be all the thanks you need.

 

Sources:

http://www.ioe.ac.uk/

http://www.cls.ioe.ac.uk/news.aspx?itemid=2740&itemTitle=Reading+for+pleasure+puts+children+ahead+in+the+classroom%2C+study+finds&sitesectionid=27&sitesectiontitle=News

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cohort_study

wondergressive.com/2012/08/28/epigenetics-and-altering-your-dna/

https://wondergressive.com/2013/04/04/tvs-brains-and-zombies-oh-my/

https://wondergressive.com/2012/12/13/brazilian-prisoners-read-their-way-to-freedom/

https://wondergressive.com/2013/06/12/neocortex-how-human-memory-works/

 

 

New Plausible Theory of Black Holes: Gateways to Other Universes

 

According to traditional physics, once you go far enough into a black hole, traditional physics simply ceases to be.  Any meaningful equation breaks down into nonsense. Insanity. Cosmic nincompoopery! Well, not anymore…

Einstein’s theory of general relativity states that if a person were to fall into a black hole they’d be shredded to the atomic level by a process called spaghettification, described as being stretched into an infinitely long strand of matter and energy by infinitely strong gravity.  This infinitely strong gravity is due to a singularity at the ‘end’ of the black hole, an infinitely dense area with zero volume.  A singularity is also used to describe the Big Bang.

There is a problem though; conventional physics cannot describe what occurs at a singularity point, so talking about the beginning of time or the core of a black hole has always been one-pointed, but pointless. Then quantum mechanics appeared.

Related Article: Life, It’s All Over the Place

By using the theory of loop quantum gravity, a merger of quantum mechanics and general relativity which describes space-time as a web of indivisible chunks about 10-35 meters in size, physicists have come up with a practical way to describe what occurs at the singularity point; the singularity isn’t there. 

There is no singularity. Gravity still increases as you get pulled into the black hole, but eventually it decreases, and you come out the other end. Although theories have postulated this idea before, the problem was that the singularity could never be bypassed. This is incredibly revolutionary because modern day physics has always taken the idea of a singularity for granted.  The universe had forever been filled with them; all of time and space began as a singularity.

Related Article: Ancient Galaxy That Shouldn’t Exist is Found Perfectly Formed

You are probably wondering what this means for you and me, what relevance this all has.  This opens the doors for even more science fiction to become science reality (consider: just about every piece of technology that exists today was written about as science fiction at one point).

According to the new theory, black holes are more likely doors to other universes, or incredibly distant areas of our own universe, or both.  Even more amazingly, using loop quantum gravity theory, if you were to rewind the big bang you wouldn’t be left with an infinitely dense point of mass and energy, you would cross a quantum bridge into another, older universe.

Related Article: Voyager 1: The Final Frontier?

This also helps explain what happens to information that approaches a black hole.  In a black hole with a singularity, the information would be lost forever as the black hole eventually evaporates after hundreds of trillions of years (give or take several hundred trillion years). As Jorge Pullin, lead researcher on the study at Louisiana State University, points out:

Information doesn’t disappear, it leaks out.

The infinite universe just became infinitely more infinite.

 

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_relativity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghettification\

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitational_singularity

http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loop_quantum_gravity

http://mashable.com/2010/09/25/11-astounding-predictions/

http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v96/i14/e141301

http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v110/i21/e211301

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23611-quantum-gravity-takes-singularity-out-of-black-holes.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

https://wondergressive.com/2012/08/17/life-its-all-over-the-place/

https://wondergressive.com/2012/09/21/ancient-galaxy-that-shouldnt-exist-is-perfectly-formed/

https://wondergressive.com/2013/01/12/galaxy-geysers/

https://wondergressive.com/2013/03/21/voyager-1-final-frontier/

Morals or More Rails To Guide Us: Science Vs. Religion

The virtues of right and wrong have been around since the first creature felt what would be later called pain and responded to it. When something hurts, you try not to do it again. It is a relatively simple concept that has evolved unobstructed for one life time (one life time being from the start of all life, until now). There are many different sources of morality. Each of these sources share one major thing in common: They all believe that they are the most right. I’m not here to call your god a shape-shifting molester of women (unless you pray to Zues) or tell you how to live your life but rather, I would like to examine a few schools of moral thought. I’ll leave the conclusion making to you, our Wondergressive readers.

Science

Before I begin I would like to address a euphemism. You see, There are No Morals in Science but what science lacks in morals, it makes up in “ethical concerns” which if you ask me, is a science’d up way of saying that even scientists have morals.

