Genes, genomes, and skiffy

Tom James @ 09-02-2009

beesKen MacLeod has a monograph up on genomics, sociology and science-fiction at the genomics forum:

Social scientists are less likely than natural scientists to star as villains or heroes in SF. Their work, however, has deeply influenced the genre.

At first or second or third hand – directly, through popularizations, and as refracted through mass media – anthropology, economics, sociology, and political theory have all raised questions to which SF writers have imagined answers.

As well as highlighting the importance of sociology and economics to the development of science fiction MacLeod suggests a reading list of suitable novels that are relevant to his topic. He also compliments us literary SF fans:

Written SF (whose core readership and reviewers are more scientifically informed than the general public) usually has to hew to stricter standards of scientific plausibility…

Damn staight.

[via Ken MacLeod][image from Todd Huffman on flickr]


Entering the age of personal genomics

Tom James @ 01-11-2008

Richard Powers writes an elegant article in The Guardian on becoming one of the few people who have thus far had their entire genome sequenced. In his case by a company called Knome.

I can tell you that you have the ‘novelty seeking’ gene,” Conde says. He’s referring to a study that associates a longer version of the DRD4 gene on chromosome 11, involved in the brain’s dopamine system, with people who need higher levels of stimulation. “You have three genetic variants associated with aspects of intelligence,” he continues. Reassuring.

Just like that, I slip into the era of personal genomics. Now I know exactly what I’ve been dealt, and if I don’t take appropriate actions, the onus is on me.

But what actions? I enter my very own war on terror, monitoring lots of ambiguous chatter that is impossible to understand without more context, that I can respond to only indirectly, that I can’t defeat but can at best hold at bay – a standing low-grade condition of Orange alert that demands perpetual increased surveillance.

But beyond my list of health risks, I’ve also learned something extraordinary: 8% of my genetic material contains variations most closely related to the Yoruba population of Nigeria. I’ve become another person, someone else than I thought I was, giving blood in Wellesley, last spring.

As the genome sequencing gets cheaper I imagine it will become something we’ll all get done as a matter of course.

[image from mtowber on flickr]


The common cold: The immune system overreacts

Tom Marcinko @ 30-10-2008

Infect a small study group with rhinovirus-16, the source of the common cold. Scrape cells from inside their noses; repeat for a control group that got a sham inoculation. Then use gene-chip technology to see how more than 6,000 of the symptom sufferers’ genes express themselves.

…[R]hinovirus infection triggered a massive immune response in the nasal mucosa. Because rhinovirus is not as destructive as other more serious viral infections, this response appears to be disproportionate to the threat…. “This study shows that after rhinovirus infection, cold symptoms develop because parts of our immune system are in overdrive,” said Lynn Jump, principal researcher at Procter & Gamble and study author. “The findings are important because they provide us a blueprint for developing the ideal cold treatment: one that maintains the body’s natural antiviral response while normalizing the inflammatory response.”

An antiviral compound called viperin, produced by the epithelial cells, seems to fight the influenza virus, too.

[Rhinovirus: actual microscopic image! by hey mr glen]


23andWe – genomics goes social

JustinP @ 20-07-2008

23andmeDrawing on his experiences with 23andMe‘s personal genetics service, Kevin Kelly has made a couple of interesting observations. Focusing on what happens when the logic of crowdsourcing is applied to biotechnology, he comments on

how fast and how eager users have been to share their genetic data. We’ve been conditioned by anxious media reports to believe that people want to hoard their very personal genetic profile, in fear of what would happen if governments, corporations, insurance companies and the neighbors were to see it. But in fact like a lot of other things that have made it online, genetic information only increases in value when shared.

Experts thought only a fringe minority would dare share their genes, but swapping genetic info will mostly likely be the norm for a generation that shares everything else. Sharing your genetic info with family members, relatives, and even apparent strangers (who must be related somehow) is exciting, and certainly educational.

[Story via The Quantified Self. Image by CrashIntoTheSun]


Computing the Cocoa Genome

Tom Marcinko @ 26-06-2008

chocolateroyThe Mars candy company, the U.S. Agricultural Research Service, and the world’s second-fastest supercomputer, IBM’s Blue Gene, are working to sequence the genome of the cocoa tree. The project will identify cocoa plants that are better able to withstand the effects of global warming, including fungal strains and insects. The same tools might be applied to other food staples. There’s no genomic cure for political unrest, which also threatens the world’s cocoa supply.

[Story tip: fark.com. Chocolate portrait inspired by Roy Lichtenstein by emilywjones]


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