Gene Editing: Could You be a Superhero?

superhero woman -534120_1920 Pixabay Alan9187 copy
Allan9187, Pixabay

I recently learned that the DNA testing company Orig3n offers what they describe as a ‘fun DNA test’ claiming to be able to provide information on an individual’s strength, intelligence and speed. I love superhero movies, perhaps partly because they tap into my own wish to be able to achieve everything extremely well at lightening speed. Alas, even without a DNA test I already know from hard experience I cannot be super-anything. Even with gene modification, the chances of making me stronger, faster and more intelligent may be pretty slim. Continue reading

Guest Post: Called to Care

human embryo K Hardy Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0 copy
© K Hardy, Wellcome Images, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

Ruth Bancewicz writes: One of the hardest things to do as a Christian is to work alongside others whose faith we share, but who have different views on issues that are close to our hearts. Almost as soon as I started working for Christians in Science just over 15 years ago I began to encounter a range of opinions. Whether it was creation or evolution, the status of the early embryo, or the existence of a soul, I encountered people who followed Jesus and held the Bible in equally high regard, yet had different views to each other on some of these very key issues. Continue reading

Summer Special – Stem Cells: Great potential for healing, and important ethical challenges

cells-1872666_1920 Arek Socha pixabay copy
Arek Socha, Pixabay

Do you have a chronic health problem such as asthma, diabetes or arthritis? In the US, 125 million people (around 38% of the population) suffer from these types of diseases, and treating them takes up 78% of the healthcare budget. The figures are probably similar for other developed countries.

At the Faraday Institute summer course last month, the Oxford-based biologist Paul Fairchild explained that a significant proportion of chronic diseases could be treated by replacing just one of the patient’s cell types or tissues. The use of ‘stem cells’ is a rapidly growing area of research and medicine, but it also throws up some very significant ethical issues. Continue reading

Guest Post: Genetics, Bioethics and the Beatles

dna-fingerprint-1-1163530-1278x903 Flavio Takemoto freeimages crop
© Flavio Takemoto, free images

Nearly the whole of my research career took place in the present ‘golden age’ for the study of DNA, genes and genomes. At the end of the 1960s scientists had indicated how useful it would be to be able to isolate individual genes in order to study their structure and function. That wish was fulfilled in the spin-offs from the invention in the early 1970s, of genetic modification (genetic engineering), a scientific milestone that marked the start of this golden age.

By the end of the 20thcentury experiments were being done, that thirty years earlier were not even dreamed of. This was certainly true in my research group’s work on the biochemistry and genetics of DNA replication, giving us the real privilege of uncovering some of the beautifully complex and intricate mechanisms used by cells in ‘managing’ and copying their genetic material. Continue reading

Genetics, God and the Future of Humanity

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Pixabay

Scientists have had a remarkable technique available to them in the last few years. A new editing system called CRISPR-Cas (biologists like acronyms as much as anyone) has made it possible to accurately change the genetic code – like guiding a pair of scissors to exactly the right spot in a text.

This technology has been used to heal genetic disease in children, such as Daniel who suffered from Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome. Cells were taken from his bone marrow and cultured in the lab, the faulty genes were replaced, and the ‘healed’ cells were put back into his body. Daniel has not suffered from the severe asthma and inability to fight infections that afflicted his older brother, and he is now alive and well aged 18. Continue reading

Summer Special: Could a robot ever have a real human identity?

wooden-791421_1920 pixabay crop
Pixabay

How will developments in AI and robotics change the way we think about what it means to be human? This was the question that Professor John Wyatt, a medical doctor with a long involvement the discussion about what it means to be human, asked in his lecture at the Faraday Institute summer course this month, which I’ll summarise here. Continue reading

Guest post: Translating (and editing) DNA – Wonder and Wonder

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By Nicolle Rager, National Science Foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I remember touring an auto manufacturer several years ago in the United States. The whole factory was a wonder to behold. Tiny parts started on an assembly line that eventually became, at the end of the process, a completed car. Hundreds of workers added parts and pieces to an unfinished vehicle slowly over time until, eventually, it would become a complex functioning vehicle. A wheel in the wrong place or Continue reading