Hey it’s Alex. It’s still April, my favorite month, so you can get a discount if you subscribe to this newsletter and help support my work. Thanks! 💜
Apologies for “languishing” through my deadline for this newsletter last week. Like so many others, I was overwhelmed by news from India and the way it contrasts so starkly with the landscape here in Southern California, where life is slowly inching back to normal. (Good news: Disneyland has reopened!)
To distract myself from depressing headlines, I picked up The Source, a very long novel that’s part Indiana Jones, part philosophical treatise about the founding of Israel, and part advertisement for well-managed communes. The narrative is like using a viewfinder to piece together an archeological dig that tells the story of one town, from the Stone Age to modern kibbutz. The bottom line is that life is short—and precious. So enjoy the weather before we’re all in lockdown again!
Here’s the latest:
Human enhancement is coming to the consumer market whether we like it or not.
Our collective moral panic about human enhancement is, like so many societal moral panics, about something that is both inevitable and will ultimately turn out to be somewhat mundane. In the #geneediting Twitterverse this week was news that a Ukrainian clinic is soliciting genetics researchers for a suite of products that will “edit stem cells” in order to “edit gray hair color, skin quality and breast size”—all of which are advertised with the use of a conventionally attractive, Western-looking woman in a creepy video that is more sci-fi blockbuster than cosmetics commercial.
Don’t get me wrong—the Medeus website is full of technology that is dubious, if not outright fraud, and it’s super disturbing. But someone, somewhere will inevitably begin to offer cosmetic enhancements using somatic editing, because it’s what the people want! Because the people are boring and vain. But if it makes everyone look like this lady, then… well, we already have that.
Meanwhile, in China, it is now officially illegal to implant edited embryos and bring a pregnancy to term. Remember that China is home to the doctor who created the world’s first babies enhanced through genome editing (they were designed to be immune to HIV but it’s unclear if that process worked). This is also illegal in the US and a number of other countries. So no germline enhancements for now…
Do not sell your genome as an NFT
Pioneer geneticist and wishful gene editor George Church is selling his full genome as a non-fungible token through one of his many start-up companies, Nebula Genomics. Please be advised that although the purchase package comes with some admittedly cool art of George’s face, buying the NFT does not mean that you will “own” his genome.
The thing with NFTs is that the token is attached to something digital, essentially giving a person bragging rights to owning it—and that’s it. It does not necessarily give the NFT owner the ownership of the copyright of the item, nor does it stop others from downloading and saving copies of the item that was tokenized and purchased.
So in the case of Church’s genome, which has been public for some time through the Personal Genome Project, the idea to auction the data as an NFT is a very clever marketing idea for his company, which actually functions as a genomic marketplace where anyone can sell their data for research and be compensated.
Via XKCD. Can someone make this, but as bioethics papers? https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/types_of_scientific_paper.png
Summer of love? STIs may be the pandemic of 2021
Watch out, youths! Despite a predictable decline in diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections during the pandemic, medical professionals are worried about a rise in cases once vaccinated people are let loose to mingle again.
There is also the possibility that the actual number of infections hasn’t abated, but access to care has—meaning there may be a bunch of undiagnosed, infectious people about to go out and spread other harmful viruses.
According to US News:
Combined cases of the common sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have hit all-time highs in recent years, and a report out last week from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine notes the pandemic has disrupted needed STI care.
"Under-resourced STI programs have had to compete for resources with a major new public health threat, and their staff have been diverted to the COVID-19 response," the report's summary says. "This has translated into less attention to STI services and fewer critical services being delivered."
There has been exciting movement on a vaccine for chlamydia that uses synthetic biology, but still—before you head back to the bar, get tested!
This play about genetically engineering kids looks awesome. Playground SF
All the new CRISPR books reviewed in one place. New York Review of Books