It's 2022 and we're still here*
*but in a slightly different format
Well, it’s been a helluva year.
I don’t need to rehash all the gory details, but luckily, we’re still here, albeit a little worse for wear. Things change, people grow, new variants emerge. It often feels like we’re in a perpetual time loop, but if you look closely, time is actually marching on.
In personal news, I got a new job. As I wrapped up my research position at UPenn, where I have been looking at ethics and biosafety innovations on the JOGL platform for the last 18 months, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from a company I have long admired: Ginkgo Bioworks.
For those who follow this newsletter (and general finance or synbio news) closely, you’ll know that Ginkgo went public this year and also launched a biosecurity and public health arm, Concentric by Ginkgo. I am so excited to join friends and colleagues in experimenting with growing our future, and I started in early December as the Director of Communications for Concentric! 🎉
I’ll still be sending out the latest news in biotech, futurism, assisted reproduction, ethics, and so on, and I hope that you will still find it fun and informative! But I’ll be writing less frequently and I wanted to let readers know why.
I started SD&B as a way to supplement my income as an academic researcher and freelance reporter. But now that I’m actually employed in a real job (I still can’t believe it, tbh) I can’t in good conscience ask for subscriptions and then pocket the money while I know so many synthetic biologists and science activists who desperately need funding. In the last year, I earned $1,280 from subscriptions to this newsletter and I appreciate it so, so much. In the coming year, for those who are still with me, I will donate all subscription revenue to a STEAM education organization and also match the amount.
If you have a suggestion or want to tell me about your favorite org or Community Bio/hackerspace that needs a little boost, please reply to this email!
In the meantime, here’s the latest:
What’s so wrong about sex robots?
In my last piece as a freelance reporter, I explored the potential ethical pitfalls of humanoid dolls that are enhanced with AI. In conversations with both humans and sex robots for the article, I was hard pressed to come up with any ethical issues that are unique to the robots as companion products—actually, I find them pretty cool!
For Freethink, I reported on what I believe will be our totally customized, destigmatized companions of the future.
“I was overwhelmed by how lifelike and relatable the doll really is. The robot is an apparently well-crafted, stunningly high quality object—she’s art in a red g-string.”
Will Covid become endemic? And how do we deal with it?
A commentary in JAMA this week by co-authors Ezekiel Emanuel, Michael Osterholm, and Celine Gounder suggested a refreshingly commonsense path toward a “new normal” where we learn to live with Covid—and whatever comes next. I think basically everything in this piece is a good idea, including:
We need a comprehensive, digital, real-time, integrated data infrastructure for public health. This data must include real-time updates on respiratory viral infections, hospitalizations, deaths, outcomes, and immunizations PLUS social and demographic info.
We need a permanent public health workforce that has surge capacity to respond to emergencies. This includes an army of school nurses and community and family health centers managed through a public health agency. (This sounds spookily like the NHS. I’ll take it!)
We need to allow medical data and licensure to flow across state lines with ease and elevate and optimize digital/telehealth operations.
A new bioengineered food label
Finally, a label for food created through bioengineering is coming to supermarket shelves. A 2016 federal law went into effect Jan 1, and it plugs holes in a system mostly managed by states and non-profit organizations. Manufacturers will now need to label foods that have been genetically engineered, meaning they have genetic material that could not be the result of conventional breeding and are not naturally found in nature. No more “GMO”! Now it’s “bioengineered” instead.
WaPo has a great explainer on the pros and cons of the new label, and which anti-GMO groups oppose it and why. But I personally love the art!
Can someone please do this for crypto bros:
Sci-Hub still under threat from publishers
The popular pirating site Sci-Hub allows anyone to bypass the paywalls of academic publishers and access research papers that have been uploaded by freedom of information activists around the world. Long a thorn in the side of the larger publishers, Sci-Hub is facing a copyright suit in India. But here’s the thing: the pirates might win this time.
In Nature last month, reporter Holly Else wrote, “if Sci-Hub wins, it could force publishers to rethink their business models in a similar way to how the music industry changed in response to the arrival of the Internet.”
Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan tweeted her full response to Nature when asked for comment on the issue.