Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for July 27th, 2017

US scientists have genetically modified human embryos

Posted by kenmay on July - 27 - 2017

A team of scientists from Oregon have performed the first known instance of gene editing on human embryos in the US, according to MIT’s Tech Review . Shoukhrat Mitalipov from Oregon Health and Science University and his team have reportedly corrected defective genes that cause inherited diseases in “a large number of one-cell embryos” using CRISPR . Mitalipov refused to comment on the results of the project, but some of his collaborators already confirmed them to the publication. Up until now, reports about human-related gene editing usually come from outside the US. China, in particular, hasn’t been holding back when it comes to CRISPR experimentation. Scientists from the country were the first to use the technique on human embryos to repair a gene that causes fatal blood disorder. A team of oncologists from Sichuan University also conducted the first CRISPR human trial on a patient suffering from an aggressive form of lung cancer. In the US, Congress blocked clinical trials that involve genetically modifying human embryos. The practice raises a lot of ethical concerns, after all, with critics being especially worried that it could lead to designer babies. The National Academy of Sciences issued a report in early 2017 endorsing human germline modification, though, and that’s exactly what Mitalipov’s group did. Modifying an embryo to eradicate heritable diseases is called “germline engineering, ” because the child born from that embryo will pass on the changes with his or her germ (egg or sperm) cells. We won’t find out if that’s true with Mitalipov’s study, because it was never meant to be a clinical trial. The team didn’t allow the embryos to develop for more than a couple of days, and they were never meant to be implanted into a womb. What we’ve found out, however, is that it’s possible to use CRISPR to edit embryos without causing an error called “mosaicism.” In previous attempts by Chinese scientists, CRISPR caused an editing error wherein the DNA changes they made were only taken up by some, not all, of the cells the embryos developed. The Oregon group managed to avoid that problem by injecting CRISPR segments — DNA segments used to cut out unwanted genes — and sperm cells into the eggs at the same time. It’s unclear what illnesses were involved exactly, but they used sperm donated by subjects with various inheritable diseases. One of the scientists familiar with the study told Tech Review : “It is proof of principle that it can work. They significantly reduced mosaicism. I don’t think it’s the start of clinical trials yet, but it does take it further than anyone has before.” The team’s results are still pending publication, so we’ll likely hear more details about the study in the future. Source: MIT Technology Review

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The British Library has digitized 570 loose pages of notes written and drawn by Leonard da Vinci to compile a notebook which is called, The Codex Arundel . You can view the document online for free, although it’s written in Italian and uses his “characteristic left-handed mirror-writing (reading from right to left).” The Guardian suggests enjoying the work of the self-taught Renaissance man as it is, without translation: The digitised British Library manuscript is a fascinating artefact in itself, just to browse. You don’t need a translation to appreciate the beauty and wonder of Leonardo’s mind. This is a great work of art, in a precociously conceptual genre that has been emulated by modern artists such as Joseph Beuys and Cy Twombly. The Codex includes “diagrams, drawings and brief texts” which cover “a broad range of topics in science and art, as well as personal notes.” The British Library describes some of Da Vinci’s insights: His notebooks combine detailed observation with notes of experiments. Even if he did not actually undertake the experiments, he described what could be tried. Many of his insights foreshadowed scientific research by many centuries. For example: Leonardo repudiated perpetual motion, understood the principle of relative motion, and foreshadowed Newton’s Third Law by two centuries: “For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.” He rejected the notion that the Biblical flood was responsible for depositing fossils many miles from their origin and deduced the existence of very long spans of geological time. By dissecting humans and animals, Leonardo made many anatomical and some physiological discoveries. He investigated optics and perception with subtle experiments, explaining why the sky is blue, arguing that light has a finite velocity and travels in straight lines, and deducing the existence of a surface within the eye that receives light from a wide field of view. Leonardo formulated the law of the flow of currents: “All motion of water of uniform breadth and surface is stronger at one place than at another according as the water is shallower there than at the other.” ( Open Culture ) Previously: Students build working version of Leonardo da Vinci’s self-supporting bridge

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