Science believes, whole-mindedly, that the answers to everything are measurable. Using analysis, a scientist decodes the world. There is nothing that cannot be measured. The things that are not yet measured are only not yet measured because we haven’t found a way to measure them yet. Science will find a way to answer every question through precision measurements. From What is Science:

Science is continually refining and expanding our knowledge of the universe, and as it does, it leads to new questions for future investigation. Science will never be “finished.”

Logic is the pride of science. Every decision must be logical. Since I’m in the habit of asking google what things are, I decided to ask “What is Logic?”

Briefly speaking, we might define logic as the study of the principles of correct reasoning. This is a rough definition, because how logic should be properly defined is actually quite a controversial matter.

Basically logic is the refinement of thinking in order to achieve perfectly scientific results.

 

Fables, Fiction, and Fantasy:

Guided by both the imagination and the wisdom of everyday life, invented stories are another means of instilling morality. This time, when I searched the rules of fiction, there is nothing concrete. There are limitless ways of expressing good/evil dichotomies when you use your imagination. There are a few guiding points in writing a good piece of fiction. Each work must have elements of plot, setting, character, conflict, symbol, point of view, and some sort of a theme to tie it all together.

That is just from the standpoint of the author. The great thing about these three ‘F’s is that the infinite imagination of the reader is coupled with the infinite imagination of the author to create unparalleled sharing of ideas. Reading fiction challenges the morals, or-if you prefer-ethical concerns, through vivid imagery. A good author is capable of projecting feelings through the work that has been created in order to engage the reader in a decision making process. Did things turn out the right way? But what happens when you pair both science and these three ‘F’s?

Religion

Unlike any of the aforementioned morality boosters, religion deals primarily with what happens after you die. Some philosophies approach the matter more scientifically and some choose to use time-tested stories in order to explain the whatnots and whyfors of morality. Religion asks its followers to fully believe that there is no other way than the path that they are on. Relying on a sense of community to herd the masses into doing what is right, religion gives security to the faithful.

 

Secular ethics and the World Around You

Speaking as somebody who has a terrible time deciding what class to choose in RPGs (I often choose the druid or shape shifting class), I think that we all have a responsibility to find our own moral code. Religion, Science, and Fables/Fiction/Fantasy all give us ways to learn something new, or really.. really old. It is up to us to decide to be kind and charitable to each other whether or not we share the same values. At the core, we all want to be happy and that is all that matters.

In closing, as Kurt Vonnegut puts it best:

God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

Source List:
What is Science?
What is Logic?
There are No Morals in Science
There are a few guiding points in writing a good piece of fiction
This is a great part of Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Faster Than Light Travel is Possible; Creating the Warp Drive

 

Scientists have long speculated on the potential of faster than light travel.  If we really want to colonize other planets without terraforming lifeless rocks like Mars we are going to have to find faster forms of interstellar transportation. With our current capabilities it would take hundreds, or in most instances, thousands of years, to travel to even the closest star. We would begin an expedition to another star and our great great great great great grandchildren would complete it.

Because matter cannot travel faster than light without a near infinite amount of energy being used, scientists must use a loophole in the laws of existence.  Space-time itself, or the reality that light exists in, is able to expand faster than the speed of light, as it did just after the big bang and possibly still does.

Scientists have proposed an Alcubierre drive, or a device that contracts space-time in front of a ship and expands it in back.  This would allow the ship to, while still traveling slower than the speed of light, cover distances near instantaneously.  It’s nearly identical to the concept of a wormhole.  Imagine there is a point A and a point B on each side of a sheet of paper.  What is the quickest way to get from point A to point B?  Fold the paper so that the two points touch.  The ship would still obey relativistic laws, but space-time itself would be manipulated to meet the demands of the ship.

This is all amazing, but how much energy would this require?  According to the original Alcubierre drive plans, roughly an amount of energy equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.  But, scientists are now saying that by sightly altering the shape of the drive into a donut-shape instead of a circular-shape, the required energy would be closer to that of a normal rocket launch.

Scientists have begun experimenting with miniature warp drives in order to begin the development of the technology.

It may sound like science fiction, but remember, there was a time when moving pictures were science fiction, when going to the bottom of the ocean was a fairy tale, and when traveling to the moon was viewed as downright impossible. Nowadays we are bored of going to the moon, we speculate on how many dimensions reality is composed of, and send robots to Mars.  Whenever humans imagine, creation is not far off.