Ghosts in the Machine

3-parent Australian babies, 20 years of human genome research, and more.

This week I unearthed some real buried treasure: a cassette tape recorded in 1958 by my great-grandparents on the occasion of the birth of my mom, here in California. She was separated from them by 10,000 miles and a bunch of Russian tanks. The tape gives an audio snapshot of life immediately following the Hungarian Revolution, where my great-grandparents and their other children sit around the piano in their apartment in Budapest, lament the absence of their son and daughter-in-law (my grandparents), and chat into the recorder.

I don’t know exactly how, but that tape made its way through the Iron Curtain, over the Atlantic Ocean, and across the continental US, where it sat in a drawer for 60-odd years.

Now, I’ve found it, digitized it, uploaded it to Google Drive, and sent it back to my cousins in Hungary, so they, too, can hear the ghosts of our shared history. Between those great-grandparents and my kid, there are five generations. Five generations of people have heard the sound of that piano. It’s amazing! It makes me think that even when we’re separated by time and space, we might still find one another and relish the relationships we had before the world fell apart.

And it also reminds me that technology is really cool.

Here’s the latest:

Australians will vote to regulate 3-parent IVF

“Well, I am very supportive of this. I have seen just the awful outcomes of what mitochondrial disease does to people,’’ the Australian Prime Minister said this week of mitochondrial donation. Also called mitochondrial replacement therapy, MD is a process in which a fetus is created using the genetic material of three people, and is considered to be a breakthrough technology for families struggling with mitochondrial diseases, which can be debilitating.

In the UK, mitochondrial donation has slowly moved forward into clinical trials with regulatory approval. Parents in other countries, such as Ukraine, have reportedly had success getting pregnant with healthy babies.

Meanwhile, here in the US, where we over-regulate many radical lifesaving technologies and criminally under-regulate others, mitochondrial donation remains illegal.


🔎 Read more on mitochondrial donation:

A Question of Prevention: A procedure to avoid passing on genetic mutations, and the push to legalize it,” Harvard Law Today
Patient advocates and scientists launch push to lift ban on ‘three-parent IVF’,” Stat News
This Editorial is not About Designer Babies,” New York Times

What’s up with the future of food?

I’m not entirely sure, but it seems to be the hot topic of the week. Maybe the novelty of delivery apps has finally worn off.

A piece in Neo.Life suggests that taste and texture are the key ingredients to success for the faux-beef start-ups we’ll soon see on our plates. At The Verge, the future might belong to these robots that make salad. And the Impossible Burger is bleeding too much for anti-GMO activists.

Elsewhere, this upcoming conference is themed around the latest in the food and ag industries, and the new issue of Biodesigned will likewise also be food-themed. If you haven’t yet, subscribe and make sure you catch the next issue, and sign up to write, if that’s your thing.


Generic drugs case is tossed—for now. 💊💊💊

A controversial case brought by one pharma giant (GSK) against another (Teva) that accused the latter of patent infringement has landed back in Teva’s favorfor the moment.

The case is related to the concept of “skinny labeling,” where a drug manufacturer can produce a generic version of a patented drug, as long as the new drug is not labeled for the same uses as the original one that the patent lays out. This creates a thin piece of real estate for generics to exist, but it’s a really important one. In 2019, generic drugs made up over 80% of drugs prescribed in the US and the practice of “skinny labeling” is a common one.

This case could have a major chilling effect on generics manufacturing and that, in turn, could contribute to increased health disparities and higher pharmaceutical prices. We wait…


20 years later and a bunch of breakthroughs. Happy birthday, HGP

A wealth of discovery built on the Human Genome Project — by the numbers. Nature

Are you on Clubhouse yet? ✳

The audio-only chat app hit a fever pitch this week as millions joined up to talk to strangers and mostly say, “This is my first time talking on Clubhouse, so…”

I’m still skeptical that it will be a long-term fad, however, I’ve been in some pretty compelling rooms so far, including a talk from the MedTech Club about the future of wearables and smart household appliances in the role of healthcare monitoring, and another about whether life extension science is real. While neither of these discussions veered enough (for my tastes) into the role of policymakers in these spaces, I enjoyed the lively blue-skies panel debate vibe while I was making dinner.

A word of caution, though: While exploring the app this week, I also stumbled into more than one room populated entirely by dudes whining about trans rights.

Here’s a piece by The Lily about how Clubhouse could be better for women and POC in tech.


Extra Credit:

Will Russia be a hub for neurotech? Labiotech
George Church’s AAV startup says it will improve immune response to gene therapies. Fierce Biotech
Women are changing their plans about having kids, and companies are popping up to help. Wall Street Journal
A new variant of the virus may have originated with one person. Wired
How to send a biomedical experiment to space. Slate