Getting 'jiggly' with genes

DNA's surprising moves, biofuels for 2050, and ethics for gene drives

When I get angry about the state of our national infrastructure and its embarrassing and deadly inability to handle climate change-related extreme weather, I find solace in the tiniest happinesses.

This week, my tiny happy thing has been a new baby leaf that’s pushing ever so slowly out of a bud on my fiddle leaf fig tree. I have been documenting the birth on my Instagram account, in lieu of other good news. Also, this headline from Gizmodo really made me smile.

The biotech sector, however, has been much busier than my living room, as the vaccine rollout continues to experience hurdles and news of a super-ironic super-spreader event resulted in a couple dozen Covid cases.

Here’s the latest:

LanzaJet reignites interest in biofuel

Watch out, it’s another post that mentions Clubhouse! On Wednesday, SynBioBeta hosted a “Breaking News in SynBio” room on the new audio app I’m ashamed to be obsessed with. The discussion took the form of a morning news program hosted by industry lobbyists. (This is the future of news, and we need to accept it.)

This chat featured Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of synthetic fuel darling LanzaTech, which makes jet fuel from feedstock byproducts. She discussed the recent announcement that a newly formed company, LanzaJet, spun off from LanzaTech, has made deals with British Airways and Japanese airline ANA to produce thousands of tons of biofuel, which can be combined with traditional jet fuel for a more sustainable blend with fewer emissions.

On the call and in a press release, Holmgren noted that the move is part of British Airways’ goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, Boeing wants to use 100% sustainable fuels by 2030.

This is all great, and long overdue, and we should all applaud these efforts. But where are the other airlines’ sustainability pledges? Well, right on schedule is the newly introduced Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act, which argues for the same incentives for producing sustainable jet fuel that are enjoyed by traditional diesel producers and aims to force the airline industry into doing the right thing.


Black Quantum Futurism collective wins Arts at CERN residency award. Cern
DNA is “surprisingly jiggly” in hi-res images. Gizmodo


The moral imperative for telemedicine

A new paper in the journal Bioethics by Jordan Parsons at the Centre for Ethics in Medicine at the University of Bristol argues what we all already know: that the benefits of telemedicine require us to set up a system for mainstream use—urgently. Parsons argues that remote healthcare is a duty for providers to embrace because:

  1. It can bridge the socioeconomic gap in health outcomes.

  2. It is more efficient.

  3. It can increase participation in medical research.

  4. It enhances patient autonomy, and where appropriate, can be used compassionately.

The paper also outlines potential concerns, including exacerbating the digital divide to access and the challenges of setting up a regulatory scheme for cross-border use. But bottom line: we should make it work. In the US, we are already on the way, but we need to loosen telemedicine restrictions and come up with new ones, like, yesterday.


A Suggested Code of Ethics for Gene Drives

A consensus on the ethical use of technological interventions into our ecosystems has been a long time coming. Gene drive technologies are controversial, confusing, have been rejected by the mainstream, and seem to be underrepresented in debates about the implications of genome editing on society.

A group of researchers, funded by DARPA, have come up with some ethical guidelines for researchers to abide by and discussed how they differ from the ethics of human research.

We reached a consensus that responsible science included safety, security, peer
review, and data sharing. Ecological stewardship included a risk assessment, as well as attention to sustainability, stewardship, and conservation of biodiversity.
Public engagement remains perhaps the most difficult to define, but is related to transparency and the informed agreement of an identified population. ‘‘Education’’
does not mean simply explaining the project, but engaging the relevant population in a discussion of its risks and benefits to them as well as a meaningful opportunity
to accept or reject the project for their community. In reviewing the overall listings again, there was also consensus that ‘‘fair and equitable sharing of benefits’’ should be added to our final list of values, and that this value, such as transparency, would naturally pair with public engagement.

I’m curious to hear what opponents of gene drive technology think of the conclusions, if some feel it could be stronger, or if it’s missing substantive pieces.

Do you oppose gene drives? Leave a comment!

In other Ethics Codes news (wow, I love typing that!), here’s new a one for journalists covering longevity.


Why navigation has become the next big thing in digital health. Second Opinion
One of my friends found out she’s related to Abe Lincoln (cool!). Also, DTC genetic testing kits could help confront conversations about families and race. New York Times

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Welcome to Mars, little buddy!

Perseverance has landed safely! 🥳️ 🥳 What’s next?


Extra Credit:

What would the perfect sex toy be like? Neo.Life
Stat’s First Opinion launched a new podcast. Stat
Can Fungi Be Engineered for Civil Disobedience? Issues
The Perseverance Mars mission shows how we need space ethics. The Boston Globe
Science in the Biden White House: Eric Lander, Alondra Nelson, and the Legacy of Lewis Thomas. The Hastings Center
CRISPR People, by Hank Greely, should be on your reading list. FT
How do we feel about trading water on the stock market? Future Human
Chiquita Brooks-LaSure will run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Politico