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 →
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 →
Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand’, does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye’, does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you’, or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you’. Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.
(1 Corinthians 12.14 –22, CEB)
In this passage, St Paul is referring to parts of the body that we can see, but equally important are the millions of molecular machines and processes that we cannot see but nevertheless sustain our every Continue reading →
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 →
A horde of salmonella bacteria invades a mouse’s guts. The rodent’s immune system is on the alert, but something unusual happens. A minority of the invaders throw themselves onto the mouse’s colon bugs, even though their attack is too risky and they die. Their comrades take advantage of the breach, yet they are not as aggressive themselves.[i]
The berserk salmonella “are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the greater good”, a researcher explains. “You could compare this act to Kamikaze fighter pilots of the Japanese army.” This scenario raises the question, did they do that on purpose? Of course bacteria do not have conscious intentions, but it is at least possible that in another sense there is genuine purpose in this behaviour. This is also an important point from the perspective of Christian faith, which involves belief in a purposeful divine creation. Continue reading →
Every person was once a sperm and an egg. Those two unique germ cells fused together, and in nine months they turned into a living, breathing, human being. Each of us emerged from the same Continue reading →
As someone with largely European ancestry, 1-4% of my DNA is likely to have come from Neanderthals. My mother had red hair, my whole family have white skin, and we are relatively well adapted to the cold. These characteristics could all be faint traces of our Neanderthal ancestry. My friends from the Far East will probably also share a little of their DNA with another race of hominins* called Denisovans, and Africans with yet other ancient hominins.