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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Inflatable space station modules, successful gene therapy for aging, and neuromorphic computing.

Now that I've got some spare time (read: Leandra's grinding up a few score gigabytes of data), I'd like to write up some stuff that's been floating around in my #blogfodder queue for a couple of weeks.

First up, private-sector aerospace engineering and orbital insertion contractor SpaceX announced not too long ago announced that one of their unmanned Dragon spacecraft delivered an inflatable habitat module to the International Space Station. Following liftoff from Cape Canaveral the craft executed a rendezvous with the ISS in low earth orbit, where the ISS' manipulator arm grappled the craft. In addition to supplies and …

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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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Hearing loss restored through gene therapy, app-controlled hearing aids, and synthetic biology takes off.

Once upon a time, prosthetic augmentation of a failing sense of hearing took the form of devices the size of a paperback book hung around one's neck and smallish headphones pumping amplified sound into the wearer's ears. As technology progressed and the sizes of components shrank to sub-surface mount form factors (for illustration please note the sizes of the 603 and 402 components) hearing aids shrank in size until they could be custom molded to fit snugly into one's ear canal. All of the benefit with very little of the mass or weight. Hand in hand with the miniaturization …

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Sweeping advances in precision technologies.

When we think of 3D printing, we usually think of stuff on the macroscale, like automobile engines or replacement parts of some kind. Unless it's in another context, however, we rarely stop to consider the applications of this technology on a finer scale. A couple of weeks back a research team at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany announced a breakthrough: The Nanoscribe, a 3D printer which uses laser light to selectively harden liquid plastic in a successive deposition process. The Nanoscribe can fabricate objects the width of a human hair with amazing precision and a fair amount of …

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Organic mass production.

Some days one wakes up and it feels as if the world has inexorably become a little more strange - a little more surreal, as if Philip K. Dick took an apprentice who runs the tabletop game that we call our lives and they're starting to try things on their own. And it's delightfully fifteen degrees off dead center.

In China there is an industrial farm that not only raises pigs as food but clones them to keep certain germlines around. The company is called BGI and they've gotten the process of cloning refined to the point where it's methodical, repeatable …

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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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On transhumanism.

I've been wrestling with this post for weeks now because, at its heart, transhumanism isn't a simple set of beliefs, actions, or ideas. It encompasses many disciplines, from cybernetics to engineering to computer science to biology and many things in between. I say that not as a cop-out but because practically every discipline is covered in some way and informs the body of knowledge somehow. It is also a deeply personal philosophy, often attracting adherents who attempt to lead by example as well as participating in the research, development, and deployment of the technologies which originally inspired it (such as …

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Kaoru Miki would be pleased.

I know this is kind of late in coming, but real life came first.

The science of botany has, over the years, produced many families of roses: red, white, yellow, orange, pink, and a host of shades and combinations thereof. Only two kinds have yet to be grown in any fashion: blue and black. Which is kind of fitting when you think about it, but I digress.

The number of roses which have not yet been grown has fallen by one. The Suntory company of Japan has done what used to be considered impossible: they've grown blue roses. In nature …

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