An appeal to heaven?

Read on for regulating GMO animals, using biotech to intervene in climate change, and idiots on planes.

On Fridays, I enjoy reading ancient Jewish ethics with my uncle. He’s a nerd, I’m a nerd, we’re both Jewish academics… it’s great. During this week of upheaval, change, a lot of emotion, and the hopeful redemption of the government, one verse in particular from Pirkei Avot stands out in my mind:

“Pray for the welfare of the government, for without the fear of it, man would swallow his fellow alive.”

With a new government, I pray for general welfare and that we stop trying to swallow one another. Our government had been sick. Our body politic has been ill. And the return of “some normal shit,” as George W. Bush allegedly said of the inauguration, will hopefully put the fear of our semi-functional government back into the hearts and minds of the fascists trying to undermine it. I still can’t believe these people thought they wouldn’t get arrested. Anyway…

Here’s the latest.

Who is in charge of GMO animals?

Genome editing technology for animals has been within the purview of the Food and Drug Administration for many years. However, the FDA’s regulation has been considered overly strict when it came to the development of fancy new animals like hornless cows and glowing puppies, and the agency sought to regulate these animals as if they were drugs. Obviously, cows and puppies are not drugs, and so this seemed a silly route to take for oversight of edited animals. Things got heated when last week, USDA issued a Memo of Understanding with FDA’s mommy, the Dept. of Health and Human Services, which gave oversight of GMO animals created for agricultural purposes to the USDA, which also oversees GMO plants. Well, the FDA didn’t like that, and threw a fit on Twitter.

H/T to MIT Tech Review’s Antonio Regalado who did a great thread on this whole drama. Now, the Biden administration will need to figure out who is really in change of gene-edited animals. I can’t wait.

Incoming CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on JAMA's Q&A series discussing her vision and priorities for the agency, YouTube
Welcome back to the global health stage, America. You have a lot of work to do. Stat News

Monsters are forging their Covid test results and traveling on planes

People suck. Vice reports that terrible humans are using Photoshop to change the dates on older tests to make it seem like their negative results were received within 72 hours before their flight, which is now required by many governments and airlines. I mean, this is outrageous. No one should be traveling on planes. If you need to get on a plane, follow the damn rules. Be a good person. But let me just be clear! You do not need to go on vacation in Croatia—where over 40 people have been detained for forged test results—or anywhere else. If I can stay at home with my husband, toddler, and menagerie of elderly pets, so can you.

Don’t travel, even if it’s to get a vaccination in Florida.

Fauci promises to end global gag rule, restoring a smidge of US support for women’s health abroad

Dr. Fauci, who has now been unleashed, has promised to overturn the Mexico City Policy—and it’s the right move.

If you don’t know, the “global gag rule” forbids the use of US aid money to “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” The thing is, abortions actually increase when the gag rule is in place, according to the Lancet. Plus, in half the counties that receive funding, abortion is legal, but aid workers risk having their funding taken away if they even point a woman in the direction of a safe and legal abortion. Here’s a wonderful refresher from 2019 that details the many reasons the gag rule is terrible for everyone.

Read Biodesigned Issue 5: Reinvention

Please consider reading all of the work in the issue because it’s all great. Just take my word for it. Contributors include Andrew Hessel, Todd Kuiken, Ollie Cotsaftis, Justice Walker, Nandita Sheth, and Whitney Gaskins.

If you only read one thing, though, Kuiken, an environmental scientist, wrote a thoughtful essay about his conflicted feelings about using biotechnology tools, like genome editing, to protect endangered plants and animals. He wonders if altering the DNA of species save them from the impacts of human induced climate change, and if this is something we should do? 

Now that he’s out of office, will Trump be allowed back on social media?

Issie Lapowsky at Protocol suggests that the average Facebook user/Trump supporter won’t support a decision by Facebook’s independent Oversight Board that results in a permanent ban for the former president. She writes that as a PR exercise, going along with a ban could be “dicey” for Facebook and create a backlash. Well, who cares? Facebook should do the right thing for once, and abide by the decision of the Oversight Board they painstakingly put together for the good of the rest of its users. Standing by their board would signal a renewed sense of attention to ethics, which could have broader positive implications for other tech giants. If even one of these companies made it look like they have a moral compass, we’d all be better for it.

Extra Credit:

Ketamine therapy seems pretty crazy. Gizmodo
What’s the protocol for creating a healthy baby in space? Neo.Life
Examining the ethical underpinnings of universal basic income as a public health policy: prophylaxis, social engineering and ‘good’ lives. BMJ
Eric Lander is now in charge of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, The Washington Post
These invisible, edible biological tags help track down the cause of E. coli outbreaks. Fast Company
The FTC Forced a Misbehaving A.I. Company to Delete Its Algorithm. OneZero