Genetic jiggery-pokery.

It's long been known that DNA encodes information in a four-bit pattern which can be read and processed like any other bitstream. Four different nucleotides, paired two by two, arranged in one of two configurations side by side by side in a long string of letters, many times longer than the size of the cell containing the full DNA strand. Every cell in every single lifeform contains the same DNA sequence, regardless of what the cell actually does. So how, many have asked, does a cell know if it should help produce hair, or skin, or pigments, or something else …

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Gene therapy for the win, CRISPr with RNA, and growing telomeres without gene hacking.

The past couple of weeks have brought with them some pretty interesting advances in the field of genetic engineering. So, let's get into it.

The first is, as far as anybody can tell, a working genetic therapy regimen for SCID, or severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome. SCID has long been colloquially referred to as "bubble boy syndrome" after David Vetter was born in 1971.ev with the condition and a movie was released about his life in 1976.ev, due to the fact that children born with the condition utterly lack a functional immune system; the slightest illness is likely to …

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Hacking DNA. No, really.

Last year a new genetic engineering technology called CRISPR - Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats - showed up on my radar at a local conference. Long story short, CRISPR is a highly precise technique for editing DNA in situ which follows from the discovery of short sequences of DNA which allow for precise location of individual genes. It's a fascinating technology; there are even tutorials (archived copy, just in case) online for developing your own guide RNA to implement CRISPR/Cas9. What you might not have known is that CRISPR/Cas9 is being actively studied as a theraputic technique in humans …

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Notes from the Transhuman Superpowers and Longevity Conference - 12 July 2015

And now, hopefully sooner than the last set, my notes taken during the Transhuman Superpowers and Longevity Conference held on 12 July 2015 in Oakland, CA. Everything's behind the cut, with references as applicable. Personal observations (are on separate lines in parenthesis) to differentiate them from the speaker's material. Vertical Farm Civilization - Karl Doerrer

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Fabbing tools in orbit and with memory materials, and new structural configurations of DNA.

A couple of weeks ago before Windbringer's untimely hardware failure I did an article about NASA installing a 3D printer on board the International Space Station and running some test prints on it to see how well additive manufacturing, or stacking successive layers of feedstock atop one another to build up a more complex structure would work in a microgravity environment. The answer is "quite well," incidentally. Well enough, in fact, to solve the problem of not having the right tools on hand. Let me explain.

In low earth orbit if you don't have the right equipment - a hard drive …

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Controlling genes by thought, DNA sequencing in 90 minutes, and cellular memory.

A couple of years ago the field of optogenetics, or genetically engineering responsiveness to visible light to exert control over cells was born. In a nutshell, genes can be inserted into living cells that allow certain functions to be switched on or off (such as the production of a certain hormone or protein) in the presence or absence of a certain color of light. Mostly, this has only been done on an experimental basis to bacteria, to figure out what it might be good for. As it happens to turn out, optogenetics is potentially good for quite a lot of …

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Glueing wounds back together, human cloning, and using bio-nano to infiltrate synthetic DNA.

If you've ever been injured enough to need stitches, you know that it's no picnic. Administration of local anesthetic aside (which usually involves multiple shallow injections directly into the wound site), flesh is touchy stuff to suture back together. Get the suture too close to the edge of the wound and it might rip through and pop open again. There may not be enough usable skin far enough away from wound site to stick a needle through (such as on particularly skinny fingers or the backs of some ankles). Some parts of the body just don't take well to being …

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The line between organic and electronic continues to blur.

Long time readers are no doubt familiar with my facination with the subject of biological computing, using organic structures to process and represent information rather than silicon-hybrid substrates. When you get right down to it, DNA is an information storage and representation system, just like the tape upon which a notional Turing machine reads and writes symbols. Using this metaphor (which isn't nearly as tortured as it sounds), the ribosomes of eukaryotic cells would be the Turing machines that read the tape and carry out the operations (protein synthesis) encoded in the nucleotides.

Not too long ago the field advanced …

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Xeno-nucleic acids and biological computation.

Disclaimer: I am not a geneticist. If I got some bits wrong let me know and I'll correct my post.

It is a basic fact that DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the fundamental mechanism of complex life on this planet. DNA encodes the structure of every protein used by complex life in much the same way that a Turing machine would use a paper or magnetic tape to store data. The codon (triplet of base pairs) ATG means that the amino acid methionine goes first, the codon TCT means that serine goes next, then histidine, and so on and so forth …

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Bacteria created with first wholly synthetic genome.

Late last week it was announced by the J. Craig Venter Institute that they had created the first synthetic cell, a variant of the bacterium mycoplasma mycoides, which is the micro-organism that causes bovine contagious pleuropneumonia. The project cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $40mus, and involved a team of geneticists sitting down and writing an entire genome of 1.1 million base pairs, using the much smaller genome of related species m.genitalium as a template. Once the smaller genome was understood it then became possible to develop a brand-new one from scratch. The research team then figured out …

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