Flora Police

Paul Raven @ 21-01-2011

Via grinding.be, Policing Genes is a project by one Thomas Thwaites that looks at the potentially dystopian future of genetically modified plant-life.

Pharmaceutical companies are experimenting with pharming – genetically engineering plants to produce useful and valuable drugs. Currently undergoing field trials are tomato plants that produce a vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease and potatoes that immunise against hepatitis B. Many more plant-made-pharmaceuticals are being developed in laboratories around the world.

However, the techniques employed to insert genes into plants are within reach of the amateur…and the criminal. Policing Genes speculates that, like other technologies, genetic engineering will also find a use outside the law, with innocent-looking garden plants being modified to produce narcotics and unlicensed pharmaceuticals.

The genetics of the plants in your garden or allotment could become a police matter…

Homegrown biohacking and pharming is pretty much a given, but I think the concept of police bees is a little more marginal… that said, it’s a brilliant science fictional story hook. 🙂


A spoonful of friendly bacteria helps the medicine go down

Tom James @ 21-08-2009

pillsGenetically engineered bacteria have been used to deliver therapies for bowel disorders like inflammatory bowel disease:

The bacterium is able to deliver the protein, a human growth factor called KGF-2, directly to the damaged cells that line the gut, unlike other treatments which can cause unwanted side effects. Also unlike other treatments, it is envisaged that patients will be able to control the medication themselves by ingesting xylan, perhaps in the form of a drink.

I am not 1 of the 400 Britons who suffers from IBD but it is wonderful to see that genetic engineering has such excellent medical applications.

[from Science Daily][image from Deco Fernandez on flickr]


Genetics-themed short story competition

Tom James @ 28-01-2009

esheepVia Ken Macleod, Pippa Goldsmith of the genomics forum has launched a competition for short stories concerning genetics themes:

Can we truly control our behaviour and exercise free will if our genetic makeup influences our behaviour and the choices we make in life?


Can we blame crime on genes? Who should hold information about our genes? Who should have access to it? What should be the priority, public safety or personal freedoms?


Can an understanding of genes help feed people in developing countries? Do the advantages outweigh the risks?

Max 3000 words, closing data 31st March, £500 first prize – check it out.

[image from Winfairy on flickr]


Homebrew genetic engineering

Tom James @ 27-12-2008

We’re beginning to see the earliest signs of the “garage startup” genetic engineering company:

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

Regardless of what any particular hobbyist or entrepreneur is actually looking for, if you have enough people experimenting there is a good chance they will find something remarkable (what Nassim “black swan” Taleb calls “stochastic tinkering“). Unfortunately there is also a downside:

Jim Thomas of ETC Group, a biotechnology watchdog organization, warned that synthetic organisms in the hands of amateurs could escape and cause outbreaks of incurable diseases or unpredictable environmental damage.

Here’s hoping a balance can be struck between regulation and innovation.

[article from Physorg][image from frankenstoen on flickr]


Genetic modification of large animals just got easier

Edward Willett @ 21-09-2007

Diagram illustrating the process of gene therapyEfforts to genetically modify large animals have been hindered by the fact that the two methods currently used to effect it, somatic cell nuclear transfer or pronuclear injection, are costly, inefficient, difficult, and carry a risk of producing abnormal offspring. Now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine have successfully produced genetically modified mice and goats by transferring modified genetic information via a harmless virus to male reproductive cells, which then passed the modification on naturally to about 10 percent of the offspring. In other words, genetic modification via gene therapy.

Of course, using this technique on humans in combination with in-vitro fertilization and careful weeding of the resulting embryos in order to create a genetically modified super race with abilities surpassing normal humans’ would be completely illegal and unethical, and only a deranged science fiction writer such as myself whose next book features genetically modified humans would even think of it as a possibility.

So, no worries.

(Via PhysOrg.)

(Illustration from Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]genetics, gene therapy, genetic modification[/tags]